A young man's journey to becoming a successful biogas master mason

A young man's journey to becoming a successful biogas master mason

Gabriel Mafinanga finds himself working in the field of renewable energy at a time when the Tanzanian government is making great strides in reducing the burning of fossil fuels and the cutting of trees by rural communities.

Early this year, the Tanzanian government outlawed the burning of charcoal. This means that rural Tanzanians will likely lean towards renewable energy services. And this is exactly what Dress and Bell (D&B), the bio-digester construction company where Gabriel works, offers.

Gabriel began his journey working for D&B in Moshi, Kilimanjaro, right after completing his Opportunities for Youth Employment (OYE) course in 2014. “There were about ten of us from OYE who came to work for D&B. Four of us are still here to this day, the other six went on to pursue other activities,” says the very soft spoken Gabriel. But one can tell Gabriel is not so timid when it comes to his work. And his boss and founder of D&B, Andrew Mvungi, can confirm this: “Gabe started as a trainee here back in 2014. His work was not perfect in the beginning but his performance was very very good; we saw great potential in him and that’s why he’s been our master mason since 2015.” As a master mason, Gabriel builds bio-digesters, supervises the construction of all digesters and manages the training of other builders.

But in the past year, a new situation has put put the husband and father of a newborn son in a challenging position. “The number of customers has decreased since the Tanzania Domestic Biogas Programmed (TDBP) stopped subsidising biogas plant construction at the end of 2014. In 2013 and 2014 we built 165 and 201 digesters, respectively but the number dropped drastically to 20 in 2015 and only 6 in 2016.”

But plans are now underway to keep Gabriel busier than ever: “I attended a week-long training on new bio-digester designs where we were taught how to build large-scale plants that are connected to latrines and run on human waste.”

Andrew requested the training especially for Gabriel as he saw an opportunity to tap into a new customer base. He explains: "We have just finished work on a biogas plant for a large public school. The possibilities are now endless; we are going to target more schools, hospitals and even prisons."

Larger and more complex digesters mean a larger paycheck for Gabriel who was able to make 700,000 TZS (312 USD) working on the school digester. This is a marked increase from the average 100,000 TZS (44 USD) he earns per biogas plant for domestic use. So far this year, Gabriel has built ten domestic biogas plants, putting his total income at 1 million TZS (447 USD). Building large-scale bio-digesters means that he can now earn his whole annual income through just one large-scale digester contract.

With their eyes set on increasing the use of biogas in rural Tanzania, both Andrew and Gabriel are also determined to educate their customers about the many environmental benefits of biogas. “Biogas is good for the environment. And it's perfect for rural communities who keep livestock; the slurry produced after the gas production can also be used as compost for their crops or vegetable gardens", says Gabriel.

Gabriel Mafinanga building a bio-digester

Gabriel Mafinanga building a bio-digester

Gabriel has built and supervised the construction of more than 150 bio-digesters and he wants to build even more: “I want to build different types of digesters from small, domestic ones to more complex ones for larger production. I’m very glad Andrew made sure I received the training I needed to keep growing.”

He dreams of running his own establishment one day and wants to expand into dam and water well construction. “I would be lying if I said I didn't want to pursue my own project one day. I am very happy to work here and the next step for me is becoming a business owner just like Andrew has inspired me to.”

“And that is the plan,” Andrew chimes in, “we want to make these young people mobile, so they leave here better professionals.”

With the OYE project, we aim to sustainably increase youth employment and incomes. Wo do so by:

  • Providing disadvantaged youth in rural areas with life skills and technical training in fields like renewable energy and agriculture (push factor).

  • Linking youth to market opportunities for employment and enterprise development (match factor).

  • Selecting opportunities in growth sectors that have concrete potential for employment creation (pull factor).

We work with youth organisations, vocational training centers, local government, and business associations to identify young people who are out-of-school and unemployed and then coordinate with training providers to carefully screen and select disadvantaged young people to participate.

The OYE project is implemented by SNV in partnership with Mastercard Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.