Adam Branch’s research on charcoal production in northern Uganda has helped to drive the creation of a new advocacy movement, new local environmental monitoring mechanisms, and the drafting of new government legislation.
The United Nations estimates that charcoal is the primary energy source for up to 80% of Africa’s urban population, but its production is leading to serious social, environmental and economic harms.
Branch, working with researchers in Uganda, focused on the region’s socio-political history and patterns of land-use transformation, carrying out interviews with charcoal producers and dealers, communities affected by charcoal production, and local government.
They identified two previously overlooked aspects of the charcoal industry. First, environmental degradation was chiefly the result of large-scale charcoal production operations, not small rural producers, as had been the conventional wisdom. Second, large producers often informally collaborate with, or are protected by, government officials.
The research findings have fed into local environmental activism and advocacy to challenge existing narratives, which place the blame on small-scale charcoal producers, and instead to direct attention to the ecological and political problem of large-scale production. As a result, legislation regulating charcoal production was passed into law by the Kitgum District council and was under review by the other district councils in the Acholi sub-region.
In addition, a local NGO, Human Rights Focus (Hurifo), established a new monitoring programme that has helped to hold charcoal traders and local government to account. They incorporated environmental rights into their strategic plan and established a new programme on environmental justice, with charcoal production identified as a core concern. The research has also been used by a local environmental justice group, “Our Trees – We Need Answers”, to better inform and target their activism.
By providing evidence and capacity building, Branch’s research, and the legislative and civil society changes it underpinned, is advancing environmental sustainability and energy policy in the region.
“I mobilized the community to chase away charcoal dealers who bought trees on 80 hectares of land… I also sensitized people in my chiefdom on dangers of destroying the environment through cutting trees on large scale. They understood this and made it easy for us to stop [the] charcoal business here; there are no trucks that come here for charcoal the way they used to loiter here day and night. I thank HURIFO for opening our eyes to save our environment.”– Local leader, northern Uganda