Empowering women through bio-digesters

Empowering women through bio-digesters

“Biogas transformed my family's life. I now produce, consume and sell organic products such as coffee, bananas, maize, teff and honey.” says Tesfanesh Bekele, one of the thousands of women in Ethiopia who have benefited from using a bio-digester.

Ethiopia's households (95% for rural and 80% for urban households) depend on biomass energy sources and it is usually women and girls who are responsible for supplying the fuel. But while in search of firewood or biomass, women and girls in rural areas often have to travel long distances and face great risks. Urban households have to spend a considerable share of their income on buying biomass.

To address the issue, SNV has helped build more than 3,000 bio-digesters in Ethiopia. This provided many women with clean, safe energy and reduced the amount of time and money they have to spend on gathering biomass, allowing them to start profitable businesses.

Tesfanesh is a mother of eight and a resident of the Wendo Genet district. She used to spend more than 635 Ethiopian Birr (ETB) per month (approx €26) on charcoal and firewood for cooking and heating. The bio-digester installed in her house has dramatically changed her life.

She has been using biogas for cooking and lighting since 2011. When her husband consulted her about installing a bio-digester, Tesfanesh was not enthusiastic about the idea, thinking that it would add an extra burden to her busy daily schedule. But hearing about the benefits, including that of bio-slurry, changed her mind.

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Tesfanesh sun-drying coffee

The bio-digester system has enabled Tesfanesh to cook in a smoke-free kitchen, diversify her family’s agricultural activity and increase their income. By using bio-slurry on their land, they have reduced their expenditure on chemical fertilisers and have been able to selling produces with an organic certification. Tesfanesh's family saves ETB 7,627 (approx. €316) on energy and ETB 1,500 (approx. €62) on fertiliser annually. They earn an additional ETB 43,090 (approx. €1,788) by selling coffee, bananas and bio-slurry compost. Having used the bio-digester effectively and having carefully invested in profitable businesses, the family has managed to increase their spendable income by ETB 120,000 (approx. €4,980) since installing the digester.

The increased income has strengthened Tesfanesh’s economic power, enabling her to further grow the production of coffee. “The income from coffee is attractive. I am planning to rent extra land and engage more in the coffee business” said Tesfanesh. To help the family’s business expand, she has also mobilised her husband and three sons to establish a honey cooperative, Mechal Mar. The sons said their mother played an essential role in the development of their business mentality. She took the lead in motivating the family to pursue a better life.

The National Biogas Programme in Ethiopia (NBPE) – part of Africa Biogas Partnership Programme (ABPP) – has supported the construction of 3,345 bio-digesters in 34 districts by SNV; nation-wide 15,491 bio-digesters have been built. NBPE is implemented by the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity (MoWIE) with technical assistance from SNV and is funded by the Dutch Ministry of  Foreign Affairs (DGIS) and the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (GoE). The fund is managed by Hivos.