1000 steps ahead

It’s a new month and in Uganda it has come with a sudden rise in temperature and retreat of the rains. We are asking ourselves where the heavy rains we had last week have gone. But then again, it is too soon to tell what the weatherman will conjure up. 

This month comes with two national holidays, both with a similar theme. First, on the 3rd of June, we celebrated the heroes of faith, who gave their lives for what the God they believed in. Then subsequently on the 9th of June we shall celebrate the heroes of our nation, who gave and are still giving their all to take Uganda to the promised land we believe we can achieve. In a way, they all are heroes of faith. They took a step of faith to stand for what was and is dear to them. 

The Uganda martyrs showed that it is never too soon to stand up for your convictions. Most of them were paiges in the king, Kabaka Mwanga’s court but their youth did not stop them from making a statement that ultimately cost them their lives. In the same breath, one of the liberation war stories that I will never forget is that of a young boy, who went in as a spy and caused mayhem in the enemy’s camp. I can’t really remember his name but the mental image of his face is still imprinted in my mind till this day. He was a hero.

Across the ages, many have stood up and committed their lives to their convictions. To these people, it was not money that motivated them but a cause that was close to their hearts. At every stage they ditched whatever would detract them and pushed on, sometimes sacrificing their lives, not living to see the benefits of their struggle and never seeing that their actions motivated many around them to go a step forward.

On Martyrs day, over one million people took part in the celebrations some coming from as far as South Sudan and Kenya. It showed how an act of sacrifice based on a positive conviction could go far in inspiring others.

Uganda is currently driven by a desire for a better nation. Many are going beyond the work of the government to privately change their small sphere for the better. Co2balance is not left behind in this. We selected 10 more  villages in Kaliro district in Eastern Uganda for inclusion into our safe water program. It will go only a small way further to provide safe water for communities in rural Uganda but “1000 households more” cannot be taken for granted. This month we shall visit Alebtong and Kaliro districts and I am pretty keen on the interaction both with the “wanainchi” within the villages and their leaders. These interactions always add value to our projects and will definitely improve on the way we deliver services to the people.

 

 

Bursting the banks

This week, we completed our protocol for mobile water testing, a procedure we plan to implement in the near future. Periodically we shall be getting into the field and routinely testing water sources for all the parameters that meet with the national standards for safe water as required by the Directorate of Water Resources Management. Their staff will guide us and work with us to further improve our protocol and for all our water sources, including the recently selected new sites in Kaliro, we shall ensure without a doubt that the communities receive safe water. The hall mark of a successful project is that lessons are learnt at each stage and it is modified to improve at each successive stage. Eventually at an “equillibrium” it reaches a stage where further improvement means a lot more than correction and more of innovation to improve performance. We pride in efficiency of our products as well as the performance of our projects and are glad to be contributing to the improvement of environmental quality for even more citizens of Africa’s pearl.

There has always been an argument for incentives for companies promoting sustainable development. Indeed, the government of Uganda promotes renewable energy by waiving import taxes on equipment for generation. This has had a massive impact on the solar industry. By reducing the cost of procuring implements, it has eventually brought down the cost of solar power, now a major source of power in the offgrid areas. For many a carbon company, most of the income will come in through carbon finance and through consultancy work. Everybody who has registered a carbon project understands the rigorous and long process we have to go through to be able to certify the carbon credits produced. There have been attempts to ease the process but it still involves a high amount of money which is a limitation for many especially in sub-saharan Africa. The companies that have been successful like co2balance are still faced with a long period before returns on investment. In this regard, carbon management is still a business risk that brings grounded benefits to many and should be promoted. It is my sincere hope that in #MyAfrica, our governments will offer greater incentives to enable greater participation in carbon finance and the carbon offset initiatives available.

When I started to write this article, my mind was firmly on an area I recently grew fond of. It is a homely place that my friends and I made our “retreat”. In Western Uganda is a small community in an area called Kilembe. This was once a bustling mining town that even hosted an office for the defunct Uganda Airlines, our old national carrier. It is (was) a self sufficient town with its own water supply and electricity off the national grid. As recently as early 2012, we would go there on weekends, off social media and away from good communications and just listen to the calming sound of the river that flowed through, the River Nyamwamba. Due to the recent excessive rain spells, a clear sign of climate change, this river has burst its banks twice in the last two years. Our little paradise though still a haven has been destroyed by mother nature’s anger.  

I hope the next time I talk of burst banks, it will be green business, innovation and a spirit of compassion bursting the banks of conventional business and supporting sustainable development the 21st century way.

Teamwork

There’s a common African saying, “It takes a village to bring up a child”. In co2balance our mantra has been, it takes a team to build up a project. This week has been the epitome of team work. We have been preparing documentation for four projects, getting ready for the next round of monitoring work, making sure our surveys reflect the improvements requested by  the Objective Observers, submiting budgets and developing systems for ample service delivery across our safe water projects. On week’s like this, it tends to be end to end and it’s at times like this when everybody has to be at the top of their game and pull down some multi-tasking abilities from the heavens if they have to.

There was a light moment or two that touched on one of my favorite subjects, the common ground. I love understanding the common ground because it is the basis for our understanding of the common good. We had a conference call in the middle of the week and it happened to be during the Muezin’s call for prayer. Whenever I watch a movie with an African theme, it is something I’ve noticed always forms the background scenery, no matter where. It is something I have heard almost every day apart from my few years in boarding school. in my neighborhood I hear almost three at the same time. The call to prayer is something I may not even notice because i am so used to it being in the background. I was surprised when one of my colleagues talked of not having heard the call to prayer, despite living near a mosque. In my mind , I am convinced there must me a more advanced way the faithful are called to prayer; maybe by the use of mobile technology.

This got me thinking of different ways we can monitor our projects. We are in the process of developing an improved system for monitoring and feedback from the field. In order to ensure the most optimal functioning of the boreholes we maintain, we must ensure their condition is perfect all the time. Through our collaborative network we are able to get feedback from the field but we are making the network leaner in order to get feedback much faster in order to further appropriate rehabilitative action.

I will give a shout out to the team though. This week we did well. On to the next!

A sobering week

It’s been exciting this week on the Kaliro front. Kaliro as I’m sure we all remember is the site of our new project. Our partners here, an organisation that we formally and informally call WAACHA, who we previously partnered with in stove distribution and who we have developed a very good relationship with were out in the field and managed to complete the feasibility assessment for new boreholes to be rehabilitated under our water program. Next week we should have a clearer way forward and it is very much something to look forward to. We were also able to get a review of our Efficient cookstove LOA which is a big step forward to implementation of that project. From my corner it looks like things are looking up for co2balance in Uganda and it will be an interesting many months ahead.

This week was a bit more sobering as well. Social media has been abuzz with a campaign dubbed #bringbackourgirls. it is unfortunate that in this day and age, in the 2nd decade of the 21st century, innocents can still be put in such harms way.  It reminded me of previous albeit similar occurance. At the height of the LRA rebellion in 1996, 10 years before the Northern insurgency ended, 139 female students were similarly abducted by the rebels. It brought unprecedented international attention to a a war that had been raging for almost 10 years and in a world without social media, alot of what we knew was from the BBC and the local papers. It is sad that 18 years after that the same thing could happen to another group of young girls.

I am always of the opinion that great wisdom is in taking care of our young ones. In Africa, your brother’s child is your child. Investment in the child is the greatest investment for any individual because they hold the future. In historic times, despite many births, children died at a young age from preventable diseases, many of which were water borne. There is still a high incidence of these diseases but it is quite heartening to see how the rates of these diseases goes doewn once a a safe water source has been made accessible. When we develop projects with communities we take pride in them passing the health test. At all stakeholder meetings, we emphasize improved health as one of the benefits of improved cookstove projects and safe water projects as well and we make sure we work to deliver that. Developing a water project requires that whatever doubts there may be are dispelled and we have developed a monitoring program that covers the bases sufficiently. One thing we pride in is excellence so we aim at being as meticulous as possible with every project. When we start off rehabilitation in Kaliro, we shall have one eye on improving the water access situation but we shall have an eye on making life easier for the children as well.

As I rise on Monday I will have one eye on Kaliro. however at the same time, I will spare a thought for the African child. i hope the young ladies that were abducted do get to return home.

Context

This week, I had the honor and privilege of listening in on the Grand Citizen’s Debate, a local forum where the Ugandan society’s leaders sat down to discuss the political state of the nation and the way forward for our nation. This was through headphones and my phone’s FM radio. It was lovely listening to the articulation of national political issues and listening to ideas on how to continue with the calm state of affairs the country is in in the face of a change in political affairs. Government officials also took part and it was nice listening in to most importantly  the different contexts adapted by the speakers.

Context is developed by an understanding of history  and an understanding of the current state of affairs in the face of future aspirations. Each of those affects the context. Without history we are unlikely to understand the basis of the present but despite an understanding of all the past and the present, we  are only likely to push for actions basing on our aspirations as individuals, corporations and as societies.

I have had the honor of living in different parts of Africa. If I lived in Kenya for five years continuously, I would be able to legally take up dual citizenship. I find it easy to interact and associate with most people on the continent and I make it my responsibility to understand the context of their reality by taking time to read and understand their past and their present and work with those to build a foundation for future success. Without a doubt, I have my own opinions but in any place what matters most is the present reign that will affect my success or failure. 

The Busoga region is one that always amazes me. This is the region you get into once you cross the Owen Falls Dam into Jinja town. It is a very peaceful region and Uganda’s biggest sugar source, with three large sugar factories whose operations spread over five or six districts. It’s also the region where co2balance Uganda had it’s first cookstove VPA, in Iganga district and where we were based for our first two years in Uganda, a place I still look to fondly. The people of this region are known for being very froward and opinionated and even they find it  funny when we say “Basoga balina empuutu” literally meaning “Basoga are big headed”. This region has been affected by a widespread scourge of poverty partly due to the 90s industrial collapse and at present is the focus of many of the government’s poverty eradication initiatives. This region is well endowed with agricultural land so if well managed, these initiatives should bear adequate fruit. 

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A calm mid-morning Jinja street 

I have worked with the leadership in Busoga. My first district contacts were in Iganga. One thing that struck me most about them was how eager they always were to get things done. At some point, a district staffer left his office to help me organize a baseline survey and this really eased my operation a lot. During meetings we had as much participation from the women leadership as we did the male leadership and they were always honest in their deliberations. It always stood out though, that they had a heart to be seen different. They no longer wanted to be seen as the leaders of the poverty stricken area and they were willing to work with whoever could make a difference in the lives of their people. They took the unfortunate context the area is looked at to attract support from both the government and non-governmental bodies. Instead of choosing  to fight PR wars, they chose to work to change their image through real impact. One thing I am sure of is that while working here, we are bound to have the full participation of the communities and support of their leaders.

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A cross section of local leaders in at a stakeholder meeting in Iganga

Over the years, the sugar industry has been blamed for the widespread poverty in the area. However, their positive context of their operations can be seen. The human and infrastructural development in Kakira is almost unrivalled, and in Kaliro, the newest sugar industry, the energy self sufficiency and farm development and agricultural science support to the farmers speaks volumes about their sustainability focus. Looking at the profit driven industry, it is amazing how they have applied a twenty first century development context. By improving livelihoods whilst ensuring environmental sanity and promoting renewable energy, they are surely adapting a green mode of development. These may be small steps and only two examples but the message of sustainable development is not being ignored. In this , Africa’s century, whether in the chaotic streets of Douala or the calm avenues of Harare, innovators all over are taking time to care for the long term as much as the bottom-line using the widely agrarian and natural state of affairs as a baseline, and taking care not to upset the delicate and crucial balance of nature.

Evolution

I once asked a farmer what his major challenges were. His response was that he was finding it hard to adapt to the new weather patterns, his second was finding market for his produce at the right price. This was in the Teso region of  Eastern Uganda, a region once known for cattle rearing but which is now the go-to place for citrus fruits.. For the first challenge, the farmer was satisfied that they had come together  and agreed to have their fruits sold at a central administrative office and no middleman would be able to buy from them unless they had approval from the local administration. This generally gave them the advantage in price terms and they were pretty satisfied with their labor. in addition he remarked, they would be able to sell off their fruits to a fruit processing factory that would be constructed at a site 15 minutes from his village. He was satisfied with his living.  His last child was about to graduate from university and his labour on his citrus plantation, was all not in vain. he had in fact sponsored his child through selling Washington variety oranges.This was all good , however, Teso is in the part of Uganda that receives one long rainy season, traditionally, that is. The staple foods produced are mainly dry region crops like millet from which millet bread  or atapa, kwen, karo, kwon, or kaalo (depending on which region you come from) is produced. These would not do well with extended rains and despite the successes with citrus farming, it would have a big impact on food security. The meteorological department is working with other stakeholders to have accurate predictions that would enable the farmers adapt to the changes. It is early days but the effort is tangible. 

Climate change to everyone in Uganda is real. Early this year as the United States was receiving record snowstorms, we were facing unprecedented heat and a significant dry spell. Food shortages were expected and in some parts drought was already affecting the population. However, three months on, we are receiving welcome rains and for the farmers, their hope is that it stops at the right time so they can be set to reap. In some areas the rain is unrelenting but crops are getting ready for the harvest.

My ultimate favorite part of climate change through is that at this point in time, it offers us the opportunity to do things right. From the most basic yet necessary mechanisms like the use of improved cookstoves instead of 3-stone fires, I like the fact that there is an incentive for us the make the right choices. It should go without saying that instead of burning fossil fuel for 1MW of power in Africa, we should be taking advantage of the opportunities at hand to propone renewable energy with the incentives and subsidies at hand. The ideal is romantic and gives us all a good feel however the reality points to the fact that we need to work at being better because there is always going to be a “way we have always done things”. 

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A child fetches water from an open well due to a shortage of safe water sources

The hold of the past is often a challenge because over time it has developed into the norm, the comfort zone. For my farmer friend, this was a luxury he was no longer able to afford. He explained to me his third challenge, the severe shortage of firewood in his village. His environs had been depleted of firewood and in order to collect some, his family had to move a very long distance. He had to adapt a new way of doing things. His lifestyle and that of his family had to evolve. In many ways we all have to evolve, people and systems adapt to the times. The world is constantly moving and we have to find ways of “catching up”. 

Talking to that man , it was possible to make a friend and move on but it spurred me to get involved more and the images i saw of the firewood depletion  are images I have carried from time to time. Almost 4 years later, I still meet more people whose challenges are ever more evident, but when we see the solutions bear fruit, it is always a spur to take on the next.

 

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Children at a recently repaired borehole

 

 

Trails

Uganda is easily the most diverse nation on the African continent. At the formation of our borders back in 1914 and 1926, communities were split into two. At these borders nations were split into two different new countries under different administration. My own ancestral land is about 2 and a half miles from the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in a region known as West Nile. There are more people of my nation, the Alur, in the DRC than there are in Uganda. Despite the West Nile being a relatively small region, it is also the most diverse region of Uganda with four different linguistic groups and this greatly differs from other regions. On the 21st of April we celebrate 100 years as part of Uganda, a nation we proudly call home.

I am a fond reader of history. I am intrigued by how linguistics and history are connected and it helps us understand the impact societies left on each other’s interactions. It is interesting how some names like the name Mugisa meaning “blessing” is similar all the way from the Alur people, a Luo nation, down to Rwanda where the version Mugisha is used but with the same meaning. It is evident that during our past interactions the word for blessing became common amongst our peoples. People will always be remembered for their impact, material or psychological. It’s always definitive when I am asked about my dreadlocked “Muzungu” friend because I know that it is Richard being described here.  He may not have said much to many of the people that ask but his style is something they proudly identify with. Previously Matt, Jonathan and Laure plus the “good woman” Ellie have left a positive imprint and are still identified as friends by people they have met along the way because of the friendly way in which they interacted with others and when a Ugandan tells you “we look forward to seeing you again soon”, it is not a statement of politeness but an invitation to a meal at a point in the future. No surprise why we are often referred to as the friendliest people on earth and anybody in East Africa looking for a happy fun time knows Kampala is the place to find it.

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Co2balance people are leaving positive trails in the places where we work. The friendly humane way we interact with the local communities is only supplemented by our work in the communities. My first project area was in a place called Bulamagi in Iganga district. A historian once remarked how the name Bulamagi is a testament to a trail left by the Lamogi people while on their migration route. Interestingly Iganga could in some circles be seen as I gang’a which in one Luo dialect means “in my home”.

ImageCommunity members taking a stove home in Iganga

We built a very good relationship with both the communities and our project partner WAACHA during our first project. This place was often the source of the fruits we had in the office and in our homes that were either bought from the communities or were received as gifts from them in appreciation for the work we were doing in our cookstove project. It was no surprise early this year, when WAACHA expressed further interest in partnering with us in our prospective projects. As they had done splendid job for us as well, we were very positive about working with them. This coming week we shall be starting work on feasibility assessments for a borehole project in Kaliro district in Eastern Uganda. It is a prospect I am looking to with anticipation as I believe this will bring as much success and impact as our previous four borehole projects in the North and will as well open up a new frontier for borehole projects in the East.

Our carbon projects have been lauded for the strategic impact we make in areas that affect communities directly and it is with that same spirit that we look to open up our newest door. That will be after the short Easter break though and hopefully we shall all be pumped up to excel some more. Happy Easter everybody and let’s keep it positive!!!

Climate Change Unit Finally Approves the Uganda CDM Efficient Cookstove POA

 

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There is a saying in Uganda that the British introduced bureaucracy and Africans perfected it, modified it and re-launched it. The process of getting a Letter of Approval (LOA) from the Uganda Designated National Authority  provided us with a perfect lesson in bureaucracy but at the end it was a big relief for all to finally have it out of the way. This document is evidence that the project has adhered to all the prerequisite conditions for establishing a carbon project in Uganda. Without it, no project under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) can proceed to registration.

Our first application for the LOA was made in September 2011. At that time, we were still trying to get National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to provide environmental compliance approval for the project areas and we were in the process of engaging them.  Our intention was to get a clearance pending environmental approval.  Unfortunately at that time, due to the lack if the aforementioned approval, the application was shelved.  Our focus then shifted to NEMA with various staff members who knew the NEMA officials personally meeting them to try and get our EIA to the top of the agenda.  Patrick Emopus who had previously worked with NEMA was very actively involved in this process.. I personally made many trips to Kampala from Jinja for this very purpose.

Eventually in mid January 2012 we received the EIA certificate for environmental approval and applied for the LOA. During this cycle the LOA approval procedure was altered by Climate Change Policy Committee (CCPC) to include a site visit to verify the documentation provided. I was notified of this during March of 2012. This move put a dent into the previously efficient LOA approval system that the Climate Change unit of Uganda was renowned for. At that point the government was short of finance and they were not able to approve funding for either these trips or for the CCPC.  Inspite of various interventions including a letter to the Prime Minister’s office we were not able to speed up the process of releasing finances. When in late 2012, the CCPC announced that it was prepared and had finally been funded, we thought this would be the end of the line but alas it was not to be.   We selected Iganga as the sample Project area after agreeing on the futility of a visit to Kanungu, which would take around 10 hours to reach on a site visit! A month later when the first LOA was issued, the CCU had – among other errors – indicated that Iganga was the first project, instead of Kanungu. When I tried to get this corrected, I was informed that I would need to have a visit conducted in Kanungu in order to approve the changes in the LOA but again the CCU was short of finance.

After months of deliberations, we eventually got the CCU to agree on funding for the trip to Kanungu. This was eventually to be the final tonic for the issuance of the LOA for us. Beyond this the CCPC had one meeting around November and approved the projects. It took a further two months of weekly phone calls and the intervention from the Regional Coodination Centre of the UNFCCC to finally get the LOA signed on the 4th of February 2014, a full 2 years and 4 months after our first asking. It was a full tour of the bureaucratic public service but with many friends made along the way and a working relationship built, we are sure to have it easier next time round.