The introduction of biogas can have multiple benefits in numerous thematic areas such as energy, education and the environment. This technology, integrated within a farming system can be promoted as a zero waste farming model that can provide a clean cooking fuel but also an organic fertilizer and, through better livestock manure management, a clean environment. The model has been widely adopted in rural areas not only to create employment but also to address two major issues: nutrition and availability of clean fuel.
The project demonstrated the economic, social and environmental benefits of innovative biogas technologies, including access to energy, reduction of expenditures on fuel, reduced environmental degradation, improved health, local employment creation and reduction of carbon emissions.
International Fund for Agricultural Development - ItalyLead applicant
IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized United Nations agency dedicated to eradicating poverty and hunger in rural areas of developing countries. IFAD provides low-interest loans and grants to developing countries to finance innovative agricultural and rural development programmes and projects. It is among the top multilateral institutions working in agriculture in Africa. The decision to create IFAD was made in 1974 in the wake of the great droughts and famines that struck Africa and Asia in the preceding years. At the 1974 World Food Conference, world leaders agreed that “an international fund … should be established immediately to finance agricultural development projects”. IFAD has a total membership of 172 countries from around the world and brings the point of view of smallholder farmers and rural entrepreneurs to bear on international policy deliberations, and builds their capacity so that they themselves can engage in and influence relevant policy processes.
Biogas International Limited - KenyaInitiative partner
BIL is a new company specializing in the manufacture of flexible anaerobic digester plants, “Flexi Biogas Systems” and flexible gas storage balloons made from reinforced UV treated industrial gauge PVC tarpaulin fabric. The company focuses on organic farming (through better agricultural practices with the use of organic fertilizer – a byproduct of the biogas digester), Water management and recycling, animal husbandry, nutrition and production.
Indian Institute of Technology - IndiaInitiative partner
Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi is one of the centers of excellence for higher training, research and development in science, engineering and technology in India. The Centre for Rural Development and Technology (CRDT) in IIT Delhi has been working as a nodal center to coordinate and provide Science and Technology support to Research and Development (R&D) activities and pilot scale evaluation of rural technologies and technology transfer.
IFAD's initative for Mainstreaming Innovation (IMI) project has been testing a new generation of portable biogas systems (Flexi Biogas©). The Flexi Biogas system is an affordable solution that provides energy to rural households while making use of waste products that would otherwise add to greenhouse gas emissions.
Conventional fixed dome biogas digesters used in developing countries have some shortcomings such as: expensive to install and maintain, require large volumes of raw materials (sand, cement, gravel, stones) implying high transportation costs and are labour intensive (require digging and construction).
The Flexi Biogas© is a new innovative concept design that can be adapted for use by anyone who is looking for a low cost, easy to assemble source of green energy. It has a comparative advantage over other biogas digesters as it is portable and can be transported easily on a bike or donkey to remote areas, does not require skilled labour such as bricklayers and installation of the unit requires only flattening of the ground.
About 85 % of the global population that uses biomass for cooking live in rural areas and more than 70 % of this population is located in South East Asia and Sub Saharan Africa. The unsustainable harvest of biomass resources and consequent loss of vegetation leads to a decrease in carbon sequestration, contributing to climate change. In addition, the smoke inhaled from the combustion of these traditional biomass resources causes chronic respiratory diseases and eye infections causing 4.3 million deaths per year globally and the burden tends to fall more heavily on women and children.
The initiative installed 12 portable Flexi Biogas systems in smallholder dairy farms and in an orphanage school in Nakuru, Kenya. Subsequently, an additional 10 systems in Rwanda, 2 in India and 2 in Sao Tome e Principe to test the technology in different agroecological and sociocultural contexts.
The initiative generated numerous positive results, including social (acceptance towards technology), technical (high gas production volumes), economic (affordable price compared to conventional biogas systems) and environmental (reduced deforestation rates). In Kenya and Rwanda, the permanent availability of biogas as a cooking fuel in the household has had an effect on the nutritional patterns of all farmers. With the extra time available, the number of warm meals have increased – especially for children who no longer take cold tea in the morning since using biogas is much easier to start and faster to cook. More importantly, water for drinking can be regularly boiled thus reducing water borne diseases. The average savings recorded for each household was approximately USD 15-22 per month with other qualitative benefits such as time saving, health and workload reduction.
The project directly targeted smallholder producers as chief beneficiaries. Women were selected because they are the ones who spend a considerable time and effort collecting firewood to significant distances each day. The rationale behind prioritizing women is that this freed time can empower women and relieve them from daily drudgeries that cause back pain and exhaustion. Farmers interviewed are now able to generate direct savings from the reduction in consumption of firewood and charcoal which translates into easy payment of school fees, hiring of casual labour, hiring of tractor for cutting fodder and other qualitative benefits that have improved the quality of life.
The initiative was funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). A special acknowledgement goes to the Director of the Policy and Technical Advisory Division, Mr Adolfo Brizzi (including the Livestock and Farming Systems unit), the Director of the Environment and Climate Division, Mr Elwyn Grainger Jones, the Regional Climate and Environment Specialist in the Asia and Pacific Division, Mr Roshan Cooke and IFAD Country Programme Managers, project staff and technical implementing partner, Biogas International. The initiative was led by the IMI acting project coordinator, Mr Karan Sehgal (Renewable Technologies Officer at IFAD) under the leadership and guidance of IFAD’s Senior Livestock Technical Advisor, Mr Antonio Rota.
Merit also goes to smallholder farmers that have contributed throughout the pilot phase of this IFAD-funded initiative.
The proposed technology has addressed interrelated issues of environmental degradation, energy poverty and food security. However, BIL is a small private sector enterprise based in Nairobi. The company is too small to attract real capital investment, and too big for microfinance institutions (MFIs). Besides, as a young company (established in 2011) it finds challenging to obtain a loan for a business model of a "new" product without any business history or track-record. There are many other obstacles that need to be taken into consideration including cost, capacity to deliver the technology in large quantities, a training support mechanism, post-sale services, a proper accounting and administrative structure and most importantly, a strategy/business plan for bringing the technology to market commercialization.
In rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa (and most of South-East Asia), firewood accounts 80 % of domestic energy requirements. Forests are shrinking at an alarming rate leading to climate change, water shortages and power rationing. The Flexi Biogas© system is an alternative energy source to wood-fuel and its adoption can also reduce methane emissions from better livestock manure management. In China, IFAD’s Guangxi projects have built 2.73 million biogas digesters, benefiting about 34.2 % of the rural households in Guangxi. It is estimated that 7.65 million tons of standard coal and 13.40 million tons of firewood are saved annually in Guangxi because of the use of biogas.
Another major yet undervalued benefit from the biogas digester is the liquid bioslurry obtained. This organic effluent has high nutrient concentrations and thus has the potential to replace current fossil-fuel based chemical fertilizers and improve soil fertility and crop productivity.
As a consequence of the results from the pilot testing phase in the 4 countries (Kenya, India, Rwnada, Sao Tome e Principe), the Government of Rwanda intends to support the installation of 300 Flexi biogas© systems which will complement their “One Cow per Farmer Programme”. In this case, the Flexi Biogas systems will be coupled to small-scale drying machines (powered by biogas) for maize/bean farmers to dry their produce. This can be applied for drying rice also in South East Asian countries like Viet Nam and is another crucial application of biogas at the farm level aimed to reduce post-harvest losses. The proposed technology is being mainstreamed through IFAD’s climate finance window, the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP).
Innovative communication and awareness campaigns were conducted to ensure that the Flexi Biogas© system will be correctly endorsed by local communities and other entities at the country level. Knowledge products and results generated are in the process of being uploaded on the IFAD website and on other international networks with the objective to circulate them to partner organizations also through IFAD Media Channels.