Over 90% of Uganda’s population depend on charcoal and wood as sources of energy for cooking. The Uganda Bureau of statistics 2015 report puts the amount of income spent on these fuels annually at UGX 409 billion.
Such inefficient cooking fuels and technologies produce high levels of household air pollution which have a range of health-damaging pollutants. Exposure is particularly high among women and young children, who spend the most time in the kitchens. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 4.3 million premature deaths annually due to house hold air pollution (HAP). 500,000 of these occur in children under 5 years.
Addressing HAP challenges requires a shift towards cleaner fuels like biogas in addition to the drive for improved cook stoves which have incremental thermal efficiency. The African Biogas Partnership Programme (ABPP II) is a four-year initiative being implemented by Biogas Solutions Uganda (BSU) with technical assistance from SNV Uganda. The programme is promoting biogas as an alternative source of clean, high-quality energy for cooking and lighting. The waste products from a bio-digester also produce organic fertiliser (bio-slurry) that can be used to improve household agricultural production. Since its launch in 2010 in Uganda, over 7,600 households have constructed biogas digesters giving 45,600 people in rural Uganda clean energy for cooking and lighting.
Below are stories from some of the biogas users on what clean energy means to them.
Who would ever have imagined that cow dung could cook food!
"The first time I saw fire coming out of my gas stove I was so excited that I started jumping with joy. I had never imagined that something as insignificant as cow dung could give me gas for cooking and lighting my house," are the first words that come out of Zainab Muyobe’s mouth, a farmer in Manafa district in eastern Uganda. "This was a gift that I could not keep to myself, I had to share it with my neighbours." And so began Zainab's journey to promote biogas in Manafa district. But that was just the beginning for Zainab, once she moved from cooking with charcoal to gas she set her sights on her first love and favourite 'hobby' – agriculture. "Before I installed the biogas digester in my home, I was struggling with my crops. Because of the poor soils, my banana and coffee yields were always poor. In 2010 I harvested only 70kgs of coffee from a two acre garden. Through the programme's extension service, we were trained on how to use bioslury (by-product of biogas) as an organic fertiliser. When the slurry began to flow, I started carrying the slurry to my coffee and banana gardens and I noticed an immediate change in my crops, I could see that they were happy," Zainab explained.
From harvesting 70kgs of coffee from a two acre garden, Zainab now harvests 490kgs of coffee. Her banana yields have also improved. Where she used to sell a bunch of ‘matoke’ (local bananas) at 5,000 UGX (1.4 Euros), she is now able to sell a bunch at 25,000 - 30,000 UGX (7- 9 Euros) because of the improved yield. For Zainab using bioslurry from biogas is the only way that farmers can improve on their crop yields in a sustainable manner and become food secure. Her dream is now to see that all farmers in Manafa district use biogas.
Biogas has made me forget about my disability
Getting out of bed everyday does not take much thinking for most people who have the benefit of having two functioning legs. You just get up and go about your business. That was Zura Chemonges’ life as a certified nurse in Korokwen village Kapchorwa district in Eastern Uganda. Every weekday she would get up; make breakfast for her family using her charcoal stove or firewood before walking the short distance from her house to her clinic. This normality came to an abrupt end when Zura developed a blood clot on her right leg. Suddenly it was not the use of her legs that was on the line but her life. The only solution was to have the leg amputated. Zura’s life had changed. Gone were the “normal” days of being able to take care of her family and the community members who relied on her nursing skills. Gone were the sunny weekends spent tending to her garden and cooking for her family. The roles had been reversed; Zura’s life was now in the hands of others.
Simple chores like making tea for her children in the morning had to be handled by other family members. The community members who used to rely on her nursing skills now had to travel miles to seek alternative medical assistance. In the eyes of the community and in her own eyes, she was now an invalid, completely dependent on others, especially her daughter-in-law whom she shared a compound with. “While my daughter-in-law never complained, I could tell that she was getting tired of looking after me,” Zura said.
Luckily for her, her husband a business man and a member of Kos kosen savings and credit cooperative had witnessed her plight and got a loan to construct a biogas digester in their home.
“That was the best decision my husband has ever made! Now I am able to prepare simple meals for myself using our biogas stove. It is so liberating to finally be able to take care of myself again,” a smiling Zura adds. At night her home stands out like a beacon in the dark because of the bright biogas light. Her school going children can now study in the evening using the biogas lamp unlike before when they would have to light a candle or a kerosene lamp.
It’s not just happiness and laughter that biogas has restored, even my crop yields have increased!
Before we installed the biogas digester at our home, our meals were always late due to the inefficiency of our cook stove, Watalunga a farmer in Bududa district recalls. Now we have meals on time and I am able to prepare food for myself when my wife is busy because the gas stove is very efficient and easy to operate. “It’s not just happiness and laughter that biogas has restored, even my crop yields have increased as a result of the bio slurry application.”
ABPP II is managed by SNV and HIVOS and funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Development Cooperation. For more about ABPPII visit Biogas Solutions Uganda Limited website or SNV Uganda.
Biogas has relieved me from growing 'cooking wood'
When Fred Semuyaba and his wife moved to Kigogwa Village, Wakiso district in central Uganda, they resigned themselves to a life of growing shrubs for cooking. Life in Kigogwa was not for the faint hearted, you either adapted to ‘hunting’ the dry lands for firewood or go hungry. Being a man whose life depended on farming, Semuyaba decided to plant his own ‘cooking’ wood and the Semuyabas settled into their land.
In 2010 an extension worker showed Semuyaba another alternative to growing cooking wood. Semuyaba learnt that with an investment of 950,000 UGX (374 USD) he could not only address his energy needs once and for all but improve his soil for agriculture. Ever the practical man and with the dream of having a constant source of energy for cooking and heating his bath water in sight, Semuyaba chose to invest in biogas. In 2010 the Semuyabas got their 6 cubic meter digester installed and life has never been the same.
“When my digester was constructed, I was still ignorant of the numerous benefits of biogas and constructed a small digester. I am now saving money so that I can construct a 9 cubic meter digester that can cater for all my energy needs and give me enough bio- slurry to use in my gardens.”