MUBENDE – In Uganda, biomass energy accounts for about 90 percent of the total primary energy consumed through firewood, charcoal and crop residues. In its Vision 2040 however, Uganda aspires to shift progressively from dependence on solid biomass for energy to modern, clean energy alternatives such as solar, electricity and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), in line with global development goals, which aim to achieve universal access to clean energy.
However, due to logistical and technical constraints associated with clean energy alternatives, the shift remains a challenge. In the short to medium term, charcoal will play a significant role in meeting the energy needs of Uganda’s growing population, during clean energy alternatives. Compared to other forms of biomass energy, charcoal, is considered cleaner, more efficient and with higher energy content per unit of weight. Limited availability and affordability of alternatives such as LPG and electricity make charcoal a more preferred source of energy, especially for urban households.
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) says while the long-term solution is to promote affordable alternative sources of energy, it is equally critical to ensure, in parallel, efficient sustainable production of charcoal during the transition period to cleaner energy alternatives.
In Uganda, FAO has supported among others Mr. Posiano Besesa, CEO, BESEPO Uganda Limited, a tree farmer, timber dealer and a briquette maker in Mubende district to add value on trees and conserve the environment.
This is all driven at mitigating negative environmental, social and economic impacts resulting from charcoal production.
Born in a timber family, Mr. Posiano has a thousand hectares of forest in Kasana-Kasambya, Mubende. He says his father was the first black man to be registered as a pit sawyer in 1942.
“When I finished school and started pitsawying, I became the first man from pit swaying to saw milling in 1995. My father was so happy but his first question was, you have cut forests that were natural, you have now started cutting trees that were planted by whites and you going to finish them, if you finish them, what will your children do?” Posiano narrated his journey to journalists who visited his forest on Friday, March 4.
“So my first planting in 1997 was to please my daddy but eventually I continued and I loved it and by then Government was not planting, so I applied to Government for land and I was allocated this here so that I can help the environment,” he said.
Posiano says without value addition, tree farmers earn very little since the biggest part of the tree cannot produce timber and therefore is left to rot which leads to environmental degradation in the long run.
“In commercial forestry, there is what we call thinning to waste… even when the tree is mature, maximum utilization is 30% with a good machine and 70% is wasted. That’s why I said, how can I add on in order to get more benefits in my business… I ended up into briquette making because in briquette making, we use what should have been left to waste, to rot or burn when we are replanting. These are the parts that we crush and make briquettes for high institutions.”
Posiano explained that by so doing, he does not just maximise his profits but also saves so many trees that would been cut to produce firewood and charcoal burning.
He commended FAO which gave him and other farmers grants to assist in tree planting in order to save the environment.
“I presented my project plan explaining what I’m intending to do, they (FAO) gave me some of the machines, like the waste crusher, briquetting and carbonizing machines so that I continue and help on reducing forest degradation.”
Able to produce about six tonnes of charcoal briquettes on a single day, Posiano revealed that the biggest challenge is the marketing since people have not yet embraced the innovation.
“So, if the Government can come in and support by especially stopping industries from using firewood because 1.2 tonnes of my briquettes is equivalent to 7 tonnes of firewood, where the 1.2 tones I get it from 2 tonnes of wood. So it means, 1.2 tonnes of the tree waste saves 7 tonnes of the tree cut.”
He gave an example of Kenya where it is compulsory for factories to use only briquettes and very big penalties have been imposed on industries found using firewood because factories and institutions are the big users of firewood which, Posiano says kills very many trees.
“Besides, the industries are the main polluters of the environment and they should help by using charcoal briquettes since it doesn’t produce smoke.”
He says briquettes give heat five times than charcoal and burn for a minimum of eight hours, meaning that a common person will be saving a lot and the same to the industries.