Our carbon advisor, Leonie Haakshorst, visited our new climate project, Biogas in Tanzania in December in order to gain inspiration and insight into how families on small farms use biogas. On her trip, she discovered some very surprising benefits of the project:
“I’ve been back almost three weeks since my trip to Tanzania, but I still can’t get over it. What a great country and a wonderful climate project. I visited many small farms in different remote areas and personally met a number of families that have bio-digesters and really immersed myself in the world of biogas. The local people were a real source of inspiration for me. The many benefits of biogas surprised me – I was not aware of all of them before my trip.”
Biogas gives beauty
“A beautiful woman.” was the answer Mr. Damas gave to my question, “What has biogas given you?” He told me enthusiastically, “Previously my wife had to go out for about four hours per day to gather wood in rugged mountains. She was dead tired and you could see it. Now she’s rested, she doesn’t have back problems any more, and above all, she has more energy. I got a much more beautiful wife with the biogas.”
Equality in the kitchen
Cooking on biogas goes faster and is much less stressful for people and the climate. But providing for equality between men and women is another unexpected benefit! Joshua told me that he found cooking over a wood fire a bit too difficult but that he now takes his turn at cooking. “Cooking with gas is easy – you turn it on and you can start cooking immediately. You don’t really think that as I man I would stand in the smoke, do you?” he added with a grin. Both the woman and the man of the house can now enjoy cooking.
Biogas is safe
It is a simple system: the biogas plant mixes manure and urine from cattle, which produces biogas. A pipe brings the gas to the kitchen, where people can cook. There is a residual product, called slurry, that remains in the plant. This slurry can be used as fertilizer for the soil. The controlled capture of the slurry means that no methane is released into the air. “Why doesn’t everyone use biogas? Are people afraid that it will explode?” I asked Hamis. At this remark, he almost exploded with outrage himself, because it turns out that it is not possible! I learned later from experts that the gas is not stored under high pressure, which means that it cannot explode.
Biogas fights illnesses
I already knew that cooking with biogas has health benefits compared to traditional cooking over an open fire. Less smoke in the kitchen means less chance of lung diseases, including chronic illnesses such as COPD. What I didn’t know was that a bio-digester also prevents intestinal diseases through better hygiene. A bio-digester captures the slurry separately, which prevents the bacteria from seeping into the ground. This means less chance of contaminated drinking water.
Delicious fish and bananas
The slurry has even more benefits. I visited a Massai family who live in an extremely remote area in the mountains where the soil is not very fertile. Thanks to the slurry, which is used as fertilizer on the agricultural land, there are many more possibilities! The existing crops are doing better and it allows for much more variation. Where there was previously infertile land, there are now bananas growing. The slurry can also be used as fish feed. There are farmers who have built small ponds in order to raise fish. It is wonderful to see!
And then there was light…
It works like this: three cows give a family four hours of biogas per day. This also ensures light, which is great because night comes early. So not only do they save the wood that they used to use for cooking, but they also save the petroleum and even kerosene for the lamps that they used previously. I didn’t know that the slurry also reduces the greenhouse effect in this way. This is now not included in the calculation of carbon credits, but it is certainly an additional benefit!
According to the families, the biggest benefit from the bio-digester is not the CO2 savings or the improvements in health – it is the increased income from the fertile soil. This is what convinces farmers to install a bio-digester. Mrs. Mcharo, for example, now has mega corn on the cob which sells very well! Better harvests from the slurry and more time gained from not gathering wood are also income. The sale of carbon credits makes the investment in the biogas plant affordable for the farming families, an investment which is repaid within 2 or 3 years on average. The project gives the most attention to training for agricultural production, which is held on the farms. Another great benefit is that the slurry is used to feed the goats, chickens and cows, which means more milk.
“Did you know that you can get the most profit by selling the slurry? It brings more in right now than the tasty Kilimanjaro coffee!”
Biogas 4 Better Life
Now at the end of my visit, I am completely convinced of all the benefits. I am especially happy because of the fact that the biogas plants visibly make people happier. The local organization of the project in Tanzania helped me so much. It was well organized and incredibly wonderful that I could visit a number of families. For me, it was all very special. In my previous jobs, I visited many development projects. Then I was usually only concerned with one aspect of the project, such as better coffee, water or fish. This climate project did it all. I now understand completely why in Tanzania they say:
“Biogas for better life!”