Saturday, 14 February 2009

Eritrean farmers contribute to reducing green house emissions by embracing biogas technology

Biogas provides many rural poor women and men in developing countries with clean energy, electricity and cooking fuel all year round, and on a sustainable basis. The sustained energy source generated by biogas means that children have electric light to study in the evening. It allows women to engage in value-adding activities instead of collecting firewood. Thanks to biogas, rural kitchens are now smoke- and ash-free, which to less damaging to health. And horticulture plots are benefiting from the residual organic fertilizer.

Biogas plants are becoming more and more popular in the rural areas of developing countries. Biogas has the potential to become the “fuel of the poor” since it does not require a big investment and is environmentally friendly.

How does a biogas plant work?
Biogas provides energy from organic waste material. Cow dung converted to biogas provides a free, sustained and alternative source of energy. A number of developing countries are embracing this alternative source of energy by building small biogas units.

The Gash Barka Livestock and Agricultural Development Project has helped Tekie Mekerka, an Eritrean agropastoralist, to build a pilot biogas unit. The construction began in July 2007 and was completed in October 2007. Mekerka collects cow dung from his 30 cows and feeds it into his pilot on-farm biogas plant.

"Every day I take three wheelbarrows of cow dung and mix it with water, and then channel it to the fermentation pits", says Mekerka. "The pits have been properly dug. We used concrete and cement to make sure they are airproof".

Mekerka’s daily efforts and the fermentation process result in 65 per cent methane gas which is collected in a storage tank and piped directly to Mekerka's kitchen. It provides the family with fuel for cooking and lighting in an area where electricity is a luxury.

"Thanks to the gas produced, we no longer have to go out to collect wood for cooking, the kitchen is now smoke-free and the children can study at night, because we have electricity", explains an excited Mekerka.

"The residue cow dung goes to an outlet and is then used as fertilizer. This is absolutely great, because it has allowed the family to set up a vegetable garden."

Mekerka cultivates peppers, lettuce, pumpkins, courgettes and other crops on this plot.

"Biogas not only has given us cooking gas, it is giving us more food, thanks to a well-fertilized horticulture plot and, even more importantly, light", says Mekerka proudly.

How is biogas technology helping poor rural families?
Biogas technology is helping improve the livelihoods of poor rural people and reduce greenhouse gas emission. The use of biogas helps minimize the carbon emissions caused by burning fuelwood and the natural decomposition of organic waste. At the same time, this alternative form of energy reduces the use of fossil energy. Its utilization is also improving sanitation conditions as cow dung is no longer burned to generate power but channelled into the biogas digesters. Biogas plants also produce excellent organic waste, which is dried and used as fertilizer.

"This technology has great potential and we are hoping to establish the use of similar biogas plants among other farmers in Logo Anseba", says Taddese Kefle, animal production expert.

"It is encouraging to see small-scale farmers, agropastoralists and pastoralists embracing good environmental principles and contributing to reducing greenhouse emissions", says Abla Benhammouche, IFAD country programme manager for Eritrea. "Together with the Government we are working to build the capacity of local institutions and farmers by sensitizing them to these issues so that they are better equipped to meet their daily challenges".