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Hujambo from Uganda!

This afternoon, Dero and I got to visit the Heifer Uganda office. I had the chance to meet a handful of my colleagues and to see where they do their work. A particular treat was meeting Beinempaka Athanasius, who is the program coordinator for the Uganda Domestic Biogas Program. At the bottom of this post is the profile for this project, to give you a little context.

The other five countries under the larger umbrella project are Burkina Fasso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal and Tanzania. In Uganda, a project participant must pay at least 70 percent of the cost of installation. That 70 percent can come from their own savings or through a microcredit loan from a grassroots cooperative. The remaining 30 percent comes from external funding. Currently, there are three different sizes of units available to participants: 6 cubic meters, 9 cubic meters or 12 cubic meters. There is talk of adding a model in 4 cubic meters. The cost of the smallest unit (6 meters) is approximately U.S. $700. To Dero and me, that sounded like nothing. But to Heifer Uganda staff, as well as the participants, that's a mighty hefty sum.

A challenge that this project has faced is cultural acceptance of the biogas units. To combat this, Heifer Uganda has worked to sensitize communities to how the units can help them. They even have a mobile unit they take with them to make demonstrations. It is often easier to get a family to buy into the concept of using their livestock's waste to make fuel for cooking and lighting; human waste (which produces a great deal of methane and acts as a catalyst to speed up the breakdown of livestock manure) is another story. Each time a biogas unit is installed, however, a pipe is connected to the composting toilet, but the valve is not turned on until the family agrees to it.

Mobile biogas unit.

Heifer Uganda staff showed us a handful of biogas stovetops and lamps. Until recently, the project imported the stovetops from China. They soon realized, though, that they could teach people to make them locally and less expensively. Surprisingly, the lamps imported from China cost less and are more efficient than anything that can be made here in Uganda. There is such a high demand in Kenya for the lamps, in fact, that you can find them in markets across the country.

The bottom stovetop is the import from China.
The one on top was designed and made in Uganda.

This is the Lotus2. It is the newest biogas stovetop being made in Uganda.

Although biogas has been catching on in Uganda and the other countries participating in the project, it appears that because of the struggle to market the units, as well as the time it takes to train the technicians, promoters and service providers, Heifer Uganda will fall short of installing the target number of biogas units. With such an exciting and promising appropriate technology, it is easy to see how ambitious a project might become, planning to install too many in too short a time.

But there's absolutely no doubt that these units are changing people's lives. I look forward to visiting, and sharing with you, families who already have biogas units installed and in use.

What do you think? What would it take to convince you that biogas is the way to go? What questions do you have about biogas?

--Photography by Dero Sanford

Uganda Domestic Biogas Program

The growing demand for fuel has resulted in pressure being exerted on the environment. Trees are cut to provide wood and charcoal for cooking, and burning of fossil fuels has had damaging effects on the environment. Smoke from burning of fuel wood is a hazard to human health. In addition, the cost of domestic fuel is much higher than most households in Uganda can afford. Biogas provides a cheap alternative source of energy for cooking and lighting. The Uganda Domestic Biogas Program therefore aims at addressing this gap by developing and disseminating domestic biogas in rural and semi-urban areas offering the Ugandan population the benefits derived from the use of clean biogas for cooking and lighting and using the bio-slurry to increase agricultural yields with the ultimate goal to establish a sustainable and commercial biogas sector in Uganda.
The program will target 12,160 biogas households in the five-year project cycle. Biogas technology as local knowledge has not been institutionally operational in many parts of Uganda, and the introduction will be a considerate and phased approach. During the first six months, at least 120 biogas plants will be constructed – 90 demonstration and 30 regular plants. The program will start in more densely populated areas, particularly where dairy activities are common (e.g., where Heifer Uganda, Send A Cow and other NGOs have placed cows). Outreach will be improved by making use of partnerships particularly with NGOs, local councils and religious communities active in remote areas.
A multi-stakeholders sector development approach will be used and is based on the establishment, over time, of a market for domestic biogas installations and accessories, in which a well-informed demand side (i.e., in which clients who know what they want and recognize quality and value for money links up with an equally capable supply side that provides the market with quality products at competitive prices and with adequate after-sales services). Such a market is expected to reach a volume that allows a significant number of constructors and credit providers to maintain an economically-sound and profitable level of turnover. In the process toward market development, the government, civil society organizations, and other players in the public and private domain have a role to play, in addition to the main actors in the market.
Particular attention will be paid to vocational training and business development. In Uganda, there are few contractors and skilled masons. No hard data is available on the presence of appropriate construction companies willing and able to build, maintain and repair bio-digesters. Most of the registered construction companies are located in the urban centers. In the past, numerous artisans have been trained in all kinds of masonry and have now established their own micro-enterprises, often not registered as a company. These artisans have the basic knowledge to qualify for the bio-digester mason training and are ideally situated in the villages. If there are not enough registered construction companies available to satisfy the demand, self-employed artisans will be approached to form bio-digester construction teams. The perspective is that these teams will transform into small but full-fledged companies in the long run.


Brooke Edwards

Brooke Edwards is from Little Rock, Arkansas, and started working at Heifer International in 2009 as a writer. She and her husband raise two daughters in a house way too small for their four pets. They spend a lot of time sweeping.