No sugar coating: UCU students learn real-world, green practices

By Patty Huston-Holm and Jimmy Siyasa
Sugar – the substance that sweetens food and drink and that Ugandans grow up eating directly from a stripped-open cane – isn’t all goodness and white. 

Douglas Wegulo, UCU student and green entrepreneur
Douglas Wegulo, UCU student and green entrepreneur

To get the granular crystals, there are by-products of yellow and brown. The yellow could be molasses. The brown is carbonation mud used mostly for fertilizer, but also as filler in polymer composites for plastic. The final wastes go back to the sugarcane fields to produce the same raw materials.

The point is not to waste anything. 

Timothy Muwonge, general manager of environment, health and safety at Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL), said the industry is “70 percent of where we would like to be” for maximum profit and “green” standards. 

How Uganda sugar commerce addresses environmental practices was the main focus of a late July Zoom sponsored by the Uganda Christian University (UCU) School of Business. On a Thursday afternoon, roughly three dozen of mostly UCU business students listened in as part of what Vincent Kisenyi, dean of the school, says is an effort to insert more real-world examples into the UCU curriculum. 

“The sugar industry has taken great (environmental) strides,” Muwonge said. “But it’s almost unknown. Environmental activists need to come out and see.” 

The SCOUL manager shared visuals demonstrating waste and products connected to the country’s sugar factories. In addition to the best-known product of granulated sugar, the industry process yields molasses, filler mud, waste water and bagasse (dry pulpy residue left after the extraction of juice from sugar cane). The goal toward zero waste involves a concept of prevention, reduction, reuse, recycling, energy recovery and disposal. 

A little-known fact is that the industry gauges the purity of treated waste water with home-grown fish. 

“We use tilapia,” Muwonge said. “If they survive, it (the water) must be clean.”

Under the title of “Green Cameo Virtual Conference,” other presenters on July 29, 2021, were UCU Engineer Kivumbi David and UCU student Douglas Wegulo. 

Kivumbi shared that a green environment on the UCU Mukono campus involves roads, buildings, clean water and proper disposal of waste water. He showed photos and discussed how planting trees, shrubs and grass and trimming tree limbs improves the environment along with the disposal of aged items, such as old vehicles and furniture. 

According to the UCU engineer, plans call for better UCU electricity conservation by installing lights with automatic on/off switches and more use of bio-gas and solar energy.  Finance, he said, is always a barrier to accomplishing more.

In the third virtual presentation, Douglas Wegulo, a student in the final year of a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and Entrepreneurship, sensitized the audience about the urgent necessity to preserve the ecosystem. He runs an eco-friendly business that produces briquettes as a form of fuel in compressed coal that burns under fire.

The self-described “green entrepreneur” says his product is free of pollutants triggered by charcoal burning. He argues that the advantages of briquettes over charcoal are emission of minimal smoke, longer burning, and half the cost. 

The business that he started in the midst of Uganda’s first lockdown in 2020 supports him and 10 employees, including two other UCU students. Wegulo’s business has grown from production of  9 pounds (4kgs) in a week to an average of two tons of briquettes each week. The main market includes areas neighboring Mukono, such as Katosi, Namawojjolo, Namataba and Namanve.

According to Wegulo the main challenge is scarcity of clients, such as schools, because they remain closed due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Other challenges include limited capital, space for expansion and machinery for mass production. 

Yet, he finds hope. At the time of the virtual presentation, he was attempting to secure UCU as a client.