Over the past 20 years SNV has supported a biogas programme that grew from an initiative with a single manufacturer in Nepal to a sector that quickly spread across Asia, so that by 2009 we had supported its growth to the tune of 285,000 biodigesters benefitting some 1.85 million people. In the years that have followed, by taking the many lessons learned across Asia and introducing the approach into Africa, in February 2013 we reached the milestone of having installed 500,000 biodigesters.
Improving livelihoods is a central focus of the biogas programme. The 500,000 biodigesters installed since 1998, and the sanitary disposal of both human and animal waste has improved hygiene and living environments, while providing lighting and cleaner cooking facilities for over 2.9 million people. It has reduced workloads for women, allowing them to earn much needed extra income, and has shifted children’s daily occupation from hours of wood collection to getting an education.
Biogas plants convert animal manure and human excrement into valuable energy. At household level, small amounts of combustible methane gas are used for cooking and for lighting. A family keeping just three heads of cattle or six pigs can generate sufficient gas to meet their basic cooking and lighting needs and use the residue of the process, bio-slurry, as a potent organic fertiliser to enhance agricultural productivity.
Beyond the domestic sphere, biogas is a valuable resource for businesses and SMEs. It provides them with a combination of waste management, nutrient recycling, and renewable energy services that target the ‘missing middle’: those smallholders and other SME’s that fall between microfinance and conventional commercial financing. In doing so, the technological, social and economic gaps between domestic and industrial biogas are bridged, and the reliance on donor funding is broken as project sustainability is guaranteed.
Already, collaborative projects have seen agricultural communities and businesses benefit from biogas as a source of energy for agricultural processing. The 580 members of a coffee farming cooperative in Honduras are reaping the rewards of better collaborative processing and the reduced impact on the environment ensures their status as an environmentally responsible business.
There is a growing demand to scale up projects to entire communities by giving them access to the surplus electricity generated by local businesses: for an isolated village in Peru, the SNV supported BioSynergy project is harnessing the waste produced by a cattle herd to power an electrical mini-grid that provides street lighting and energy for 42 homes.