The small forest cover in the West Nile region is under increasing threat from charcoal makers.
Driven by the high demand for charcoal in Southern Sudan, many people in the districts of Arua, Koboko and Yumbe are cashing in on the trade. A bag of charcoal in Southern Sudan is sold for 40,000 shillings, four times what it costs in Uganda.
As a result, the unmonitored felling of trees for charcoal has increased throughout the West Nile.
Ali Bakole, a charcoal trader, says his life has notably improved since he started exporting his goods to Sudan. He says Ugandan charcoal makers have an advantage over their counterparts across the border because of years of experience on how exactly to make the biofuel in order to maximize profits.
Bakole hopes to move to Sudan one day to set up his charcoal trade there.
Ibrahim Musa, another Arua-based charcoal trader, says brisk business with Sudan has enabled him to build his own house and pay school fees for all his children. He intends to join an association of traders like himself to be able to make even more money from charcoal.
This trend of affairs is causing much distress among environmental lobby groups. Use of charcoal is often linked to degradation of forests and woodland resources as well as widespread soil erosion. According to the National Environment Management Authority, Uganda has lost more than 50 percent of its forest cover in the past 30 years. Part of the reason for this is deforestation for charcoal production.
Edison Adiribo, the Arua Forestry Officer, says gazetted forests in Maracha, Terego and Ayivu counties have been encroached by illegal loggers. He says some natural forests have disappeared all together.
Adiribo says many of the charcoal exporters are part of the illegal trade. He warns that they will be arrested and prosecuted if they are caught.
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