In Northern Uganda, women have gained more economic power within the community thanks to a tree planting and cookstove initiative by CHASE Africa and its local partner, the Rural Initiative for Community Empowerment (RICE) West Nile.
The project, which ran between January and December 2020 in Uleppi, part of the Madi Okollo district, worked with community women’s groups to train local women to plant trees and make sustainable cooking stoves, while also enabling them to access family planning.
“Our work continues to support better health and livelihoods for rural communities, as well as protecting the environment in the region,” says Harriet Gordon-Brown, Programmes Coordinator at CHASE Africa. “Since January 2020, when we first announced this project, activities have been launched with great success, despite the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The project has increased resilience for women in the area, through improving health and economic outcomes.”
RICE West Nile trained women in the groups to construct energy-saving Shielded Rocket Lorena cookstoves, which use less wood to heat and cook. The stoves reduce the amount of firewood needed for cooking, and the amount of unhealthy smoke from open fires which are traditionally used by households. In turn, this improves women and girls’ health, as they are responsible for household chores in most rural Ugandan households.
The fifty women who participated in the project also learned how to make their own charcoal briquettes, with the aim that an increased use of cookstoves and briquettes will reduce the cutting down of trees in the area for charcoal production, and reduce overall use of charcoal in the community. This will take pressure off the local environment, and enable women and girls to use the time they would spend gathering firewood to pursue other work, or attend school.
The women’s groups were able to construct cookstoves for their own homes, as well as producing a number of stoves to sell – providing a valuable source of future income.
The women’s club members also planted over 11,000 trees at the beginning of the project, with the aim of meeting future basic food and firewood needs and provide income. The trees will be a source of timber and fruits, improving nutrition and reducing the distance women habitually walk in search of firewood. Over fifty women took part, planting 200 trees each by the end of the project.
RICE West Nile held dialogue meetings in the communities to increase awareness and understanding of family planning. Mobile clinics provided free, voluntary family planning services and advice, contraceptives, primary healthcare, vaccinations, de-worming, HIV counselling and testing, and cancer screening. In this way, the project also gave project participants and other women in the area the chance to choose the number, timing and spacing of their pregnancies to improve their own health and that of their children.
“In remote and marginalised communities, many people do not trust modern methods of family planning, and they are unwilling to use it,” explains Pax Sakari, Executive Director of RICE West Nile. “The dialogue meetings were attended by local leaders, religious leaders, the village health teams and other health personnel and many other community members, building trust in modern reversible contraception.
“By combining environmental protection with fuel conservation and family planning support, the project is holistically addressing the key challenges facing families and the environment,” he added.
Bakoko is one of the women who has learnt to build her own energy-saving stove. In the past, she had to walk four kilometres to find firewood, three times a week, because buying firewood for the day would cost Ugx.5,000 (approximately 99p).
“In a day I could use a bunch of firewood worth 5,000. This was tiresome because after spending hours fetching firewood I would go for water and do other house chores too,” she explained.
After receiving training, Bakoko is now using a medium-sized improved cookstove that can serve the twenty people in her extended household.
She said: “Currently I fetch firewood once in a week, because I use the stove you taught us to construct. Plus, the saucepans remain clean when I cook with charcoal.”
Another women’s group member, Florence, is also now using a cookstove she made after attending the training, and hopes to work with others to sell the stoves and make an income.
“So many women in the community are interested in the cookstoves,” said Florence. “We have a dream of constructing such cook stoves for schools and other big institutions, as we know we can earn more from such institutions.”
Overall, more than 12,200 trees were planted, while fifty women participated in the tree-planting and cook stove activities. Some 24 more stoves were sold to local community members. Bythe end of the project, 69 households were making use of cook stoves. Some 504 people were enrolled on different family planning methods via the mobile clinics, with more people accessing family planning at local health centres.
Lily is a 32 year old mother of 6 from Ombachi Village. Lily is one of the women who received family planning through the project, choosing a 5 year reversible method. “Now I’m free from continuous child care and burden of purchasing sanitary pads every month. I can get time to do field work and use the money I save on pads for buying food for my children”, says Lily (pictured below).
Some 12,200 trees were planted by the end of the project, 84% of which survived.