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Women in Uganda are Saving the Planet Creating Renewable Energy with Agricultural Waste

Every morning, Sheeba Kwagala heads to a sanctuary in the Ugandan capital of Kampala to mash agricultural waste with molasses and clay to make briquettes. As the world marks World Environment Day, a growing number of briquette makers in the country are making a difference.


Every morning, Sheeba Kwagala and her colleague head to a sanctuary in the Ugandan capital of Kampala to mash agricultural waste, mainly banana peels and crop residues, with molasses and clay to make briquettes.


Briquettes, a type of renewable energy source and a form of solid biofuel, are said to be more energy-efficient than wood or charcoal, largely used in the East African country.

"We crush agricultural waste, then mix it with clay and molasses to solidify it. We put the mixture into a machine that forms the briquette. Learning how to make briquettes is easy, and I will share my skills with other women," Kwagala, 20, told Xinhua in a recent interview.


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), biomass is the main source of energy in Uganda, accounting for 94 percent of all energy produced. Of the total biomass consumed, wood fuel accounts for about 80 percent, charcoal 10 percent, and crop residues 4 percent. Nine out of 10 households use either firewood or charcoal for cooking.


The FAO noted that charcoal production has far-reaching negative environmental, social and economic impacts.


Despite a recent increase in forest cover from 9 percent in 2015 to 13 percent in 2021, with a projected rise to 15 percent by 2025, Uganda's forest cover declined from 25 percent of the country's land mass in 1990 to about 9 percent in 2015, according to the National Forest Authority, Uganda's state-run forest conservation agency.


As the world marks World Environment Day, which falls on June 5 every year, Kwagala and a growing number of briquette makers in Uganda are making a difference. Through their caretaker organization, Set Her Free, a local non-governmental organization empowering vulnerable young women, they supply briquettes to restaurants, schools and other institutions that are transitioning from using wood or charcoal as fuel.


According to the World Bank, using biomass briquettes can result in significant energy cost savings of up to 30-40 percent compared to non-renewable fuels, making them an economically advantageous choice.


Michael Kalyesubula, a chef at a restaurant in Kampala, told Xinhua that he now prefers to use briquettes instead of charcoal. "If we have meals using charcoal, which has a negative impact on the environment, it is not right. After we started using briquettes, we came to understand that they help us save the environment."


He added that using briquettes has saved the restaurant money and energy for cooking. The restaurant used to spend 65,000 Ugandan shillings (about 17 U.S. dollars) a day on charcoal, but now it spends only 12,000 shillings on briquettes to cook meals for about 165 people.


Robert Agaba, head of programs at Set Her Free, said heavy users of wood and charcoal, such as schools and hotels, are increasingly switching to briquettes as wood and charcoal become more expensive due to deforestation.


"These briquettes save us from global warming; we use agricultural waste, so we save the forest that would otherwise be destroyed," he said. 


Source: Xinhuanet

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