Women in rural Uganda champion use of biogas as forests shrink

Uganda Map

As the world is set to commemorate International Day of Forests on March 21, women in rural Uganda are choosing to use biogas as an alternative source of clean energy in comparison to wood fuel.

Margaret Atimango, 51, has for decades been using fire wood to cook for her family. Like most families in rural Uganda, Atimango’s parents used to send her and her siblings kilometers away from home to look for firewood. She passed on this practice to her seven children.

“I used to get so worried when I send my children to look for firewood. There are many risks involved, they can be attacked by snakes, it may rain on them and so many bad things can happen to them,” Atimango told Xinhua in the northwestern Ugandan district of Nebbi.

Most families count on firewood to cook their meals and it is the women and the girls that assume the burden of cooking and gathering firewood. Experts argue that a lot of productive hours are lost as women and girls walk long distance looking for firewood.

Caroline Awachango, 31, a resident of Messi Lower village, Nebbi district told Xinhua that she used to cut down five medium-sized trees per week to get enough firework to cook for her family of seven people.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the dependency on wood biomass as a main source of energy in Uganda not only escalates natural resource destruction but also has related social challenges.

The challenges include children skipping school to collect firewood, escalating gender-based violence as women and girls trek long distances to collect firewood and productive labor, which would be used in agriculture or family aspects is lost in collection of firewood.

Government figures show that the country loses about 122,000 hectares annually and forest cover reduced from 24 percent to 9 percent from 1990 to 2015.

Atimango is among hundreds of women, in the rugged villages of Nebbi championing use of biogas as one of the measures to save the shrinking forest cover. Atimango is a member of a group of 30 women under the farmer field school setting.

There are several such women groups in northwestern Uganda who have chosen to adopt climate change mitigation measures.

Among other conservation measures, the women have chosen to use clean energy like biogas for cooking. Most of their land has been left bare because trees have been cut for firewood.FAO through the Climate-Resilient Livelihood Opportunities for Women Economic Empowerment project is setting up 200 Flexi-Biogas systems to increase the use of biogas.

Atimango and Awachango are among the hundreds of beneficiaries in northwestern Uganda. Atimango said the bio slurry, which is a byproduct of the biogas, is used as fertilizers in her vegetable garden.

She said when she gets a bumper harvest of vegetables, she sells some of them, which increases the household income.

Atimango said unlike before when she used to collect firewood, she now has more time to meet in her women group where issues of savings and increasing household incomes are discussed.

Emmanuel Zziwa, a climate change scientist with FAO Uganda said biogas usage is a contributory factor to forest conservation.

“Biogas will help us in forest restoration because it minimizes the demand for people to cut trees on a daily basis in search for wood fuel.

If we provide biogas, it is an alternative for wood fuel,” Zziwa told Xinhua.”A six cubic meter unit, if it is given to a household of seven members, it can completely minimize the need for wood fuel,” he said.

Scovia Anichan, one of the facilitators of the farmer field schools said women groups are encouraged to plant more trees even when they now have access to biogas. Anichan said afforestation helps to reduce the pressure on natural forests where people go to harvest firewood.

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