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Uganda’s Crackdown on the Charcoal Business

The charcoal makers in the forests of northern Uganda fled into the bush, temporarily abandoning their precious handiwork: multiple heaps of timber yet to be processed. The workers were desperate to avoid capture by local officials after a new law banned the commercial production of charcoal. They risked arrest and beatings if they were caught. The burning of charcoal, an age-old practice in many African societies, is now restricted business across northern Uganda amid a wave of resentment by locals who have warned of the threat of climate change stemming from the uncontrolled felling of trees by outsiders. Not much has changed as charcoal producers skirt around the rules to keep the supply flowing and watchful vigilantes take matters into their own hands. Much of northern Uganda remains lush but sparsely populated and impoverished, attracting investors who desire the land mostly for its potential to sustain the charcoal business. And demand is assured: Charcoal accounts for up to 90% of Africa’s primary energy consumption needs, according to a 2018 report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.