Nicaragua Biogas Programme leaves a lasting impact on the agricultural sector     

Nicaragua Biogas Programme leaves a lasting impact on the agricultural sector              

Nicaragua, September 2018. The Nicaragua Biogas Programme (NBP) has ended, having greatly impacted the country’s agricultural sector on a number different levels—economic, social, and environmental.

Access to sources of renewable energy is paramount to improve productivity, competitiveness, and quality of life, and to increase resilience to climate change. The growing demand for energy for households and productive activities, coupled with increasing fuel prices, has prevented smallholders and medium-sized farmers in the country from developing to their full potential.

From a technological innovation standpoint, NBP bequeaths a legacy to biogas in Latin America for it validated, transferred, and advanced the application of biogas systems for productive purposes for small- and medium-sized operations. It addressed the agricultural sector’s energy needs and demands, especially those of the cattle-ranching sector of Nicaragua. The development of these innovations proved that the biogas technology can power equipment, such as lights, milking systems, water pumps, irrigation systems, and milk chillers, among others. Such equipment is a sign of progress towards resilient technification, the enhancement of productivity, and the improvement of the agricultural sector of Nicaragua.

In San Pedro de Lovago, Chontales Department, Mr. Reynerio Gonzalez has an automated eight-position milking system which is powered by biogas. He reported that this system has helped him to ensure milk production hygiene, improve quality, decrease the need for labor, and achieve great savings. He used to use three liters of gasoline every day, which translated into US$1,300 a year—based on current fuel prices. He is now able to save this money thanks to the application of the biogas system.

Likewise, NBP has validated the biogas-powered milk chilling system. “This is an opportunity to make a positive impact on the dairy sector by advancing and implementing the most recent technological innovation—the biogas-powered milk chilling system; it is a solution to the structural problem affecting all farmers. Not only does it have a positive impact on the environment and the farmers', income, but it will also allow the sector to scale up and meet international market’s milk quality standards,” explained Mr. Emmanuel Bejar, SNV Country Director.

According to Mr. Wilmer Fernandez, president of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Milk Producers (CANISLAC, in Spanish), only 40 percent of the milk produced in the country is refrigerated.

Milk quality is directly linked to chilling and distance. “The farther the collection centre is, the more problems will arise for milk. This is why chilling units are a good alternative for farmers. The use of biogas addresses the problem significantly and ensures good quality and adequate conditions for transporting the milk to the processing plants,” remarked Mr. Jairo Matus, president of the Chontalac Cooperative.

He went on to add that “this is one of the greatest innovations for the industry and it is also an ambitious project because it will allow each producer to have their own biogas-powered chilling unit; allowing them to produce the raw materials [for the biogas digester] right in their own corrals, with their own animals.”

According to studies by NBP, a milk producer can save up to US$1,300 a year when switching from fossil fuels to biogas to power an automated milking machine. Moreover, that same farmer can improve the quality of the milk and enhance the profitability of his business by using a biogas-powered milk chilling tank and ensuring the milk cooling chain, from the point when the cow is milked to the delivery to the truck or collection centre.

Bags of Bio-slurry

Bags of Bio-slurry

Biogas fueled milking machines

Biogas fueled milking machines

Biogas has an impact on the households

Though Nicaragua has made significant efforts towards increasing electrical grid's coverage, 60 percent of the households still use wood as the main source of fuel nationwide.

With NBP’s support, about 1,400 families have successfully adopted a biogas system. This means that over 8,000 Nicaraguans have stopped using fuelwood—a very deadly source of fuel—and are properly disposing of the organic waste produced from their farms.

If a family of six switches from fuelwood to biogas to cook their meals, they can save US$720 on fuelwood costs, and if they use organic fertilizer, they can save US$700, not to mention the positive impacts on their health. According to the World Health Organization, household air pollution causes four million deaths a year worldwide.

Impact on climate change mitigation

Adopting biogas systems has a positive impact on the environment. It reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which in turn, helps to mitigate and fight climate change. When a biogas system is used for a year, five tons of carbon dioxide will not be released into the atmosphere. It also helps mitigate methane emissions, as a result of proper organic waste disposal.

The 8,000 people who now use biogas have helped reduce the use of fuelwood by 10,107 tons and have mitigated the release of GHG emissions by 13,845 tons.  It should be noted that GHG emissions will continue to be reduced even after the project ends because the promoted technology’s lifespan exceeds 15 years.

Furthermore, NBP has identified additional significant outcomes thanks to the research conducted on the organic fertilizer called “bio-slurry,” which is a byproduct of the biogas system. Bio-slurry has a positive impact on crops, fodder, and pasture nutrition. The use of bio-slurry in crops has shown promising results because of the positive effects it has had on plants on the plants and the savings made due to the reduced need for agricultural supplies. The result has shown that a farmer can save US$35 on each 100-lb sack of chemical fertilizer replaced with a sack of bio-slurry. When replacing chemical fertilizers with bio-slurry to improve pasture and fodder nutrition, medium-sized farmers can save up to US$500 every month.

The agricultural sector at large considers biogas as one of the main solutions to boost productivity and competitiveness, and increase resilience to climate change in the country.

NBP was executed by SNV Netherlands Development Organization and HIVOS with funds from the Inter-American Development Bank's Multilateral Investment Fund (IADB-MIF) and the Nordic Development Fund (NDF) from 2012 to September 2018.

What is Biogas?

Biogas is a clean non-polluting, low-cost fuel produced from manure that helps meet energy needs in rural homes. In order to produce it, manure is poured into a closed container called “biogas digester” where it is mixed with water, the lack of air forces the mix to produce biogas and a high-quality organic fertilizer called “bio-slurry.”

To learn more about how bio-slurry is produced please watch the following video.

For more information on SNV's biogas programme in  Nicaragua, please contact Judit Vanegas at jvanegas@snv.org