Babies at Mulago Hospital’s Mwanamugimu Nutrition Unit will smile to better health thanks to a Shs418m Clean Cooking project from the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA).
Dubbed Biomass to Electricity cooking, the pilot project is intended to eliminate use of carbon-based fuel like charcoal and firewood and replace it with clean cooking using electricity.
Speaking at Tuesday’s launch of the project jointly funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and government of Uganda, ERA Executive Director Ziria Tibalwa Waako revealed that the project will greatly improve the general environment and health of the children at Mwanamugimu through elimination of smoke pollution during the preparation of their meals.
“Clean cooking will also help to reduce carbon emissions and deforestation to preserve our environment in the long run,” Waako said. She added that while they began with Mwanamugimu because of its uniqueness at the hospital, ERA’s ultimate goal is to transform the entire hospital’s cooking, having successfully launched the programme at Uganda prisons services.
“Our target is to cover 50,000 households and 500 institutions including prisons, hospitals, institutions of higher learning and commercial premises within the next three years,” she said.
To achieve this, ERA leveraged on the challenges of unreliable power supply as well as high tariffs by introducing stringent regulatory checks for power suppliers as well as reducing the electricity rates to make them affordable for those intending to cook using power. For instance, a special rate of shs415.4 per KWhr was designed for intuitions while domestic users pay a cooking tariff of shs412 per kilowatt hour.
Mualgo bosses ecstatic
ERA’s project was highly commended by Mulago Hospital bosses, who termed it as a timely intervention which will help the institution in many ways. Rosemary Byanyima, the hospital’s Managing Director revealed that apart from improving the cooking at the premium health facility, the clean cooking project also offers several other benefits.
“The modern kitchens and cooking units which ERA built for us at Mwanamugimu are specially designed to save electricity. The saucepans donated to us regulate the heat to ensure that the food gets ready quickly and without getting burnt. We are happy that this new cooking experience will motivate our staff (cooks) and also help the hospital save a lot of money while conserving the environment at the same time,” Byanyima said.
Byanyima revealed that government has been providing a hefty budget for firewood to the hospital but they are now happy that with the specially reduced cooking tariff, this budget will decrease considerably, with the money saved being committed to other priority areas of the hospital. “We have many cooking needs at the hospital because many patients require special nutritional care. These include the diabetic, hypertensive patients among others,” she said.
And echoing MD Byanyima’s submission, Dr. Esther Babirekere, a paediatrician at Mwanamugimu thanked ERA for thinking about the children’s unit as one of the critical organisation’s to benefit from the clean cooking project.
“Ours is indeed a food-driven unit because we use food to treat our patients (children). However, this food must be cooked and specially mixed to form different therapies— so cooking is one of our core activities here,” she said.
Dr. Babirekere noted that because of their constant cooking needs, they have been using charcoal thus putting them among the culprits contributing to environmental degradation in the country.
“We are now privileged to learn that we have goodhearted people (like ERA) who have been there thinking about helping us to improve our processes. This will help us reduce our cost of doing business as well,” she said.
ERA, Government HAILED
ERA’s clean cooking project is among the revolutionary ploys ever innovated by any agency in this country. According to Sheila Ngatia, the Deputy UNDP Resident Representative, it was birthed after ERA— which was voted by the World Bank as the best energy regulator in Africa for the fourth straight year — beat a host of competitors to emerge the entity with the best proposal on how to reduce deforestation and pollution.
This was after the UNDP called for such proposals in November 2020.
“We want to thank ERA for championing the transition from biomass to electricity cooking. We are confident that this is a catalytic pilot project which will guide the implementation of other initiatives such as the importation and usage of quality cooking gear in this country. UNDP pledges to continue supporting this programme because of its great ability to improve environmental conservation,” Ngatia said.
In her address, ERA Board chairperson Sarah Wasagali Kanaabi attributed ERA’s astronomical success thus far to President Yoweri Museveni’s recognition of the energy sector as one of the priority sectors for Uganda’s socioeconomic transformation.
She expressed optimism that with ERA’s commitment and support from government and funders like UNDP, the project will continue to grow, especially as the private sector is expected to massively embrace the programme.
“We are privileged that the government has lined up over 30 power generation projects that are in the pipeline. This will help us address the challenge of unstable power supply in our effort to ensure that all Ugandans shift to smart cooking so as to conserve our environment,” Wasagali said.
To reiterate Dr. Wasagali’s commitment, energy minister Ruth Nankabirwa revealed that her ministry was advancing provisions in the electricity Amendment Bill which seeks to increase ERA’s budget from 0.3 to at least 0.7% as government is banking on this top-performing agency to push government’s drive to increase electricity consumption from 100 Kwhr to 570 KWh.
“Right now I have to attend a cabinet meeting where we are going to discuss the Agago Dam construction. This dam will add 840MW of power to the national grid. This shows how government is committed to this Biomass to electricity cooking project well aware that it will bring down the cutting down of trees as enshrined in the country’s Vision 2040,” Nankabirwa said.
The minister revealed that according to the government’s NDP III, the target is to reduce biomass cooking from the current 88% to 50% while at the same time increasing clean cooking from 15% to at least 50%.
And to eliminate potential bottlenecks in this programme, government wants to ensure the local manufacture of most electricity extension implements such as copper cables, transformers among others.
“Kilembe Mines is now up for the taking by any potential investor through a public-private partnership arrangement because we are sure that once power extension equipment is produced locally, then it will expedite our drive to attain clean cooking for all Ugandans by reducing the cost of power,” Nankabirwa said.
ABOUT THE BIOMASS TO ELECTRICITY COOKING PROJECT
The biomass to electricity cooking project is rooted in the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 7 of Ensuring access to reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. On a national level, it is enshrined within the National Development Plan (NDP) III objective of making electricity affordable to all Ugandans. It is jointly funded by the UNDP which donated Shs324m towards converting the kitchens at the Mwanamugimu Centre from biomass-driven ones to modern electricity cooking areas and the Government of Uganda. Through ERA, GoU contributed Shs94m which was entirely spent on electricity extension equipment such as poles, transformers, conductors and metering units which were duly connected by UMEME. Other subsidiary players include Hamlet, the contractors who built the modern kitchens as well as Umeme Uganda Ltd which did the power extensions.
According to UNDP’s Ngatia, it was informed by research that the country’s forest cover is precariously under threat thus posing the great dangers of food insecurity, disease (due to increased contact of humans and wildlife) and social conflict.
Statistics for instance show that between 1990 and 2020, the country’s forest cover plummeted from 24% to a deplorable 8.9%. Sadly, this is bound to get worse as the country has been losing 122,000 hectares of forest cover annually between 1990 and 2018.
Curiously, charcoal burning and need for firewood have been cited among the leading causes of deforestation, with forests being cut at a rate of 4.1% to serve the demand of 2.09 tonnes of biomass fuel needed as of 2019.
Such scary statistics are proof enough that ERA’s biomass to electricity cooking project couldn’t have come at a better time than now.