Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Small Industry Commercial Uses of Energy in Uganda


Not only is firewood and charcoal used in homesteads, there is extensive use of these forms in small scale industry operations. These contribute to further depletion of wood stocks and vegetation cover in general, beside degrading the environment and contributing to ill-health and deaths. All in all, firewood and charcoal are the dominant forms in use.

Categories of users vary widely, including bakers, construction industry, small hotels and other eating places, and, schools along with other institutions.

While there exist modern bakeries in the country, there are many more relatively small bakeries in various towns and urban centers. 

Modern bakeries
The modern ones, largely to be found in Kampala, produce a wide range of products – bread and all categories of cakes. Routinely, each of these modern bakeries will produce a small range of products on a market-demand basis. 

They also attend to special orders for functions such as baptisms, weddings and the like. During festive seasons, they diversify their product range to suit customer tastes for the occasion.

While these largely opt for electricity, a number also employ other forms of energy. The rapidly increasing tariffs for electricity may change this status-quo with time.

Smaller bakeries 
The bulk of these predominantly bake bread in standard sizes, supplemented by largely burns, and to a lesser extent deal in only cake business at a near-cottage level.

Invariably, these use firewood. They usually have in-house search-and-delivery arrangements for the firewood. They many times send out their trucks to but firewood, either pre-arranged through their internal efforts or, buying from bulk vendors in the countryside.

Construction industry
Lime is an important input in the construction industry, as well as other industries, such as paint manufacturers.

The supplying lime kilns are largely to be found close to primary lime sites. These are responsible for depletion of large wood cover, the primary source of firewood that is used in Uganda for lack of coal.

There have been cries as to the depletion of forest cover, dating back to the early 2000 years in the Tororo district in eastern Uganda.

These activities are indeed commercial, with possible dangerous and serious environmental implications, already prevailing, especially in absence of enforcing reforestation programs across the country.

Small hotels and other eating places
Many small hotels and eating businesses depend almost entirely on charcoal and firewood for cooking. Electricity is mostly used for lighting, yet where unavailable on grid or with gasoline generators, lanterns are in use. 

As mentioned hereinafter, charcoal is a popular substitute to firewood use in urban and peri-urban areas of Uganda, especially for these small hotels and restaurants, helping to limit the pollution that could result from the firewood smoke.

Changing economic times have increased pressure on these naturally available resources as substitutes put big demands on limited financial resources, ending up worsening the deforestation trend.

Schools along with other institutions
Most schools across the country cook with firewood. The incidence of improved commercial firewood stoves is still limited, but growing.

Many times, it is likely to be ignorance as to the benefits of improved cooking methods, given their relative startup costs, yet yielding huge savings in consumption, and not easily seen, lesser pollution potential in general.

Production and distribution of charcoal
This group comprises of charcoal burning kilns, wood cutters, bicycle transporters, road-side sellers, truck deliveries, and, numerous private modes of delivery.

Charcoal burning kilns
We have indicated that much of the charcoal is used domestically for cooking, mostly in urban and peri-urban areas.

Charcoal kilns on the whole remain quite rudimentary, with piles of wood covered with mud, and dismantled completely after every burn session. A small fire is started through a small access at base, to be plugged to deter air entry once lit.

Wood cutters
The selling of firewood is a fairly big business in the country, driven by demand from the commercial users. These include bread bakeries, and lime kiln operators. 

This group is perpetuated by the demand, even when the scarcity implies they have to deeper out in search for the wood in order have a product to sell as a means of earning a living. This vicious cycle can be seen to be responsible for the rapid deforestation. 

Bicycle transporters
These have been around for several years, often starting with a number of sacks packed at kiln sites, to towns or wherever the demand may be.

Although motor-bike transport has risen significantly over the past decade, they seem to be used more for transporting people with their limited baggage, although carrying of charcoal is not ruled out.

Road-side sellers
This category is to be found on highways and other roads where traffic to the urban centers is significant.

They place their packed sacks in the open usually or under makeshift shades for passers-by to stop and procure for onward delivery to homes. 

Many of these vehicles are private, others belong to government and other organizations. It is common to see especially double-cabin pickups from upcountry carrying a few sacks of charcoal.

It is not unusual to find a housewife or other family member busy with domestic chores around the home, turn up to sell to an interested passer-by buyer in a vehicle.

Truck deliveries
In this instance, small lorries of say 1 – 5 tons, through to much larger ones go out to procure charcoal in bulk, almost always packed in sacks. This seems to suggest that often, the charcoal is destined to homestead consumers through last-in-line outlet vendors in markets or charcoal kiosks that are on the increase in urban centers.

These can sometimes procure a full kiln or where not sufficient or easily available, pick the roadside sacks. 

This is a big business by small to medium trader standards, given that there is overwhelming dependence on biomass in Uganda.

Private modes of delivery
These can be numerous. Often, a medium income family may own a 100 – 500 kg small pickup truck, used to go out to a farm that may be some 10 – 20 miles away, returning with food provisions from the garden, along with some charcoal. This however is on the decline, given the prohibitive cost of gasoline, or the lower incidence of such practices. This is also attributable to increasing pressure on land or lesser financial means to have and maintain such a farm.

Many small car owners are often seen with sacks of charcoal overhanging in boots on their return from upcountry.

The cost of the bag is understandably lower upcountry, given that all the intermediaries – transporters and vendors – are not included. At the same time, one is probably driving back from a totally different mission, thereby reducing part of the cost for the journey.

Efforts at improving efficiency
Government with the support of the donor community has come up with an effort to improve performance in the sector.

These efforts have been various and have been on-going for several years now.

The usual objectives are or should be around the following:
  • Achieving better efficiency: improved end-user technologies;
  • Preserving wood and vegetation  cover: encouraging tree planting and seeking alternate sources;
  • Training of stakeholders: primary producers and end-users;
  • Training of trainers: seeking to get the multiplier effect;
  • Production of model technologies: funding and logistically locating desirable technologies;
  • Dissemination of improved technologies: encouraging users to adopt better practices;
  • Dissemination of success stories: Getting other users to know about good achievements secured;
  • Introduction of efficiency standards: writing and seeking to get into national law statutes good design and regulatory practices, and, discouraging substandard product entry into market;
  • Rollout strategies: aiming to keep the general public interested in keeping on using or changing to improvements for the better, beside others. 
Current Situation 
At the time of writing this article, many things have taken place. These range from government continued plans to advance the sector activities, work achievements partly with a fully by donors, primary energy source dynamics, state of vegetation cover – growth or loss of it, and a host of others.

Many projects have been carried out in the biomass sub-sector, some recent, some older. There are also on-going ones, all with a view to streamline the growth of the sector, and, set it on a sustainable growth path.

The overall picture is in spite of these efforts, forest and vegetation cover is on the decline. The growing population is exerting more pressure on land, firewood is getting increasingly harvested despite its shrinking supplies, people’s purchasing power is falling, thereby leaving no choice but to remain on locally available scanty supplies of wood and charcoal.

Improved technologies are slowly penetrating beneficiary communities, keeping prospect of reducing the carbon footprint of the sub-sector bleak.

All in all, indications are that the challenge to close the gap between aspirations and reality seems to be growing in the short run. This makes the need for urgent reforms absolutely necessary if we are to avert the looming dangerous situation.

Keywords: firewood, charcoal, bakeries, charcoal kilns, lime kilns 

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