Dr. Brian Isabirye, Commissioner for Renewable Energy, at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development. Credit: Okeya John.

The primary sources of energy for cooking in Uganda are wood and charcoal; whereas these seem a cheap and easily accessible form of energy to over 46 million population, experts have warned about looming health and environmental risks for the country relating to the use of these unclean and unsustainable forms of energy, especially in accelerating the current climate crisis in the region. 

This is already seen with the resounding rate at which Uganda loses her forest cover, where for about 25 years the country has consistently depleted its natural forests by an estimated 12% per year from 29% to just a modest 8% left today on its land mass according to Global Forest Watch. The National Forestry Authority (NFA) that’s tasked with the sustainable management of the country’s forestry resources, mainly attributes this mass destruction of trees to human encroachment for wood, charcoal production and agriculture.   

Uganda has had fleeting efforts to promote clean cooking through alternative energy adaptation to solar, gas, electricity and wind, a move however, often encumbered by low uptake, access and high costs of transitioning. Wizarts Foundation paid a visit to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development’s Commissioner for Renewable Energy – Dr. Brian Isabirye, for a conversation around promotion of sustainable energy to push back on the negative impacts of climate change in Uganda. Here’s the report;

Qn. What do we know about clean cooking?

Clean cooking is one of the frontiers that is emerging within the renewable energy sector, it’s basically about using fuels or resources that don’t pollute the environment. It is an area that has taken interest and as a Department (Renewable Energy, within Ministry of Energy); we are concerned with the exploitation of resources that give us access to energy, but that which can be used to cook without polluting the environment. 

So, when you use solar for example, you have no emission of carbon dioxide that eventually pollutes the environment and leads to effects like Climate Change. If you use wind energy, it’s another form of clean energy for cooking. By clean cooking, we are also talking about hydro – which gives us electricity, the most clean form of energy for cooking. In terms of bio-energy, we are now promoting the use of ethanol for cooking but also deriving electricity from biogas, so we get this biogas or transform it into electricity for cooking.

Currently, access to clean energy for cooking in Uganda remains poor, standing at a paltry 1% for persons and institutions. However, Dr. Isabirye said the National Development Plan III already sets a target of transforming the cooking sector from about 15% clean energy sources, to about 50% within the next five years. Only 18% of energy sources in Uganda are clean, meaning that 82% of the energy used is sourced from unclean sources like wood and charcoal, something he said the government wishes to reverse.

Qn. Why should we as the public be concerned about clean cooking or clean energy?

In Uganda, we lose up to 23,000 people due to illnesses related to clean energy for cooking. That’s quite a big number, and it’s not different from the global picture: globally, we lose 4.3 million people annually (World Health Organization) due to unsustainable or unclean sources of cooking. So, when you use fuels that cause household air pollution, that leads to illnesses that cause death and globally, it’s over 4 million people that we lose. 

As a country, we are looking at how we can transform our cooking, particularly for women, because the burden of cooking in Uganda rests mostly on women. Our women in this country go to look for firewood, and on average, statistics show that they spend up to six hours, particularly in rural areas, just looking for energy for cooking. So, firewood and charcoal take that. Meaning that if we created cleaner sources of energy, we are saving six hours of looking for energy for cooking for rural women and girls. 

Isabirye said the fact that as women go to look for firewood, they have to deal with many challenges: they get molested, some lose time they would use for doing other productive work at home. But also, cases of rape have been recorded. So, if one came with initiatives that transform the cooking sector, you are not only looking at the energy for cooking, you’re saving money that would otherwise be spent looking for firewood, you’re saving time, but also saving the women from the burden of looking for this firewood.

Qn. What are you doing as a ministry to promote clean cooking in Uganda?

Jennifer Alungat from Angobo village, Apolin Parish, Katakwi sub county displaying the energy saving stoves which they make using clay and grass. Photo Credit: Noah Omuya

There are a number of initiatives we are putting in place to make sure that we transform our cooking sector: we have come up with a road map to transition our cooking, where we are targeting all the people using solid charcoal and firewood to transform them along that line of clean energy until they all can cook with electricity. We think if we are able to transform all these households that are using charcoal and firewood for cooking, we would save this country up to 6.5 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, which would stop some of the challenges we now have with climate change.  

As a ministry, in the short-term plan, we are looking at deploying technologies that transition households from using charcoal or firewood in the three-stone traditional cooking area to energy-saving technologies like energy-saving cookstoves. In the medium term, we want to transition households and institutions to other forms like liquid fuels, such as ethanol for cooking. Still, here you’re using biomass but in a more purified way. While in the long term, we want to transition all these households to liquified petroleum gas and electricity because those are cleaner ways of cooking.  

Qn. The Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) talks about ensuring access to clean energy for all. What is the relevance of SDG 7 to the work you do? 

 The SDG 7 binds the work that we are doing. The first pillar of the SGD 7 is access to clean and modern energy, so we are making sure that households have access to clean and modern energy for cooking. As a country, we are looking at how we can increase the efficiency of our energy technologies but also energy resources for cooking. We are trying to double the efficiency and also increase the contribution of clean cooking sources into our energy mix. The promotion of these energy cooking stoves that you know, is part of that efficiency aspiration. So, at the global level, those bind us.

But even within the country, there are other cross-cutting issues because as you know, energy is the driver of the economy. So, the new inventions like the parish development model will only be driven by energy. So, as part of the agro-industrialization pillar of the parish development model, we look at value addition, which will involve some bit of cooking so we are making sure we embed aspirations of clean cooking within the parish development model. So, in terms of policy, we are looking at policy options like bye-laws that can make sure people are cooking clean. 

Qn. What lessons did we take from COP26 in Glasgow, in regards to clean cooking in Uganda?

What we learnt from COP26, as a country is one; that the need by development partners to support developing countries is very high. What we need is an opportunity to organize ourselves, to make sure that we get this support trickling down to the priorities that will lead to that climate change obligation or targets that we need. That was clear. 

But two; it became very clear that renewable energy development is a partnership-driven exercise (involving development partners, public sector, private sector, and the civil society); you cannot develop renewable energy without having partnerships. That’s why as a country, we came back and said how do we demonstrate this partnership. We set up a platform that brings all of us together and that’s what exactly we did to set up the National Renewable Energy Platform (NREP). That is a learning lesson we took on immediately that unless we come together, we are not going deploy this thing.

We also learnt that countries that are going for the grid access to electricity are making progress, but what came out very clear, is that decentralized sourcing of electricity and power through mini-grids and other stand-alone options enhance meeting those targets. According to Dr. Isabirye, Uganda’s electricity access stands at 57% only but 19% is grid carried by the electricity infrastructure moving over your head and 38% is off grid and stand-alone systems like solar seen across the country. He said it was clear from COP that if Uganda invested in off grid options, it would make a good difference. Which is what his Ministry is doing.  

Dr. Isabirye said going forward, the Ministry is piloting investment into mini-grids that can support clean cooking, through renewable energy, targeted to produce over 12,700 megawatts of power by 2040. And the renewable energy department under Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, is charged with the responsibility of management of renewable energy resources in Uganda, with the objective of deriving social, economic and environmental benefits from these resources.

1 comment

  1. January 12, 2022 at 9:37 pm
    Doreen Kerubo Kennedy

    good job Dr. Brian Clean energy is the way to go.

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