From Baseline to Design Interventions: UPCHAIN Enters Research Phase II   

UPCHAIN has entered phase two. A workshop for transitioning from problem identification and baseline studies (phase 1) to experimentation and design intervention (phase 2) has ended today at Adjumani Multipurpose Training Centre in Adjumani town, West Nile, northern Uganda.

Participants pose for a group photo at Adjumani Multipurpose Training Centre (Photo by Oscar Ogwang)

Launched in May 2022 at Gulu University, the UPCHAIN project seeks to develop innovative ways to produce and use briquettes (green charcoal) from agricultural residues as a sustainable source of energy, in response to climate change through reduced reliance on wood fuel and black charcoal for cooking.

Although UPCHAIN is anchored on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13, which is about Climate Action, its activities have a potentially big influence on the majority of the SDGs among the communities in northern Uganda where it is being implemented.

The Adjumani workshop, held from November 12 to 15, 2023, brought together all students supported by UPCHAIN (6 PhD and 10 MA), as well as the project implementers from Uganda and Denmark, to review the progress of the project in the first phase and strategise for the next phase.

Prof. Dirckinck-Holmfeld (l), the Principal Investigator (PI), and Dr. Geoffrey Tabo facilitate a session

The PhD and Masters students, together with their supervisors, are conducting research in different aspects of green charcoal, ranging from production (including making machines) to marketability and adoption in households.

An estimated 40 percent of black charcoal supplied in urban parts of Uganda is from northern Uganda. A recent presidential directive banned the production and sale of charcoal from the region in an effort to stop deforestation. While this is environmentally sound, it creates an energy deficit under the current circumstances in Uganda.

Green charcoal is seen as a sustainable alternative to black charcoal and firewood, with the potential to reduce deforestation and curb climate change.

“A very important finding across the project is that we should not talk about one innovation model for green charcoal but, instead, at least four models have been identified. This came out in the presentation of one of the PhD students, Judith Awacorach,” said Prof. Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld (Aalborg University), the UPCHAIN Principal Investigator (PI).

L-R: Assoc. Prof. Quentin Gausset, Dr. Nicholas Okello, and Judith Awacorach working on a model

The models are Individual Production (characterized by hands and simple tools and targeting small or informal markets), Self Help Groups (using manual machines for production and targeting the informal market), Small Enterprises (using small motorized machines and producing for informal and formal economy), and Medium Enterprises (big motorised machines targeting the formal economy).

“I really want to congratulate the participants for their hard and detailed work. It provides insights into the complexity of changing practices of something so essential as cooking and innovating for green charcoal. The perspective of UPCHAIN is both to create awareness of climate change mitigation and to come up with inclusive and sustainable solutions to the production, the marketing and the adoption of green charcoal among households, schools as well as governmental and international agencies,” added Prof. Dirckinck-Holmfeld.

Dr. Collins Okello, the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, and also the UPCHAIN Co-PI, said the project had taken off “very well”.

“The teams are working together. The students we recruited are already doing their research – some have already reached the level of examination of the dissertation. The production unit has already been fabricated – green charcoal [briquettes] machines for Pabbo [in Amuru Distirct] and Gulu City. An MOU has already been signed with the district of Amuru and land has been secured. We are now engaging the youth who will run the project. We have done capacity development with a number of trainings for the students in data collection, proposal writing, and reporting. Ethical clearance has been done. Our partnership with Denmark is very good and we are doing joint supervision of the students. So, we are doing well,” said Dr. Okello.

L-R: Prof. Charles Okumu, Dr. Collins Okello and Dr. Agatha Alidri having a conversation

While opening the workshop, Ben Anyama, the LCV Chairman for Adjumani District, said it was necessary to mobilise communities to adopt green charcoal use especially to curtail deforestation.

“If we could mobilise and sensitise them I think the issue of charcoal burning in the future will not be there. It will be addressed by UPCHAIN. Beginning something is not easy. I am very sure UPCHAIN is going to succeed – actually, it has succeeded already,” said Anyama.

He pledged his continued support for the project not only in Adjumani District but in northern Uganda in general.

Anyama addresses workshop participants

“I want to assure you that as the district Chair, I am going to make sure we continue supporting this programme in the whole region. I am going to bring in our colleagues; the RDCs [Resident District Commissioners, CAOs [Chief Administrative Officers [CAOs] and District Environmental Officers,” he said.

Dr. Agatha Alidri, the UPCHAIN Coordinator said that the multidisciplinary nature of the project makes it complex, but the longer they are taking on the research, the more they are understanding the project.

“This is the first multidisciplinary project at Gulu University – from sciences to arts – everyone is here. In the beginning, it was difficult to know how we would work together. But we have made good strides. We are now scaling up. The machines are ready. Pabbo [Amuru District] gave us land] and that shows the zeal of the community in this project. This is also a sign that their confidence in Gulu University has grown,” said Dr. Alidri.

Groups comprised participants from different disciplines

Assoc. Prof. Quentin Gausset from the University of Copenhagen, a member of the UPCHAIN Executive Committee, urged his fellow researchers to embrace action research by its standards.

“We are not just studying people. We are studying with the people. How many of you are using green charcoal in your homes? If we are not using it then how do we expect others to use it?” He challenged them. 

Report and Photos by William Odinga

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