Open Journal of Forestry
2014. Vol.4, No.1, 70-74
Published Online January 2014 in SciRes (
Coping with Firewood Scarcity in Soroti
District of Eastern Uganda
Anthony Egeru1*, Eseza Kateregga2, Gilber Jackson Mwanjalolo Majaliwa1
1Department of Environmental Management, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
2School of Economics and Management, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
Email: *
Received September 5th, 2013; revised October 26 th, 2013; accepted November 18th, 2013
Copyright © 2014 Anthony Egeru et al. This is an open access article distribu ted under the Creative Co mmons
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This study investigated how rural households cope with firewood scarcity in dryland areas of Eastern
Uganda. A household survey was conducted in December 2008 to January 2009, where 490 respondents
were randomly interviewed. Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) were also held with community elders and
women. Responses were analyzed both descriptively and qualitatively. Findings indicated that 99% of the
households used firewood for cooking with a per capita consumption of 542.32 Kilograms. Commonly
used tree species included Combretnum molle (42.7%) and Acacia polyacantha willd (18.2%). Over 78%
of the households have a preference for acacia tree species for firewood. In particular, Acacia polyacan-
tha willd (60.3%), Acacia hockii (16.9%) and Combretum collinum (9.6%) were the most preferred tree
species. The scarcity of firewood supply was eminent from the average distance (2 ± 7 Km) traveled by
collectors in search of them. Firewood collectors spent 1 to 10 hours with an average of 3 hours weekly in
firewood collection activities. This resulted in per annum estimated opportunity cost of Shillings 432,000
(US 232 dollars) for those who collected on weekly basis and Shillings 1,080,000 shillings (US 580 dol-
lars) for those who collected on daily basis. The frequency of collection decreased as distance increased
among 89% of the households. Minority of households (1%) have resorted to deliberately planting trees
on their own farms to ease problems of firewood shortage, and to modification of biomass stove so as to
use less firewood. Households in their endeavour to circumvent the problem of continued scarcity have
resorted to poorer quality tree/bushes for firewood (71.2%), alongside other coping strategies such as
cooking meals once a day, avoidance of cooking some food types (70%), and using crop residues as fuel
source (60%). There is a need for scaling-up on-farm tree planting as well as the use of improved biomass
cook stoves in the region.
Keywords: Adaptations; Household Energy; Firewood Scarcity; Soroti Uganda
Firewood is the most significant source of energy in Uganda,
and the majority of the people employ it for domestic use and
small-scale industries such as brick and tile making, agro-
processing (sugar, tea, tobacco), jaggeries, bakery and fish
processing (Population and Housing Census, 2002; Tabuti et al.,
2003; Yikii et al., 2006). In urban areas, people use charcoal
more than firewood. The 2005 Energy ministry annual report
noted that for one kilogram of processed tea, one kilogram of
wood is required (MEMD, 2005). This means that the tea
processing alone consumes an equivalent of about 20 million
metric tones of wood annually. At present, demand/consump-
tion for firewood in Uganda is estimated to be growing at a rate
of 2.5% per annum. According to the Food and Agriculture
Organization estimates for Uganda, firewood consumption
grew by more than 2 billion tons between the years 1993 and
1997 (FAO, 1999; Tabuti et al., 2003). This growing demand is
attributed to an increasing population, a growing industrial
sector, as well as the increased rate of urbanisation and high
household incomes (NEMA, 1988; Tabuti et al., 2003).
It is further projected that firewood will still supply more
than 75% of the total energy consumption in the year 2015
(MFEP, 2000; UBOS, 2006). However, the firewood is already
being felt in most part of the country. In Wakiso district of central
Uganda for instance, firewood and charcoal, both by-products
of wood, are scarce and the little that is available is sold at a
high price, which can hardly be afforded by the poor urban and
rural households (Nafula, 2008). A small piece of firewood
costs between Uganda Shs 300 compared to Uganda Shs 50 a
couple of years ago (Nafula, 2008). Some families now spend
Uganda Shs 1000 on firewood everyday, but the majority live
on less than a dollar a day (Nafula, 2008). According to the UN
Population Fund, Uganda’s population is predicted to be 130
million by 2025, almost five times the current number, and
available wood will reduce by a third per person. The UN
Corresponding author.
agency cited statistics that firewood collectors, mainly women
and children, must travel increasingly long distances to collect
an increasingly diminished resource. These longer journeys can
be unsafe. And according to the country’s National Environ-
ment Management Authority (NEMA, 1988), firewood scarcity
means that some households are using foods that are easier to
cook but potentially less nutritious. In Teso sub-region of east-
ern Uganda, there is a dearth of information on how the poor
households cope with such impacts of dwindling firewood
availability (DSOER, 1997, 2004). It is upon this background
that study sought to the local adaptation strategies employed by
these rural households to cope with the fuelwood problems in
the region.
Soroti District is located in Eastern Uganda, it lies approx-
imately on latitudes 1˚33’ and 2˚23’ North off the equator,
30˚01’ and 34˚18’ degrees East of Prime Meridian and is over
2,500 feet above sea level with isolated rock outcrops. The
district covers approximately 2662.5 km2 of which 2256.5 km2
is land and 406 km2 is water (Okori et al., 2002). The area is
largely underlain by rocks of the basement complex pre-cam-
brian age which include; granites, mignalites, gneiss, schists,
and quartzites with four major soil units; Serere and Amuria
catena; Metu complex and Usuk series (DSER, 1997).
The vegetation of area is a mixture of woodlands, a wooded
savanna, grass savannah, forests and riparian vegetation (DSER,
1997). Wooded savannah consists of moist Acacia savanna
associated with Hyparrhenia spp and Combretum associated
with Hyparrhenia ssp while Hyparrhenia spp, Themeda and
Imperata cylindricum are the dominant grass savannah (DSER,
2004). Expanses of riparian vegetation (Wetland vegetation)
with scattered tree grasslands associated with Setaria incrassate
Hyparrheria rufa, Accacia sayel Acaccia fistula, Balanities
aegyptica and Terminalia spp, Cyperus papyrus, Aeschynomen,
Cyperus articulatus, Ulylectrum digitatum, Suddia sagitifolia
(DSER, 1997; Byaruhanga & Kigoolo, 2005) dominate. These
wetlands are used as feeding areas by wading birds including
the globally vulnerable species such as the shoebill (Balaeni-
ceps rex), Fox Weaver (Ploceus spekeoides), Blue Quail (Co-
turnix adansonii), and Yellow-billed Ox-pecker (Buphagus
africanus) and also do provide firewood (Byaruhanga & Ki-
goolo 2005; NEMA 2006).
A stratified random sampling approach was then used; each
parish was considered as an echelon that constituted an enume-
ration area (EA) consequently, Akoboi, Oburin, Okulonyo and
Osuguro were echelons. At a 95% confidence level, a 10%
household sample was withdrawn randomly from 4683 house-
holds in Olio for interview basing on Bryan (1992) selection
procedure. This gave a sample size of 468 households with
Akoboi (67), Oburin (135), Okulonyo (136), and Osuguro (131).
However data was obtained from 490 households and four (4)
focus group discussions (FDGs), one in each parish was con-
ducted with an average attendance of 12 members. The res-
ponses obtained were tabulated, others coded, analyzed and
descriptive statistics generated.
Per capita Firewood Consumption
Findings indicate that 99% of the households used firewood
for cooking and preserving food. Firewood used included twigs,
freshly cut trees, dry logs, and crop residue inform of straws
and stalks. The mean annual consumption of fuelwood was
estimated at 3687.84 kilograms, giving a per capita consump-
tion of 542.32 kilograms per user household. Therefore on av-
erage, weekly per capita consumption stood at 10.43 kilograms
while daily per capita consumption translates to 1.49 kilograms.
However, 25.9% and 22.4% of the households on average had a
weekly consumption of 53.19 kilograms and 35.46 kilograms
Commonly Used Firewood Tree Species
Households commonly used combretnum molle (enyama)
tree species for fuelwood (42.7%); this was foll owed by Acacia
polyacantha willd (egirigiroi) species at 18.2% (Figure 1). The
argument for high reliance on combretnum molle was its easi-
ness to split, availability and ability to rapidly regenerate.
While those who relied on Acacia polyacantha willd argued
that it had good burning qualities such as producing less smoke,
ability to dry fast when spilt wet and its wood can retain fire for
a long time (Table 1). There is however indiscriminate use of
tree species for fuelwood among 71.2% of the households.
Some of these tree species such as sarcocephalus latifolius
(eutukidole), Vitex doniana (ewelo), Butyrospermum para-
doxum (ekunguru), Prosopis africana (ekiki), and Erythrina
abyssinica (engosorot), Vitex madienis (ekarukei), Piliostigma
thonningi (epapai), Tamarindus indica (epeduru), Euphorbia
candelabrum (epopong), Grewia mollis (eparis) and Milicia
excelsa (elua) were traditionally forbidden for cooking. This is
indicative of a decline in tree stock and depicts physical fuel-
wood scarcity in the area.
Preferred Species, Their Perceived Availability and
Desirable Qualities for Firewood
Over 78% of the households have a preference for Acacia
tree species for firewood. Overall, there is varying preference in
particular tree species, for example acacia polyacantha willd
(60.3%), Acacia hockii (16.9%), Combretum collinum (9.6%),
Combretum molle (3.3%), Akero** (4.7%), Mangifera indica
(2.6%), Tamarindus indica (1.2%) and acacia sieberiana (1.2%)
Figure 2. Of the preferred tree species, 52% of the households
believed that they are not readily available, 27.9% as quite
available and only 20.4% accepted that the tree species were
available. The preference for these tree species was attributed to
their good burning qualities including; long time fire retention
and cultural acceptability in which no visitor can apprehend a
Figure 1.
Common tree species used for cooking (N = 490).
Table 1.
Preferred species, their perceived availability and desirable qualities for firewood.
Tree species Local name % response Perceived availability
Desirable qualities of firewood
Acacia polyacantha willd Egirigiroi 60.3% Quite available Long time fire retention, less smoke, e asy to spilt,
dries faster when spilt live and culturally acceptable
Acacia hockii Ekisim 16.9% Not readily available Retains fire for a long time, culturally accepted.
*** Akero 4.7% Not readily available Burns faster and easy to light
Combretum collinum Ekulony** 9.6% Not readily available Long hours o f fire rete nt i on and produces less sm oke
Combretum molle Enyama 3.3% Available Re-grows rapidl y when cut, cheaper than the rest when purchased
Mangifera indica Emyebe** 2.6% Quite availa ble Burns well even when not properly dry, available
within compounds and ow n land
Tamarindus indica Epeduru** 1.2% Not readily available Quite heavy and good for carbonization into charcoal
Acacia sieberiana Etirir 1.2% Not readily available Good flame when properly dry and culturall y acceptable
Prosopis afric an a* Eikik ** Not readily available Hardwood good for building p ol es and oxen yokes
Butyrospe r mum paradoxum*
Ekunguru ** Not readily available Hard and good for carbonization to charcoal
Note: N = 490; *Sparse presence in the area; **Established during FGDs that these tree species are highly endangered because they are preferred by charcoal burners;
***Tree species name not yet identified.
Figure 2.
Preferred Tree Species for Cooking (N = 490).
woman for using tabooed trees for cooking (Table 1). However,
Tamarindus indica, Combretnum molli, Prosopis africana, and
Butyrospermum paradoxum are the most endangered tree spe-
cies due to their multi-purpose use. The preference for specific
tree species is tagged to perceived availability and specific
desirable firewood qualities, a number of responses were ob-
tained during the focus group discussions (Table 1).
Household Responses to Firewood Scarcity
The adaptive responses that have evolved are two way; the
short term and long term coping mechanisms (Table 2). In the
short term and immediate adaptation, 27.8% of the households
extinguished fire after cooking. Further, modification of tradi-
tional cook stoves into a Lorena stove version was found
among only 14.1% of the households. The stove is constructed
out of local clay, bricks and a bicycle chainring (ananga) and to
those who use, it was praised for saving firewood, keeping the
fire for longer time, retaining heat for longer hours, providing a
prolonged life span to cooking utensils and it allowed one to
tend to other chores however, husbands complained that the
food takes a longer time to get ready unlike when their wives
use the three cooking stones.
Table 2.
Household adaptation strategies to firewood scarcity.
Strategies % response
Modified fire w ood sto ve 14.1
Extinguishing fire after cooking 27.8
Planted any trees in 2008 24.7
Planted trees specifically for firewood 3.9
Cutting of live trees for firewood 34.8
Use of crop residues for firewoo d 60
Indiscriminate use of tree species including
traditionally non-accepted species 71.2
Purchasing firewood from the market and/or Hawker s 39.4
Cooking one meal a da y *
Avoidanc e of cooking s o me food types **
Children lea ving sc ho ol ea rly /not goi ng
to school on some days *
Complimentary use of tree species
(good and poor quality burning species) **
Removing be an coatings before cooking *
Note: N = 490; *Issues a rose from t he FGDs; **A common practice.
There is complimentary use of low quality burning species
such as Ficus platyphylla, Ficus sycomorus, and Piliostigma
thonningi with good quality burning species such as Markha-
mia lutea, Tamarindus indica, Acacia sieberiana, Combretum
collinum, and acacia hockii. In addition, 71.2% of the house-
holds were involved in indiscriminate use of tree species, in-
cluding traditionally non accepted species such as Sarcocepha-
lus latifolius, Vitex doniana, Butyrospermum paradoxum, Pro-
sopis africana, Erythrina abyssinica, Vitex madienis, Pilios-
tigma thonningi, Tamaindus indica, Euphorbia candelabrum,
Grewia mollis, Kigelia africana and Milicia excelsa.
About 60% of the households complimented firewood with
crop residues of cassava stems, maize stalks and cobs and
sorghum stalks. In addition, deliberate pruning/cutting of bush/
live trees as well as fruit trees constituted another response to
firewood scarcity. There were no specific bush trees targeted
for deliberate pruning however, pruning is done as long as they
can burn and those closer to the homestead, fruit trees grown
and pruned included Mangifera indica (emyebe) and citrus
(emucunga) trees.
A commendable proportion of the households (39.4%) pur-
chased firewood in times of need as an adjustment to scarcity
while housewives also resorted to sometimes cook once in a
day and the food simply warmed for dinner. A strategy they
argued saved time and energy, ensured that their children ate
early before going to bed, saved them from conflicts with their
husbands arising from the delayed dinner meals. Further,
women avoided cooking certain types of grains especially
beans which they complained required more firewood for a
proper meal to come out. To eat these grains, their preparation
was been modified, for example removing bean coatings using
ash, and then cook it smashed. Housewives argued that they are
at times found between a hard place and a rock when trying to
have food at the table in time thus they resort to anything that
can provide meaningful heat for cooking.
Agro-forestry has been adopted as a long term coping strate-
gy; this constitutes the ‘island’ of success. The farmers plant a
number of tree types including; high yielding and fast growing
mangoes (Kent, Tommy, Apple and Boribo varieties), Citrus
(Egyptian tang, sweet med, Washington, American tangerine
and hamlin varieties), trees such as, pines, cashew nuts, jatro-
pha (Ejumula), Eucalyptus and Grevillea robusta, and Mark-
hamia lutea (emiti). The participants in agro-forestry are main-
ly retired civil servants who have devoted their time to agro-
forestry as a retirement package, as a pass time at old age and
due to its profitability. They are though being challenged by
climate variability given that the area lies within drylands’ re-
gion, costs of inputs such as seeds and seedlings, availability
and accessibility of inputs, pests and diseases, costs of labour,
termites and some negative comments from some community
members. In one of the FGDs a member remarked: “Trees have
always been there, we found them here and they will be there,
we did not plant and we do not need to plant, they grow alone”,
this is a clear sign of apathy towards agro-forestry that exists
within the community.
Soroti’ average household size of 6.8 persons is above the
national average of 5.6 persons (UBOS, 2007). Given the high
growth rate at 5.1%, it is a challenge to natural resource availa-
bility and management. According to Tenywa (2010) Uganda’s
population growth is third highest in the world, after Niger and
Yemen. This population is heavily resilient on subsistence
farming for both food security and income generation. This has
led to a decline in wo odl a nd cover from 16.5% in 1990, to 11.5 %
in 2005 (Tenywa, 2010). Further, Giannecchini (2007) ob-
served that dependence on subsistence farming is an indication
of land based activities being fundamental to household live-
lihoods. According Grunzweig et al. (2003), over reliance on
crop cultivation leads to more tracks of land to be cleared caus-
ing landcover changes. These changes escalate conflicts in the
provision food, fuel and roughage on which the livelihoods of
poor people critically depends (Bolwing & Odeke, 2007). With
continuous conversion, vegetation stock declines consequently
resulting into increasing deforestation and increased distance
traveled to collect firewood (Buyinza et al ., 2008).
The over dependence of the households on firewood, first
portrays the importance of traditional biomass energy in the
households (ProudLock, 2007; Ahmet et al., 2008) and second,
declares energy poverty in the area. According to MFPED,
(2006) energy poverty is the absence of sufficient choice in
accessing adequate, affordable, reliable, quality, safe, and en-
vironmentally benign energy services to support economic and
human development. The other indicators of energy poverty in
the area are low electricity and Photovoltaic energy (solar)
services 4.7% and 0.4% respectively. This low consumption of
modern fuels makes much envisioned industrialization difficult
to attain. According to Hasen (1998), heavy dependence of
rural households on firewood makes the anticipated depletion
of stocks a real threat to economic welfare and growth. While
the reliance on crop residues reinforces Cooke et al. (2008)
argument that; the use of low quality fuel such as twigs, crop
residues and dung is indicative of responses to higher fuelwood
The per capita firewood consumption of 542.32 kilograms is
slightly below the 629 kilograms per capita of wood Buyinza
and Teera (2008) in Hoima (Uganda) and the 687 kilograms
observed by Shackleton (1993) across twelve studies in South
Africa. On the other hand Kalumian and Kisakye (2001) re-
ported a lower consumption figure of 485 kilograms per capita
in Nakasongola and Masindi districts (Uganda). We believe
that these variations could be due to variations in cooking ha-
bits eminent in these regions of Uganda for example, Hoima
lies in the Bantu and Luo dominated region where a variety of
foods with various cooking habits prevail. For example, cooked
plantain (matoke) requires longer hours of preparation com-
pared to the millet bread (Atap/Kalo) prepared among the Nilo-
Hamites of Soroti. It could also be attributed to generally high
reliance on the three cooking stones open fire place which ac-
cording to Wiskerke, (2008) experiences very low thermal effi-
ciencies. However, the use of open fires and poorly ventilated
cooking shelters exposes women and girls who mainly perform
the cooking roles to indoor air pollution which has effects such
as Acute respiratory infections (ARI) and chronic asthma, eye
sight and problems of chronic Pulmonary disease (Kubasu,
The indiscriminate use of tree species for firewood by 71.2%
of the households in this study is similar to the findings of Sikei
et al. (2009) in Kakamega Kenya where households out of dis-
parateness switch to poorer wood with no specific preference
for particular wood species. This equally portrays a breakdown
in traditional customs regarding conservation owing to the dy-
namic use of species including the traditionally banned ones.
Conclusion and Recommendations
With the huge number of households still dependent on sub-
sistence cultivation for survival, the area is in a spiral of prob-
lems including among others: rapid land conversion into crop
land, vegetation stock depletion, continued increase in distance
traveled to collect firewood, negligible savings and high risks
of food insecurity due to crop failures and a likelihood of wor-
sened climate change effects including intense floods, droughts
and dust storms. This may further worsen the disequilibrium
suffered by drylands given that they are one of the fragile eco-
systems in the country. There is a clear breakdown in tradition-
al customs regarding conservation. On the other hand, the low
consumption of modern fuels makes much envisioned indu-
strialization in the country difficult to attain. Though energy is
not directly mentioned as one of the MDGs, it ought to be con-
sidered as a niche in the attainment of sustainable human de-
velopment that will enhance the attainment of environmental
sustainability (MDG7) with interlink effect to the attainment of
MDG3 (promotion of equality and empowering women) and
MDG1 (eradication of extreme hunger and poverty). The adap-
tations under use by the households need to be scaled up espe-
cially in agr o-forestry which has shown both economic viability
and social acceptability. Improved biomass energy stoves ought
to be encouraged among the households and to reduce the cost
burden, and household heads but more specifically, women,
and local artisans ought to be trained on how to construct these
stoves using locally available materials. However, some of the
adaptations such as cutting of live trees need to be discouraged.
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