Bunyoro in energy crisis as sugarcane industry expands

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A woman breaks firewood collected from Maseege Central Forest Reserve in Buliisa district.

Bunyoro Kingdom is entering a period of acute wood fuel and charcoal crisis since it is a primary source of energy for cooking and lighting among both rural and urban dwellers.

A survey conducted by Kazi-njema News has identified that the problem is budding gravely in areas where companies and out growers are engaging in serious sugarcane growing in Hoima, Kikuube and Masindi districts.

It has been observed that the price of firewood in rural areas as deep as Kijumba Murwoma village in Kiziranfumbi sub-county, Kikuube district has increased contrary to five years back when the fuel was a free gift of nature.

Similarly, the price of charcoal which was a luxury or only for urban dwellers in the same period is now shooting up.

The National Forestry Authority (NFA) says it has intensified surveillance on forest boundaries to avert encroachment for firewood and wood for construction by communities neighbouring central forest reserves.

Jennifer Atuhuura, 67, a resident of Kimaanya village in Kiziranfumbi sub-county, Kikuube district says now she treks two kilometres to get firewood because the nearby forests have been replaced with sugarcane plantations.

“We used to get firewood here in Kyantara forest but the owner, Flora Kabaruuli, degraded it and planted sugarcane there. Land owners of neighbouring forests do not allow anybody to collect firewood there. I am forced to go to Kijumba,” says Atuhuura.

Atuhuura’s residence is located about six kilometres away from the boundary of Bugoma central forest reserve near Nkwaki areas.

A woman carries a headload of firewood collected from Bugoma central forest reserve at Bukinda Village in Kyangwali Sub-county, Kikuube District.

Sgt (Rtd) Boniface Mpabaisi, the Murwoma village chairman estimates that 60% of private forests that were largely sources of firewood have been depleted in the past five years.

“Firewood was free of charge. But it has now been given a price. A bundle of firewood that a small family can utilise for two days costs Shs5,000 while a 50-kilogramme bag of charcoal that at first had no market in my village now costs between Shs20,000 – Shs30,000,” says Sgt Mpabaisi.

The Kikuube district female councillor for Kiziranfumbi sub-county, Zulia Nyakahara Mbalirwa, says the problem is seriously impacting on women who have a primary role of collecting firewood as believed from traditional roots.

Mbalirwa, who is also the Kikuube District Secretary for Production and Natural Resources cites Mukabara, Kiswaza, Kaigo and Kidoma villages are critically affected.

The politician attributes deforestation to the emergence of the sugarcane and oil industry that occasioned population boom exerting pressure on land.

Audio: Mbalirwa on firewood (Runyoro/Rutooro)

The sugarcane industry is less than a decade old in Kikuube district where leaders say the District Development Plan does not recognise sugarcane as a cash crop in the area.

Accessing firewood and charcoal is worse in Masindi district areas surrounding Kinyara Sugar Ltd in Bujenje County.

Kenneth Nyendwoha, the Budongo Sub-county Chairman cum Bujenje County Member of Parliament elect, says Kabango village is a hotspot of firewood and charcoal crisis since it is the main business centre for Kinyara sugarcane plantation workers.

“Energy shortage has been growing year after another. A bag of charcoal that used to cost Shs25,000 five years ago now costs between Shs45,000 to Shs50,000 in a rural area like Kabango. We are wondering how life will be in future,” says Nyendwoha

The price of charcoal in rural Kabango is equivalent to that in Hoima city.

There are signs that the cost of firewood and charcoal will continue rising until that point when even the expensive one will cease to exist unless serious steps are taken to reverse the deforestation trend.

Audio: Nyendwoha on firewood (English)

In response to the crisis, leaders are promoting use of briquettes and energy saving stoves to minimise demand for natural wood.

In Budongo sub-county, Nyendwoha says leaders are encouraging every family to plant trees for firewood at home but the challenge remains that most people do not have land where to plant trees. Most people have already replaced their forests with sugarcane plantations in search of a reliable sound source of income.

The challenge is moving along with water shortage since many water sources including boreholes have started drying up to a larger extent occasioned by deforestation.

Nonetheless, responding to firewood crisis, Nyendwoha says the area authorities have reached an agreement with the NFA to allow communities neighbouring Budongo to access the forest twice a week. But this has also proven to be insufficient.

Men cut sugarcane for sugar making.

In Buliisa district, women near Maseege Central Forest Reserve, too, are being forced to trek a longer distance to collect firewood on days designated by the NFA for purely domestic use only.

Michael Kusuro, the Range Manager for Budongo Systems Range, an NFA management unit responsible for central forest reserves in Bunyoro says they are far from willing to compromise the law that restricts illegal activities in forest reserves no matter the growing energy crisis.

However, Kusuro advises communities to cooperate with the NFA to restore the degraded forests by accessing free seedlings from the Authority and embrace all conservation projects initiated by governmental and non-governmental organisations.

Sugar factories in Bunyoro

Bwendero Dairy Farm in Hoima district has sugarcane plantations in Buhanika and Kigorobya, and Bugambe sub-counties in Hoima and Kikuube districts respectively.

Hoima Sugar Limited in Kikuube district has sugarcane plantations in Kyangwali, Kiziranfumbi and Kabwoya sub-counties in Kikuube district while Kinyara Sugar Limited in Masindi has sugarcane plantations in Bujenje County, Masindi district.

Figures

90% of Ugandans rely on biomass including:

80% of Ugandans on firewood

10% of Ugandans on charcoal and crop residues while;

1.4% of Ugandans on electric power

The most preferred tree and shrub species for firewood in 2020 were sesbania sesban (85%), eucalyptus (83%), calliandra calothyrsus (73%) ricinus communis (68%) and ficus natalensis (68%).

Most of the species were reported to have good combustion characteristics.

Source: Sustainability October 2020.

Sustainable Development Goal

The UN’s 7th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy to all”. Uganda still has some way to go.

Analysis

Efforts to promote alternative energy sources in Uganda might need to be doubled and sustained to counteract with the growing rate of environmental degradation. But entertaining zero encroachment on the existing natural forests especially the government managed ones could be a sure way of realising visible impact of conservation efforts.

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