Around the world, charcoal has persisted as an energy resource and retained unequivocal
dominance in the energy consumption mix of some nations many years on since modern alternatives
were invented. Furthermore, it has secured unyielding significance as a commodity on local and
international markets and remained an aggressive competitor to electricity and gas for cooking. Here,
we analyze the charcoal supply chain and highlight the rudimentary production techniques common
within the sub-Saharan region, using Uganda as an example. Top global producers, importers,
and exporters are discussed and, based on fieldwork from ten locations in Uganda, we describe
common trade practices, economic contributions and the realities of charcoal consumption in areas
with concentrated grid and electricity coverage. Indeed, forest degradation and deforestation in
the charcoal trade is indiscriminate and the world’s top producers and exporters of charcoal do not
necessarily have vast forest resources. Pyrolysis, the process used to produce charcoal from wood,
exacerbates risks of wild fires and deteriorates air quality. Our fieldwork indicates that little to no
innovation exists to manage waste materials such as ash and polluting gases along the supply chain.
Recommendations for the future include better forest conservation practices and more innovation at
the cooking level, because effects of localized environmental degradation inevitably lead to negative
impacts beyond geographical borders.