Bio-gas, a climate mitigation measure

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Biogas is mainly used for cooking in Zimbabwe

By Melody Chikono
IT is a hot day in January in Guruve district, Mashonaland Central province and Patrick Muchengu, who is a proud owner of a bio-digester plant, passionately describes how he acquired the alternative energy source in 2017.

Muchengu, who also happens to be a councillor in the Guruve Rural District Council is, however, not happy that despite the knowledge villagers have received about the importance of using biogas as a climate change mitigation measure, he is the only one who has it in his ward.

According to Muchengu, the council used to run a revolving fund for setting up bio-digesters in rural Guruve, but it has since ceased, citing hyper-inflation.

Despite lack of collateral demands  to access the fund, people were still reluctant to set up the  plants due to high costs of setting up the digester.

Since 2017, when he started using the bio-digester, Muchengu has also been  saddened by the fact that  he hasn’t been able to find a suitable  stove to use, saying the one he was using was not compatible and no longer functioning well, but he could not  dump the digester because it would  be expensive to restart it once left idle for a while.

“I got US$1 000 in 2017 from the council’s revolving fund. It was available for everyone. One only needed to have more than five cows and be trustworthy to qualify for the fund. The money would be repaid after one year. It is so unfortunate that I am the only one in my ward who has it. I am not sure about other wards, but many people did not take the fund because they said they would not be able to  repay the money. It is expensive to set up a bio-digester and people can’t afford on their own. The only problem I have is that I have not been able to find the correct stove to use and don’t know how to go about it,” he said.

Despite biogas emerging as an alternative form of energy that can substitute traditional fuels like firewood as it uses cow dung, many people in Zimbabwe simply cannot afford the required US$1 000 which is beyond the reach of many, especially in the rural areas where poverty levels are high.

Climate change, which is directly or indirectly caused by human activities that alter the composition of the atmosphere has become an emergence and a global challenge induced by anthropogenic activities.

Developing countries like Zimbabwe have become more susceptible to adverse impacts of climate change as they have limited capacity to cope with hazards associated with the changing climate.

Biogas can reduce global emissions by 18% to 20% as it can be combusted to produce electricity and heat, which can be used on site or fed directly onto the national grid.

A Juniper Publishers 2019 study shows that in Zimbabwe, 97% of the plant owners use bio-gas for cooking, 1% for lighting, 1% for space heating in pig and poultry farming and 1% for waste management only.

Zimbabwe has a domestic biogas programme which for nearly a decade has promoted the use of biogas and close to six years ago, government in partnership with two Dutch-based development organisations, rolled out a US$3 million project to install biogas units across the country.

Environment Africa executive director Paradzayi Hodzonge said biogas had proved to be popular and viable in Zimbabwe mostly among women as it reduces the firewood fetching labour, but the high set-up cost was the only deterrent.

Hodzonge said there was need to encourage more producers of components like dome pipes and maybe allow some form of borrowing supported by the government for the construction of bio-digesters as these farmers will be reducing the cutting down of trees which is one of the causes of climate change.

“The challenges that the rural communities are facing in installing biogas digesters are the costs, with  a six cubic bio-digester costing plus or minus US$1 000 and in some cases this money is not easily  available to farmers. Also note that for the bio-digester to be viable, it requires a substrate from the cattle. This feed will require that a farmer have at a least six cattle so that each morning they feed the bio-digester with a 20-litre bucket of cow dung and farmers that do not have cattle will have to struggle to feed it. As I have indicated the costs are inhibition and we have also experienced that the farmers that have adopted have bio-digesters have sold their cattle in order to  finance the construction of bio-digesters,” he said.

“In terms of uptake, the Energy ministry has been actively supporting the construction of bio-digesters. They have technicians and engineers who are willing to go out with  NGOs that are supporting bio-digester construction. They also have their own programmes where they are also training builders on bio-digester construction and promoting  bio digester construction within the rural areas. However, the fact that we have few companies that are producing key components of bio-digesters, for example, dome pipes, makes it  exclusive and very expensive.”



In Mudzi district, a Shinga ward 4 farmer Chengetai Kapango does not own a bio-digester simply because he cannot  afford it.

Kapango has in the past two years witnessed seven households falling to a bio-digester scam that left them poorer after they paid two cows each for the construction of bio-digester units that did not work.

“Only one digester that was constructed by government is working.  The problem is that it is expensive, There are some individuals who claimed to have received training in Kotwa, who came and mobilised people and demanded two cows for each digester. To date, all seven of them failed to work. Seven households fell from the scam. We have enough knowledge on bio-digesters and biogas use, but we simply cannot afford,” he said.

Back in Guruve, a bio-digester installed by Environment Africa that can support six households has only one person benefiting from it.

Headman Work Manungo, who is part of the irrigation scheme under which the bio-digester has been constructed is also not using it.

“There is a pipe that is supposed to  connect the bio-digester to my house for me to be able to use it, but it is  expensive and I do not have the money  to buy it. Same with my colleagues, but we know how important it is. If it was not for this one constructed for, us, we couldn’t be having one,” he said.

As there have been calls for alternative energy sources from locally available resources, many countries are adopting environmental policies promoting the production and utilisation of alternative, sustainable and renewable energy sources.

  • This story was produced under the WAN-IFRA Media Freedom African Media Grants initiative