Nwoya Farmers Turn Agricultural Waste Into Electricity to Save Environment from Depletion

The communities in Nwoya district, Northern Uganda heavily rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. They cultivate crops like maize, rice, groundnuts, millet, and soybeans for both commercial purposes and food consumption.

However, they also depend on charcoal and firewood as their primary sources of fuel, leading to deforestation and environmental degradation. Additionally, the communities face challenges with costly and unhealthy lighting options like kerosene lamps.

During harvest seasons, large amounts of agricultural waste, including maize cobs, groundnut shells, maize stems, maize, and sim-sim straws, are produced and left unutilized, contributing to environmental pollution.

The unsustainable reliance on trees for fuel has resulted in the destruction of forest covers, raising concerns about desertification, especially considering the proximity of the Murchison Falls National Game Park, which is home to various wildlife species.

This has escalated due to the rise in the demand for charcoal by commercial dealers leading to a public outcry on the rate at which tree covers are being depleted posing fears of desertification.

Following this, religious and cultural leaders as well as environmentalists have weighed in on the government in demand for alternative sources of fuel energy and the establishment of renewable energy sources as well as subsidized cost of electricity.

Among the local communities, firewood and charcoal got from trees are used for cooking food, boiling water, setting up fire points, and heating. The people attribute the continued vice to the high cost of electricity starting from connectivity, purchasing of equipment, and paying bills. Currently, a unit of electricity costs at least 1,000 Shillings.

In May this year, President Yoweri Museveni in an Executive Order banned the commercial charcoal business, saying that it has led to the destruction of forests and a threat to the environment.

As the country battles the destruction of trees for charcoal and firewood, demand for restoration of the already destroyed trees and subsidized electricity costs is popping up.

It is against this that 46-year-old aerospace engineer Peter Nyeko and Johnson Nyeko purchased a 50-acre of land in Got Ngur Village, Purongo Sub County in Nwoya district to set up a biomass electricity generation firm in the area under the Mandulis Energy Limited.

Mandulis Energy Limited has set up a 50KW mini-grid power station which is now generating electricity through the process of gasification and solar photovoltaic in a hybrid process.

Biomass gasification is a mature technology pathway that uses a controlled process involving heat, steam, and oxygen to convert biomass to hydrogen and other products, without combustion.

This produces a synthetic gas that powers any engine to generate electricity. The electricity is generated from agricultural waste including maize husk, ground nut shells, sim-sim stem, and maize cobs among others.

Engineer Peter Nyeko, the Mandulis Energy Technical Team leader explained that they take the waste, and bake it at high temperatures to break it down into gas, which can power a generator. The gas is cleaned, filtered, and goes into a generator, which then produces electricity.

In the first two years, since its inception, Mandulis Energy Limited has offered free electricity connections to more than 180 households and set up two processing plants within Olwiyo and Purongo Sub Counties.

Currently, the power consumer pays Shillings 930 per unit through the postpaid system and can light and use their electric appliances at any time. Engineer Nyeko said that the need for clean energy in the rural areas defined their interventions as well as saving the environment from depletion.

He told URN that their focus is to make sure they can deliver electricity that is affordable, reliable, and sustainable to power economic development.

Right from managing agricultural waste and relying on unclean energy sources, the locals currently use power generated from the plant for lighting, water pumping, milling, and production of clean cooking fuel, while the refuse is transformed into fertilizers.

Johnson Nyeko, the co-founder of Mandulis Energy says that their goal is to develop and uplift people from lower to higher levels through power generation.

The energy firm says that they have been licensed by the government through the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) to practice for 21 years and ensure that everything that the villages’ community needs in terms of electricity is provided.

Mandulis Energy has also set up a power regulating transformer to ensure that the required amount of electricity is supplied and avoid voltage irregularities. They say that they also want to pave the way for sustainable energy solutions through the production of briquettes instead of firewood and charcoal, and target to connect at least 10,000 families.

The benefiting areas in Nwoya district include Got Ngur, Olwiyo, and Purongo where, families, shops, mills, and schools. Business centers have also been connected to the mini-grid and two other agricultural industrial hubs. Denis Opiyo is one of the beneficiaries of the project in Got Ngur Village, Purongo Sub County, Nwoya district.

He says he has been able to establish a saloon and barber shop due to the consistent and reliable power supply from Mandulis Energy Limited, and also able to sell his agricultural waste.

Talking about affordability, he says that the power is convenient if compared to solar systems and electricity from the main grid.

Rose Acaa, another beneficiary from Paromo in Purongo Sub County, Nwoya district says that the project has contributed to business growth because it lights up the area throughout the day and night.

Acaa had been cautioned by medics against consuming smoke emitted from kerosene lamps is now unworried as her ailing health condition has been restored due to the use of lights from Mandulis Energy Limited.

Joyce Reene Winny, the Gulu City Speaker wants the initiative extended to Gulu and says that it presents a lot of positive impacts for a developing area amidst inconsistent power supply from the main grid.

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