Charcoal Smuggling Thrives in Northern Uganda with Boda Boda Transportation

Boda Boda Involvement Fuels Northern Uganda's Charcoal Trade
PHOTO - Rainforest Journalism - Boda Boda Involvement Fuels Northern Uganda's Charcoal Trade
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Gulu, Uganda – Illegal charcoal trade is still a major issue in Northern Uganda, thanks to the involvement of boda boda riders.

In May of this year, President Museveni issued Executive Order Number 3 of 2023, which banned charcoal trade in Northern and Eastern Uganda. The goal was to put an end to the widespread cutting of trees and its harmful impact on the environment.

Since the ban, local authorities have been seizing trucks transporting charcoal and imposing fines on their owners.

However, a report from the Inter-Ministerial Technical Committee, tasked with investigating the extent of the charcoal trade and its impact, has found that traders are using boda boda riders to transport bags of charcoal to specific locations, where they are then loaded onto trucks.

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David Pulkol, who provides technical advisory support to the committee, explains that boda boda riders transport bags of charcoal from Northern Uganda to Karuma, where they are loaded onto trucks for transportation to central Uganda.

Charcoal traders prefer charcoal made from indigenous tree species, which take many years to mature. This has raised concerns about the sustainability of the growing demand for charcoal and its environmental consequences.

According to the National Charcoal Survey of 2015, Northern Uganda is responsible for producing 40.9 percent of the charcoal supplied across the country, making it the largest supplier in the nation.

Charcoal remains the primary fuel source for households in Uganda.

Pulkol emphasizes that forests in the region are under severe pressure due to demands from other countries like Kenya, which also banned charcoal trade, and from various industries seeking charcoal at competitive prices in nearby towns and urban centers.

He expresses disappointment in finding leaders who should be enforcing the ban involved in charcoal trade deals during their investigations.

Pulkol reveals that traders often lease large parcels of land at low cost and indiscriminately harvest all the trees on it.

He advises the Ministry of Water and Environment to require those engaged in large-scale charcoal production to plant their own trees for charcoal production.

Pulkol also suggests that the private sector should train locals to produce charcoal briquettes from agricultural waste, reducing the reliance on tree resources.

As the country explores ways to combat illegal large-scale charcoal trade, Pulkol recommends establishing an independent body, similar to those addressing illegal fishing.

Francis Akorikin, the chairperson of Kapelebyong, supports the idea of making the charcoal business more costly, noting that trees that have grown for many years are being sold at low prices, making them difficult to replace.

Williams Ayama, the LCV Chairperson of Moyo, calls for clear guidelines on what constitutes a commercial quantity of charcoal, making it easier to enforce the ban.

It is estimated that Uganda loses more than 500,000 acres of forests every year, equivalent to deforesting 43 football fields every hour.

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