Benefits of biogas

The social and economic benefits of domestic biogas for rural household are enormous and diverse. These benefits are to be found in improved health and sanitation, workload reduction, increased agricultural production, reduced use of non-renewable fuels and improved lightning situation.

Biogas fuel reduces drudgery on women who have to walk long distances to fetch firewood. And with depleting forests cover – the primary sources of firewood, in many countries women have to walk for long distances, some for over two days, to obtain firewood. Below, we share some of the benefits noted in a baseline survey conducted in Uganda:

The baseline survey done in Uganda showed that rural women spend six hours daily on cooking, more than one and a half hour on firewood collection and another hour on water collection. Because of their multiple roles in the household as well as on the farm and other productive work, women have only 2 hours for social activities while men have over 35 hours in a week for leisure activities (Uganda baseline survey, 2010).

A users’ survey that was done one year later, among biogas users, indicated that the majority of the respondents (61 %) strongly agree that the plant had greatly reduced their work load. Time saved as a result is productively devoted into things like attending community development activities (male (72%) female (65%)), supporting children in their homework (female (54%) male (49%)), making handcrafts (male (31%) female (40%)). Women are able  to participate in home based enterprises (such as sell vegetables from Kitchen gardens, poultry keeping, selling of second hand clothes) to generate additional income, or at least generate income in a way that suits their life and obligations.

Use of biogas energy reduces indoor air pollution hence improvement in health and hygiene standards. This greatly reduces incidences of respiratory illnesses associated with smoke, especially among women and children who are most vulnerable since they spend most time in the kitchen. The Uganda users’ survey indicated that 57% male and 65% female reported improvement in health and hygiene.

Occurrence of diseases (respiratory, diarrhea and eye irritations) decreased by 56%. All the respondents reported that they never had an experience of respiratory complications as a result of the biogas plant. 93.9% didn’t encounter any experiences of eye ailments as an after effect of the plant installation. A significant number of respondents, 20.3% and 22.0% however, still reported prevalence of ailments like cough and headache. Majority of the respondents (96.7%) said they did not experience any fire accident in the last six months by the time of the survey.

Connection of latrines to digesters improved sanitation and reduction in communicable diseases. In most countries where ABPP operates, toilet connection is still emerging. In Ethiopia, around half of the digesters have latrines connected. In Uganda, this is around 10%. Taboo associated with human feaces remains obstacle to connection of latrines to the biogas plants. “When people hear about human feaces, it’s like the worst thing that can ever cross their minds… Others don’t even want to hear about it however much you try to explain to them… Culture can allow but it depends on how someone feels about the bio-toilet (Interview with the biogas promoter in Kapchorwa).

Bio-slurry, an end product in a biogas plant (digester) is used in agriculture as organic fertilizer and in fish farming as fish feed. Bio-slurry use leads to improved agricultural produce, hence improved nutrition and food security. 72% of the surveyed biogas owners in Uganda reported that slurry has effectively fertilized their gardens. 84% reported improved farm productivity and income. Most, 54 % applied it in its liquid form. Composting could further enhance the quality of the slurry but is not yet widely practiced. The majority of the respondents said they used this slurry in their own gardens as compared to only 9 % who said that they sold it for money. Selling bioslurry is however an interesting business potential for farmers and deserves more attention from the programmes.

Most respondents reported to use bio gas in (49 %) for two hours for lighting and 58 % reported to be using it on ironing. This has translated into more children being able to do their home work (56 %) and 51 % were using it for brooder lighting.

Besides the commercial use of bioslurry, biogas saves money as fuel expenditures, and other incidental energy costs, are greatly reduced.

On average, the farmers spent about EUR 40 on lighting and cooking before installation of biogas. This has been drastically reduced to less than EUR 15 per week. The potential for saving fuel is not yet fully used as quite a few (13 %) reported to be only use biogas for cooking while majority of the respondents (87%) reported to be using a combination of biogas and other sources of energy. Biogas stoves were only used as a complementary stove to the traditional stoves and could not fulfill the variety of cooking needs of local women.

Women remain the biggest beneficiaries of biogas, as they are traditionally the ones fetching firewood and cooking. However, a biogas stove is much easier to use and increased the participation of men in cooking. 91% of the households reported that both men and women use biogas for cooking and lighting. 15% of the plants were constructed at female headed households.