Dung cakes, injera stoves and bio-digester technology

Dung cakes, injera stoves and bio-digester technology

While travelling through the countryside in Ethiopia, seeing piles of dung cakes is not unusual. Despite progress the country is making to promote alternative energy sources including bio-digester technology, most rural Ethiopians continue to use firewood or dung cakes as sources of energy for cooking and heating.

On May 1, a national holiday in Ethiopia, we head to the Baso ena worena woreda (district), in the Amhara region to visit the homes of families benefitting from the SNV-Ministry of Water Irrigation and Electricity (MoWIE)’s National Biogas Dissemination Scale-Up Programme (NBPE+). Our team along with some programme officials were invited into the homes of Birtukan Dejene, the head of a female-led household, and Yeshi Abebe and Abebe Tsegaye - who have recently installed a bio-digester.

Birtukan – mother, progressive farmer and award nominee

Birtukan Dejene, a mother of five and owner of a 6m3 bio-digester, is considered to be among the more progressive farmers in the woreda. Having been recently nominated for the “model woman of the kebele” award, she is a keen promoter of this new technology, and happy to share her experience with others.

Until the bio-digester was installed, she had been using kerosene for lighting and heating and dung cakes for cooking. Today, the time Birtukan spends on cooking has reduced significantly, and she feels that her quality of life has improved. “The children are now able to prepare their own breakfast as they do not have to wait for me to light the traditional, smoky stove. Now, they don’t miss their breakfast out of fear of being late for school”.

Proudly, Birkutan Dejene invites us into her home to show us how she cooks with biogas, and how her biogas-lit lamp works. In the beginning, only a very dim light was emitted from the bulb. After a few seconds, her entire living room brightened up… “The biogas light shines even brighter than a regular electric bulb”, exclaimed one of the government official who accompanied us on the visit.

The cost of energy

Annually, an average Ethiopian household spends about 9% of the family income on energy, of which 40% is for cooking. The share of energy expenditure for poorer households is even higher, and excludes the non-monetised costs borne mainly by women and girls who collect firewood or make dung cakes when they could be focussing on income-generating activities.

If a female-headed household is happy to invest more than Ethiopian Birr (ETB) 5,000 (roughly USD 182) in a bio-digester, it proves that this must be a rewarding technology. A 6m3 digester costs around ETB 15,000 (USD 545). ETB 7,000 is covered by the NBPE+ programme, while the user covers the balance in kind or in cash, or sometimes with credit from financial institutions. These returns on the investment is quickly realised. An assessment conducted by SNV in 2016 shows that the average payback period for a bio-digester is less than two years.

Yeshi Abebe's rose garden

With this thought in mind, we went to Yeshi Abebe and Abebe Tsegaye’s home. When we entered the compound, the first thing that caught our eyes, were the roses in the front garden. Wow! Look at the roses. “It is thanks the bio-slurry from the digester!” said one of the boys.

Yeshi demonstrated, how to operate the valve, gauge and the light. Wubeshet Sileshi, a Biogas Expert, explained “the masons who built the bio-digester provided operation and maintenance training for users. When the problem is beyond their capability, either the mason helps or the user informs the woreda energy and mines office for help.”

Pointing to the bio-slurry in the slurry pit, we asked what the couple planned to do with it. “We were told about the benefits of bio slurry before we installed the digester - however, we have seen them for ourselves when we applied it to the plants in our garden. So, now I plan to use it on the rest my farmland” replied her husband, Abebe Tsegaye.

What are the benefits of the bio-digester for this family? “Multiple!” replied Yeshi. However, both the women, Birtukan from the previous house and Yeshi, have a similar wish. “If only we had a biogas injera mitad ……”

A major chunk (about 60%) of domestic energy in Ethiopia is used for cooking injera which is the staple food in Ethiopia. Every three to four days most households prepare on average 30 injera in one cooking instance.

We explained that the biogas injera mitad technology is currently being developed. We are hopeful that these happy bio-digester customers will not need to wait too long before they can enjoy another benefit - baking injera on biogas!

Scale up of bio-digester dissemination

A National Biogas Programme of Ethiopia (NBPE) was started formally in 2009 under the multi-country Africa Biogas Partnership Programme (ABPP) with DGIS as a donor, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation (as Technical Assistance Provider) and Hivos (as Fund Manager). In Ethiopia, SNV has been working with the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity (MoWIE) and t four regional states mainly through the government structure at sub-national levels, while focusing on private sector development for a sustainable bio-digester market development.

Biogas Dissemination Scale-Up Programme (NBPE+) is designed to scale up the results of the NBPE. The objective of the new programme – NBPE+ - is to improve the living standards of farmers and their families while reducing the over-exploitation of biomass cover and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Afar, Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambela, Oromia, SNNPR, Somali, and Tigray regions.

Households which have at least four cattle, can access water within 20 minutes walking distance and are willing to co-invest in the technology are legible to become beneficiaries of the household size bio-digesters.

The programme is rolling out bio-digester designs called SINIDU2008 in all regions, piloting Solid State Digester (SSD) and Black cotton Soil Digesters (BSD) in Oromia region and planning to launch non-domestic large size bio digester to create market-based sector development.

Dung cakes, injera stoves and bio-digester technology
Dung cakes, injera stoves and bio-digester technology


A quick assessment by the National Biogas Programme of Ethiopia (NBPE) revealed that Ethiopia has a minimum of 1.4 million households with the potential to promote and use bio-digesters. Although phase II of NBPE will come to an end in March 2019, with co-funding from the government of Ethiopia and the European Union, SNV in Ethiopia and the Ministry of Water Irrigation and Electricity (MoWIE) will continue to run the programme for another 63 months under the National Biogas Dissemination Scale-Up Programme (NBPE+).

NBPE+, which aims to reach 36,000 households and establish 40 large-sized bio-digesters in eight regional states of Ethiopia was launched in April 2017.