By Francis Kagolo
In the second year of our campaign to save Lake Victoria, Vision Group media platforms will until June 5, run investigative articles, programmes and commentaries highlighting the irresponsible human activities threatening the world’s second largest fresh water lake. Today we look at how Uganda Cleaner Production Centre is spearheading the fight against polluting Lake Victoria.
When the environment watchdog, the National Environment Management Authority, closed the Leather Industries of Uganda (LIU) over pollution in 2010, few people ever thought it would escape the cancerous waste and stench associated with tanneries.
However, three years down the road, LIU is now a model for environmentallyfriendly leather tanning systems in the region, thanks to the cleaner production technologies like waste recycling, it adopted. Another 20 local enterprises including Sadolin, Kakira Sugar, Igara and Crown Beverages have also reduced pollution using similar technologies. But behind this achievement is the unsung hero, a little-known organisation — the Uganda Cleaner Production Centre (UCPC) — that is slowly changing manufacturers’ mind-set to paying attention to saving Lake Victoria and the environment.
UCPC is one of the national cleaner production centres established in different countries by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) in 2001, to train companies how to cut production costs while minimising pollution. The donor-funded agency, which operates under the trade ministry, has trained staff from over 200 companies in environmentally sound industrial technologies since its inception, according to Silver Ssebagala, the director.
UCPC, together with similar national centres of Tanzania and Kenya, is implementing the Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production (RECP) component under the Lake Victoria Environment Management Project (LVEMP II). Under this component, businesses ought to adopt strategies to maximise profit without compromising the environment, which is technically referred to as cleaner production. Through numerous assessments, UCPC identifies areas each company must work on to achieve cleaner production.
The centre focuses on measures like efficient consumption of resources including water and energy, using less pollutant technologies as well as proper management and recycling of waste. “From the onset of industrialisation people have responded to pollution in different ways. At first they ignored it, and then they resorted to using water to dilute the waste until they began using end-of-pipe waste treatment technology,” Ssebagala explains. In the 1980s, however, the response changed to focus on preventing waste generation other than reacting to it.
This was the beginning of the concept of cleaner production. It was first advanced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) during the first UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992. The concept has since gained impetus across the world mainly because, besides reducing pollution and saving the environment, it also helps industrialists to save on costs resulting into increased profits in the long run. In Uganda, the concept has been picking up slowly mainly due to ignorance among the population.
Ssebagala reminisces how in the beginning people thought his agency was a dry cleaning company. “We used to approach industries and managers would simply ask how much we charge to clean things like suits because of the name cleaner production.
People did not know what it means,” he recalls. “One time we got funds from the Ministry of Trade and a newspaper wrote that the permanent secretary had paid millions of shillings to a cleaning company.” However, the companies that welcomed UCPC’s work have recorded savings in the process.
For instance, Lake View Resort Hotel in Mbarara reduced its energy consumption by 40% when it replaced incandescent bulbs with energy savers on UCPC’s advice. Crown Beverages also replaced three diesel forklifts with electrical ones in 2012 at a cost of $173,207 (about sh441.8m) following the UCPC training. They also invested $1,200 (about sh3m) buying new (more efficient) valves to reduce boiler fuel and air emissions.
Now the company’s environment officer, Joseph Tumanyaye, says the electrical forklifts, which do not emit pollutants have helped to reduce air emissions from the factory. Besides, he says they are now saving $59,099 (about sh148m) annually, mainly on diesel that the old forklifts would consume, and this will boost their profit in the long run. “The mentality that producing goods and services with minimum ecological impact would prevent growth is wrong; in fact, it only encourages environmentally sustainable growth says Ssebagala. “It provides a win-win strategy that protects the environment and humans while improving industrial efficiency, profitability and competitiveness.”
A man removing water hyacinth from River Kagera. In the background is the water hyacinth harvesting machinery, which has been lying idle
But like any other organisatuion, UCPC has also faced challenges including inadequate funding since it has to depend on donors. According to Ssebagala, the negative attitude among manufacturers which bars them from investing in resource efficient technologies hampers progress of cleaner production in Uganda. “Most Ugandan industries are using old technology.
They fear investing in more efficient technology because they think it is expensive. But I tell them that however much you improve on old technology it will remain old, more costly and environmentally dangerous,” says Ssebagala. He also cites some government policies which do not allow cleaner production to flourish in the country.
Ssebagala says it is wrong for the Government to look at all forms of tax including ecological tax on cigarettes and polythene bags as revenue. Such tax, he suggests, should be ploughed directly into projects like reforestation aimed at preserving the environment.
Citing fish factories that have closed down due to dwindling fish stocks in Lake Victoria, Ssebagala says revenue growth should be balanced with ecological sustenance to achieve sustainable development. “If you are talking about growth domestic produce growth, what measures are you putting in place to sustain that growth?” he asks. “If we don’t adopt resource efficient production we shall need more than more than one earth to sustain our economy and people’s lives because the rate at which we are consuming resources will have exceeded the ability of the earth to produce these resources,” he says.
A boy fetching water from the shallow, dirty, waters of Lake Victoria in Maduwa Island
What others say about Uganda Cleaner Production Centre
John Wasswa, a chemistry lecturer at Makerere University and consultant in cleaner production
Uganda Cleaner Production Centre has done quite a lot to save Lake Victoria. Originally, many companies around the lake were focusing on end-of-pipe waste treatment, which is not the best in fighting pollution. They have realised that it is better to minimise waste right from the point of production.
They no longer focus only on waste treatment, but they make sure they reduce on waste generation and even reuse whatever waste is generated. This is what we need to save our lake.
James Hilary Olupot Crown Beverages’ project manager
Uganda Cleaner Production Centre’s (UCPC) training is good for the companies’ profitability and survival as well as the environment. Crown Beverages was introduced to cleaner production by UCPC in 2010. We formed a team which UCPC trained in cleaner production and we have never looked back since then. UCPC has always been available for guidance in addition to involving us in workshops and seminars for more knowledge acquisition.
We are now seeing the benefits. He advises that there is need for full commitment of the top management for cleaner production campaigns to succeed in any company
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