Eucalyptus Turned Charcoal & Tea Picking
On one of our strolls in the hills around Lake Bunyonyi, we came across three young men neatly stacking newly cut eucalyptus trees. Five days of work had gone into cutting down the trees and piling up the stack, they told us. Adding that now they had to cover it with soil and set in on fire. After another five day this would produce 35 bags of precious charcoal. The guys, by pointing at a large piece of burned slope stressed how important it was to guard the smoldering fire. Others had obviously been less careful! The charcoal maker pay the owner of the plot for cutting down the trees, but searing the grass would add to their bill.
The fast growing eucalyptus tree is not an indigenous plant to Uganda, but was introduced for various purposes. Producing charcoal for cooking is one. A bag of charcoal presently sells for 15.000 Ugandan Shillings (approx. 5.5 USD), but the price is going up. Good for these guys, but bad news for rural families! A bag lasts an average family for about two weeks.
Large tea plantations, a few on flat terrains, but most sneaking up hills, are another common sight in Uganda. The different green of the leaves make them pleasant eye-catchers. That the pickers share this view is most unlikely. For their hard work, picking the leaves and dragging the big bag along, they earn 80 Ugandan Shillings per kilo, an unbelievable 2 Euro Cents. In huge bundles the leaves are brought to a covered place, where they are weighed and picked up by a truck. The owners are better off: they rip in at least 400 Ugandan Shillings per kilo, a bit more than 10 Euro cents.