Uganda – This one has defeated me

Text by Karen Ressel / LWF Uganda

Photo by Michele Hermansen

Lagol David, age 49, crouches near a recently burned pile of charcoal in rural northern Uganda.

Lagol David, age 49, crouches near a recently burned pile of charcoal in rural northern Uganda.  Behind him an uprooted stump serves as the only reminder of a large tree that once stood in this place.  As David harvests the charcoal, he picks each piece up and inspects it, then either places it into his basin to sell, or discards it.  This charcoal pile has been smoldering for two weeks and the results are disappointing.

Looking at the charred piece of wood in his hand, he says, “This one defeated me.  I was unable to pull it up to set it on fire for burning so I left part of it.  It has not burned properly, so there will be only one bag of charcoal, or maybe less.  But if the pile burns properly a tree of this size would give two bags, or maybe three.  But this one is a waste, it cannot be put back to be burned again, it will not make charcoal.”  The income generated from his work will amount to 8,000 Ugandan shillings or about three and a half US dollars.

Between 1990 and 2005, Uganda lost nearly 1/3rd of its total forest and woodland cover. The rapidly declining forest and tree cover is a cause for concern; about 91% of the country’s energy needs are derived from wood.[1]  The imbalance between the supply of and demand for firewood is increasing at an alarming rate.  In addition, deforestation is a key contributor to climate change.  Unpredictable weather patterns are severely affecting the planting cycle in northern Uganda.

David needs to find a way to support his family, “I dig in my garden but since the rain is not there I cannot plan properly for cultivation.  Sometimes I can plant things but they burn in the field due to lack of rainfall.  I am left with nothing.  And I am becoming old and charcoal burning is hard.  When I began ten years ago there were many trees, but now burning in large quantities is not possible.  And there is no gain.  After selling the charcoal I buy things like soap, salt, and some other little food stuffs for the family, it is not enough.”

The post-conflict population in northern Uganda is particularly vulnerable as they resettle in their villages of origin.  David recognizes the connections of charcoal burning and deforestation to the lack of rainfall.  But his limited resources make it difficult for him to use his existing capacities and competencies to care for the environment.  LWF Uganda is equipped and hopes to partner with individuals like David, and his neighbors, to analyze the challenges and effects of deforestation.  Together we will find sustainable solutions to help mitigate the effects of climate change.


[1] Kitgum District Forestry Services, Environment situation report, 2008

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