Kenya's ban on logging two years ago has seen charcoal traders flock to Uganda, which has now become the main source of the fuel, further putting a strain on the country’s dwindling forest cover.
Kenya placed a moratorium on logging in 2017, but conservationists say that without a similar ban by its East African neighbours, the pressure has shifted elsewhere, as charcoal presents a good business option because of the high demand in the region’s biggest economy.
Forests and woodland account for 15 per cent of Uganda’s territory, but the country’s forest cover has dwindled from 24 per cent in the 1990s to 8 per cent now.
With new markets for charcoal in Kenya and Rwanda, in addition to logging for timber and agricultural land, the pressure on forests can only increase, authorities warn.
Selling charcoal to Kenyan traders earns the Ugandan dealers more. For example, a sack of charcoal in Uganda costs at least $15, but it rises to $22 when they sell to dealers from across the eastern border.
Some local government authorities like Gulu and Adjumani districts in northern Uganda have imposed a ban on logging for timber and charcoal burning, but Uganda generally has not taken such measures largely because the country still lacks affordable alternative sources of household energy.
Although sources like electricity and liquefied petroleum gas are used, these remain too expensive for the majority of Uganda’s population.
As the charcoal business thrives, trucks overloaded with the biomass source of fuel are a common sight, either heading eastwards to Kenya or southwards to Rwanda.
But charcoal burning and other logging activities poses a threat to Uganda’s remaining native forest cover and woodland; according to the country’s biodiversity policy brief, there is a consistent loss of forest biodiversity at over 1 per cent per year.