Africa in Our Lives: Dorothy Lsoto

Dorothy Lsoto is a graduate student in the Nelson Institute for the Environment and Resources. In this AFRICA IN OUR LIVES, Dorothy shares about her involvement with W2E, Uganda Ltd., describing why renewable energy is key to the development of Uganda and empowerment of women.

Field of Study: Renewable Energy

“As a woman, I am able to come from an experienced level, because I watched my mum struggle to cook for us with the already sparse energy that was hard to get.” -Dorothy Lsoto

Hometown: Kampala, Uganda

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I love music, even if I really cannot sing. I sing at every opportunity I am given, but each time I feel sorry for those listening… but hey, we get to live once so I just sing and enjoy myself at the expense of those listening to my sound.

What sparked your interest in renewable energy?

The fact that I could contribute to helping young girls stay in school, instead of walking for miles with their mothers to the already banned forests to look for firewood, and also helping women to have more time to get involved in productive activities outside of the home.

Tell us about your current work with renewable energy access.

I currently work with W2E, Uganda Ltd. We are a research and educational business which focuses on renewable energy. We do research on biogas systems to try to make them more efficient in their use, in order for them to be adopted. Through this research we found that the systems face temperature drops that negatively affect biogas production, so currently we are designing and testing different heating designs to increase the temperature, in order to increase biogas production. Also, through research we discovered that water was a big issue. People were abandoning their biogas digesters for this reason. I am currently leading the promotion and marketing of a solid liquid separator, which was introduced to reduce fresh water use when mixing the manure to feed the system. I am also leading the marketing of our latest technology addition to our biogas systems, the coolers. These coolers run on methane, so I am working with dairy farmers in the western part of Uganda to promote this chiller technology.

What are some of the most challenging parts of your work?

Funding. We run mainly on grants that have restricted budgets, which makes it hard for us to maintain some brilliant staff after those projects have ended. Because our technology is mainly used by the rural households and institutions, it’s a little expensive for them to afford and being able to subsidize these technologies for them requires money, which is always a big challenge to the company.

Secondly, the infrastructure in the country creates challenges. Most of Uganda is not developed, which causes a lot of delays in getting work done. As an example, most of our time will be spent traveling on the road to go to the field, as the roads are poorly developed. This time could be used to get more work done.

The political environment under which we work also presents us with issues, by sometimes making it hard to get work done on time or to get anything done at all. There is uncertainty of the security in the city due to conflict between the ruling party and the opposing party. Strikes in the city and around the country make it often unsafe to go anywhere or get anything done, losing time. Also, we face failures when seeking approvals from certain offices to get projects done, just because a political person does not understand the importance of what that project would mean to the country and makes it hard for that project to ever take off, frustrating everyone on it.

Finally, the exchange and rate of inflation are also is very high, making it hard to work with such conditions.

What are some of the most rewarding?

Seeing a technology you have been working on for months work and be used by the people. Hearing testimonies from farmers about the increase in their crop yields after applying the organic fertilizer from their biogas digesters. Finally, seeing farmers realize a profit from selling their milk after using the chillers we install for them that run on methane.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Strive to be the best in your field and make it so that if you left, your absence would be noticed. Improve and ask yourself daily how what you are doing is leading you to the goal/person you want to be.

Tell us a bit about your visit to the UW-Madison campus in the Fall of 2017.

I was delighted to be hosted by Prof. Rebecca Larson at her house. We met through Dr. Aleia Mccord and Sarah Steffanos. While at UW, I was based at the agricultural engineering department where Larson sits. I got the chance to be invited to give talks to some of the students at UW and sit in some lectures, where I shared my knowledge of the research and developmental work I do in Uganda. I had the opportunity to meet some faculty who were interested in future collaborations. I also developed an interest in the lab work of Prof. Larson, which prompted me to apply for graduate school sooner than I had expected. Accepted under the Nelson Institute for the Environment and Resources program, I began graduate school in the spring. One of my main reasons for visiting was to also wrap up some of the research under the GCFI project work we had been working on with Rebecca, Aleia and Sarah, together with W2E in Uganda.

What are some of the challenges women face in accessing clean energy?

Women are the main providers of cooking energy. They spend most their time looking for firewood and travel long distances in search of this fuel. This prevents them from taking part in any productive work outside of the home. Further, because most energy organizations are run by men who become the decision makers, though they have no idea what it’s like to cook with firewood, decisions are made that hardly solve the immediate need for clean energy.

What is it like to be a woman working in Uganda’s renewable energy sector?

It’s very interesting because I get to contribute directly by finding alternative cooking energy to help women who bare the burden cooking demands. As a woman, I am able to come from an experienced level, because I watched my mum struggle to cook for us with the already sparse energy that was hard to get. It is also challenging at the same time. Most of the key decision-making positions, as earlier mentioned, are taken by men who may not completely understand the struggles that the women face in cooking, since traditionally the men do not cook and therefore do not understand the challenge of cooking with this dirty energy. Lastly, as some of this work takes you away from home and you have to work for longer hours in difficult areas with network problems, you find yourself having to choose between starting a family or continuing a career that is very demanding, but is one that you love to do.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I hope to have gained my Masters, along with more experience. I hope to still be solving energy needs for my country, helping to equip more women like myself and empower them to play a part in solving the dire energy need by encouraging more to take on key leadership positions.


Published by Aberdeen Leary