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Green charcoal shall enable sustainable cooking in Uganda

Lagt online: 10.08.2022

In Uganda and many other places in Africa, Latin America and Asia, cooking on firewood or charcoal is very common - with health risks, deforestation, and rising temperature as a result. Now, an interdisciplinary collaboration between Denmark and Uganda is focusing on the development of a sustainable alternative to charcoal and firewood, namely green charcoal, which is made from residual products from agriculture. A central goal is to reduce poverty through inclusive and sustainable economic development.

Text: Susanne Togeby, Communications Officer, Department of Communication and Psychology. Images: Gulu University

About the Upchain project

Our project addresses the major climate challenge - a problem acknowledged by both the United Nations Development Programme and the WHO - that a great deal of people cook over firewood and charcoal in Africa.

Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Professor at Aalborg University

In Uganda firewood and charcoal are the most common sources when preparing food. According to Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld, professor at Aalborg University and leader of the new research project, UPCHAIN, the use of charcoal for cooking is rising. She says:

- Our project addresses the major climate challenge - a problem acknowledged by both the United Nations Development Programme and the WHO - that a great deal of people cook over firewood and charcoal in Africa. In Uganda and surrounding countries, a charcoal industry has emerged. This causes the forest to disappear, incipient desertification, and rising temperatures. The project wants to research how to change these practices of cooking, and develope new innovation models, so that cooking does not exacerbate climate change.

Production of green charcoal in Uganda

The solution is green charcoal

UPCHAIN ​​aims to develop a green charcoal innovation model to support a replacement for charcoal in Uganda. Green charcoal is made from residual products from the fields, such as corn stalks or rice husks, and is therefore a sustainable alternative, that also has less health-related consequences when burned.

Green charcoal is already in use in Uganda in a smaller scale and in pioneering projects, but the collaboration between Danish and Ugandan researchers and other operators in Uganda shall facilitate research and a more widespread adoption of green charcoal for cooking. The project originates in Uganda, but the potential is global.

UPCHAIN’s research focus is about changing both social, cultural, and technical practices. For example, UPCHAIN ​​will map the quantity of agricultural waste in the individual households and uncover the calorific value of the green charcoal produced from the various residual products. In collaboration with local technical schools and entrepreneurs, Gulu University in Uganda will develop small machines that can produce the green charcoal. A production machinery will be created, and business models developed, which shall enable the families to buy back the green charcoal after they have handed in their green residual products to the green charcoal production.

The resources are available locally

The intention is to develop an industry in the local areas and business models so that households and institutions can afford to change their cooking traditions. Gulu University, for example, is responsible for developing the machines in collaboration with local technical schools, so that they can take over production at a point. It is all about using the local expertise and resources and to facilitate development in collaboration with the communities.

From a design-oriented and ethnographic angle, researchers will also uncover cultural barriers and investigate what types of green charcoal consumers want and for example be able to define the ideal size of the green charcoals to suit local stoves and fireplaces. The quality and forms of the briquettes must fulfil the needs of the households and the kitchens as a prerequisite for being adopted. The researchers are therefore interested in identifying the needs of those in charge of cooking, typically women, and will investigate gender dynamics and socio-cultural issues related to cooking and green charcoal adoption.

UPCHAIN contributes to DANIDA's goal of reducing poverty through inclusive and sustainable economic development

According to Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld, reducing poverty is also extremely central to the project. Thus, UPCHAIN offers a direct way of achieving the strategic goals as formulated in the Danish Country Program, which DANIDA under the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs stands behind, especially objective 1 which is about poverty reduction through inclusive and sustainable economic development. Explicitly, UPCHAIN's approach is aimed at entrepreneurs and companies and is about developing business models for the production and sale of green charcoal. But according to Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld, the project also follows a more informal approach:

It is also important to think in terms of the informal economy when it comes to fighting poverty. It has become more and more clear to me.

Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Professor at Aalborg University

- It is also important to think in terms of the informal economy when it comes to fighting poverty. It has become more and more clear to me. As an example, green charcoal can be produced almost hand-held and large machines are not needed. We are trying to improve the methods at different levels and to increase the calorific value also on a small scale. In this way we work with the economic development on both a macro and micro level. It’s about changing the mindset about 'waste' in the households. To become aware of the agriculture residuals as a resource e.g. for green charcoal production, and also to develop technical - and business models to improve the informal economy.

Inclusive sustainable innovation

To research all these entangled factors, an interdisciplinary team is necessary. The group brings together expertise in engineering, environment, education, cultural factors, business, livelihood, as well as insight into - and access to - the local context. Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld says:

- It is new that we try to bring all elements into play and integrate them. There is a great deal of knowledge in the individual areas, but the knowledge is not connected. By assembling all the individual parts, it becomes possible to exceed the limits and we can develop completely new methods and change the practices of charcoal and firewood use.

Overall, the project is contributing to research the concept of inclusive sustainable innovation. Inclusive Innovation addresses the triple challenge of inequality, poverty & unemployment, and enables all sectors of society, particularly the marginalised poor, informal sector actors and indigenous knowledge holders to participate in creating and actualizing innovation opportunities as well as equitably sharing in the benefits of development.

Local fabrication techniques



Project name: Unlocking the Potential of Green CHArcoal Innovations to Mitigate Climate Change in Northern Uganda (UPCHAIN)

Project period: 01/05/2022 → 30/04/2026

Launch: May 10th, 2022 in Uganda. Read more here: Huge Turn Up as Gulu University Launches Major Climate Change Research Project

Fund: 11,999,489 DKK from Danida (Denmark’s development cooperation). One postdoc, six PhDs and 12 Master students are funded by the project.

Partners in Denmark: Aalborg University (Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld), University of Copenhagen.

Partners in Uganda: Gulu University (Collins Okello), Adjumani District & Refugees Camp, Appropriate Energy Saving Technologies (Betty Ikalany), Pabo Town Council, Amuru district

See also: BSU: Upchain is part of the project Building Stronger Universities (BSU)