Beyond biomass: A path to a cleaner future with biogas

A change is taking place in Uganda's Wakiso district, where communities grapple with the challenges of heavy dependence on biomass for cooking. In this landscape, fraught with waterlogged woodlands and the constant threat of snake encounters, the collective pursuit of firewood becomes a shared hardship. The story of Gerude Nabula demonstrates the transition from traditional fuels to the sustainable promise of biogas—a shift that transforms daily life and holds hope for communities grappling with the environmental and economic burdens of biomass reliance.

Navigating hazardous paths for firewood

In Uganda's Wakiso district, Gertrude Nabulya's daily journey from forest to kitchen is a tale of resilience amidst challenging terrains. The pathway through waterlogged woodlands, especially during the rainy season, becomes a daunting expedition. With waist-high waters and the constant threat of snake encounters, the pursuit of firewood demands strength and caution.

'At times, even after spending the entire day in the woodland, you would fail to get anything. When you got lucky, you would get just enough to make tea and cook for the next day,' Gertrude recounts.

The economic struggles of biomass dependency

Not long after, the woodland is replaced with eucalyptus for commercial farming, compelling Gertrude to turn to firewood and charcoal sold on the street-side. However, the cost proves unbearable, leading to financial challenges in securing cooking energy.

'They would sell three pieces of firewood at UGX2,000 and four pieces for smaller ones. I used to spend UGX4,000 whenever I prepared meals that excluded beans and UGX6,000 when the legumes were on the menu. We struggled a lot because sometimes the charcoal or firewood was wet and funds were not readily available, yet we needed to eat daily,' she says.

Prolonged hours, limited independence

With 90% of households relying on biomass in Uganda, the struggle to secure firewood extends beyond inconvenience for women primarily responsible for cooking in their homes. Prolonged hours searching for firewood divert women's productive time from family and income-generating activities, perpetuating environmental challenges and limiting economic independence.

'Whenever I spent the day looking for firewood, I would not tend to my plantation, and for poultry, it was challenging because of how much attention they need, so it was really hard to manage,' Gertrude explains, prompting her exploration of alternative energy solutions.

Gertrude oversees multiple enterprises on her 5-acre farm, cultivating crops and managing a small poultry project. However, the biomass struggle hinders effective time management for her diverse activities.

A turning point

Gertrude is one of the farmers who attended a biodigester awareness training in Kakiri, Central Uganda, organised by the African Biodigester Component project. The training aimed at sensitising farmers about the benefits of biodigester technology, with an emphasis on biogas and bio-slurry organic fertiliser.

'They taught us about the benefits of biodigesters, and I took a keen interest in biogas because of its cost-effectiveness. I had always thought it was only for the rich, but I later understood that even I could afford it,' she explained why she later acquired the biodigester.

Biogas implementation: A cost-effective option

Gertrude owns five cows from which she collects cow dung for mixing in the biodigester to generate biogas. 'I mix the cow dung daily for less than one hour and generate enough biogas to prepare most of my meals. It is convenient because the cowshed from which I collect the dung and the water is close to the biodigester. I now have time to care for my farm and family.'

Towards a healthy and cleaner future

Gertrude's shift to biogas holds promise for a broader community transformation, showcased through her active involvement in the 15-member Kaliiti Farmer's group in Wakiso.

Today, as Gertrude tends to her thriving family and agricultural enterprises, she looks forward to leveraging the additional benefits of the biodigester in her farm for a healthy and cleaner future.

To learn more about the Africa Biodiester project in Uganda