The New Times (Kigali)

16 July 2014

Rwanda: Eastern Province Turns to Cow Dung for Energy

Rural communities in Eastern Province are quickly embracing use of biogas as a way of cutting the cost of fuel for cooking and lighting.

The province, with the biggest cattle population in the country, has seen several households install biogas digesters to take advantage of abundant animal waste to produce clean energy.

Biogas is a clean, combustible, renewable gas produced from organic waste such as cowdung. It has provided rural women with cleaner and a more sustainable source of energy for cooking all year round.

Power generated by biogas is also used to light homes, enabling school-going children to read after sunset.

Above all, it has freed women from the hard task of looking for firewood allowing them time to embark on other economic activities. And thanks to biogas fuel, rural kitchens are now free of smoke and ash, creating a cleaner domestic environment.

What remains after power generation is used as organic fertilisers in gardens, a development that has led to increased agricultural productivity in the area, especially vegetable output.

Government helps farmers build biogas facilities in their homes through soft loans and technical skills.

According to Everest Kalisa, a farmer in Gatsibo District who talked to The New Times at his home in Kabarore Sector, biogas usage has gained momentum in his community because of the various benefits associated with it.

Kalisa notes that because biogas is environmentally friendly, and relatively cheap, it would become the "fuel for the poor" in the near future.

"Every day I take heaps of cowdung and mix with water. The mixture is then channeled into the fermentation pits. The pit must be properly constructed; using concrete and cement to make sure they are airtight," he said.

"The residue cow dung is then used as fertiliser. This is great because it has allowed us to grow vegetables," he said. The family grows different types of vegetables in the backyard, in what is known as kitchen garden.

"Biogas has changed my life. It provides my family with energy for cooking and lighting in this part of the country where electricity is a luxury."

Margarita Mukagatare, 46, told this paper that cooking has become easier since she no longer suffers with firewood. She says she used to spend a lot of time and energy collecting firewood.

"You know in our culture it is the responsibility of women and girls to collect firewood. So, I endured collecting firewood in bushes as a child but, as a woman, biogas has finally relieved me of that burden. I only have to spend few minutes mixing cowdung and I am assured of enough energy for the day."

"My kitchen and its environs were always covered in smoke... an unhealthy environment. This is no longer the case as biogas cooks and lights the house in a very clean way," she reflects.

Agronomists are upbeat that biogas technology will help improve the livelihoods of rural people.

Innocent Ukizuru, an agriculture officer in Rwamagana District, says biogas helps minimise the cutting down of trees for fire wood.

The technology has a great potential, and government hopes to expand the use of biogas to other farmers across the country, he said.

"It is encouraging to see small-scale farmers embracing good environmental principles and contributing to environmental protection. Jointly with the central government, districts are working hard to build the capacity of local institutions and farmers by sensitising them about the need to embrace biogas technology," says Ambrose Ruboneza, the Mayor of Gatsibo.

Production of biogas also helps promote integrated farming systems by converting manure into an improved fertiliser.

Challenges:

Although biogas is fast becoming a popular fuel in rural areas and considered as one of the cheapest renewable energies in rural areas in the country, it comes with several challenges.

Installing biogas requires one to at least have two cows in a home to provide enough cowdung to produce the energy. In addition to government subsides, one requires at least Rwf300,000 to install a biogas facility.

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