Uganda's Gulu goes green, with help from some cows

As traditional sources of energy, such as paraffin and wood fuel, grow more expensive, smallholders in northern Uganda’s Gulu are embracing biogas - a renewable energy source produced from organic waste - to cook and to light up their homes.

"Since I started using the biogas energy, my children… have their meals on time, unlike in the past when they had only one meal because [of a] firewood problem," Florence Lawac, who has been using wood fuel for 13 years, told IRIN.

In Gulu, where many are impoverished and recovering from two decades of conflict, a litre of paraffin costs 2,500 Ugandan shillings (US$1); a bag of charcoal costs 18,000 shillings ($7). A six cu.m. biogas digester, meanwhile, costs an estimated 1.6 million shillings ($640) and can produce enough methane gas to cook and provide lighting for a household of five.

Through a pilot programme, the NGO Heifer International meets part of the cost of constructing biogas digesters. To feed the digester, beneficiaries are expected to have at least three Friesian cows or 10 indigenous ones, or have access to plant waste. Still, many of Gulu's smallholders cannot afford livestock.

Uganda loses about 73,000 hectares of private forest and over 7,000 hectares of protected forest reserves annually to timber and charcoal production, according to the National Forest Authority.

"It's important that we promote activities that seek to protect our environment because it's the source of our entire livelihood," James Ocaka, of Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority, told IRIN.