Uganda, often referred to as the “Pearl of Africa” for its abundant natural beauty, has been witnessing a significant decline in its forests over the past two decades. Approximately two-thirds of its forests have deteriorated during this period, and it is predicted that most of them could disappear by 2050.
This alarming trend of deforestation carries substantial environmental consequences for Uganda’s climate, which, in turn, affects the livelihoods of its citizens, particularly the disadvantaged and marginalized communities.
A survey conducted by the National Environment Management Authority revealed that Uganda’s forest cover reduced from 5 million hectares in 1990 to 3.5 million hectares in 2005. This decline is largely attributed to the widespread use of biomass energy, with 95% of Ugandans relying on firewood and charcoal for cooking and lighting, as per the Uganda National Household Survey Report of 2009/2010.
Institutions such as schools and prisons also depend on firewood for cooking, but they do not actively contribute to replenishing the trees they consume. Uganda’s prisons, housing a population of 76,248 inmates across 259 prison units, consume a staggering 8,000 tonnes of wood fuel each year.
Dr. Johnson Byabashaija, the Commissioner General of Prisons, acknowledges that prisons are contributing significantly to the country’s deforestation and emphasizes the urgent need for intervention to restore the environment.
Byabashaija points out that due to the high cost of electricity, prisons have no choice but to rely on fuelwood for cooking, resulting in an annual expenditure of 3.6 billion Ugandan shillings on firewood.
As the prison population continues to grow at an annual rate of 10 percent, the need for more trees to be cut for food preparation becomes apparent, exacerbating the deforestation issue.
To address this concern, Byabashaija calls upon the Ugandan Parliament to allocate 2 billion shillings for the installation of energy-saving stoves within prisons, which would help mitigate the environmental impact and reduce the effects of climate change.
Among Uganda’s prisons, the Upper Prison is the most heavily populated and, consequently, consumes more wood than other facilities. With 3,375 inmates, Upper Prison uses one truckload of wood fuel every three days, or one and a half truckloads daily when electricity is unavailable, amounting to 45 trucks per month.
Byabashaija further recommends the adoption of energy-efficient cooking technologies to reduce fuel consumption. However, limited funding prevents the implementation of this technology across all prison units.
In a bid to make prison cooking more environmentally friendly, Byabashaija reveals a partnership with Rotary to promote tree planting within prisons.
Regarding the cost of installing energy-saving stoves, Frank Baine, the prison’s publicist, states that each stove costs 15 million shillings. Currently, 75% of the 259 prison units use energy-saving stoves, and the remaining 25% are expected to be equipped within the next two years.
These energy-efficient stoves offer substantial benefits, including a more than 50 percent reduction in energy consumption and lower costs for firewood, as well as reduced environmental degradation. Laboratory tests also indicate significant reductions in carbon emissions and fine particulates.
The situation of wood consumption in Uganda extends beyond prisons. Educational institutions, hospitals, and various industries contribute significantly to deforestation. Efforts to combat this issue include the adoption of energy-saving technologies, which, despite their potential, are hindered by high initial costs.