Over 90% of Uganda’s population depend on charcoal and wood as a source of energy for cooking.
The Uganda Bureau of statistics 2015 report puts the amount of income spent on charcoal and wood annually at UGX 409billion. Such inefficient cooking fuels and technologies produce high levels of household air pollution with a range of health-damaging pollutants. Exposure is particularly high among women and young children, who spend the most time in the kitchens. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 4.3 million premature deaths annually due to house hold air pollution (HAP). 500,000 of these occur in children below 5years.
The Africa Biogas Partnership Programme (ABPP II) recognises that addressing HAP challenges requires a shift towards cleaner fuels like biogas. The ABPP II programme which is being implemented in five countries including Uganda by Biogas Solutions Uganda in partnership with SNV and HIVOs, promotes biogas as an alternative source of clean, high-quality energy for cooking and lighting. Since its launch in 2010 in Uganda, over 7,600 households have constructed biogas digesters giving 45,600 people in rural Uganda clean energy for cooking and lighting.
These numbers are still low compared to the need within the country. In this extract we pick the Biogas Solutions Uganda Programme Coordinator - Michel Pinto’s mind on how they intend to scale up the uptake of biogas plants within the country.
Question: Your target under the new ABPP II programme is to provide 78,600 people with clean energy for cooking and lighting by constructing 13,100 bio-digesters. How are you performing against this target?
Michel: Currently we are constructing an average of 50 digesters per month which is good but below our target of 125 plants every month.
Question: Why do you have such a significant variance?
Michel: The biggest challenge that many rural households face are the competing demands on the scare available resources. A rural farmer requires at least 1.6 million Uganda shillings to construct one biogas digester. This is a significant amount for a rural household to afford. This challenge is further aggravated by the limited access that farmers have to loans given the wariness of many financial institutions to offer loans to farmers. This has hindered us from attaining our targets.
Question: What steps are you taking to address these challenges?
Michel: One of the issues that we are tackling is access to finance. ABPP introduced a credit sanctioning incentive through EnDev and the Hivos Credit Fund to provide interest free loans to financial institutions so that they can in turn avail low cost affordable biogas loans to farmers. Currently 14 micro finance institutions have partnered with us to provide this loan facility to farmers. A total of 62 farmers have so far been able to construct biogas digesters through this loan facility since its launch in 2016.
Biogas Solutions Uganda Limited is actively creating awareness of the business case for biogas technology. Rural households are seeing the economic value of the numerous benefits of biogas; from the reduced costs of energy, the improved agricultural yields due to using bio-slurry as an organic fertilizer, reduced deforestation, improved family health and sanitation to the creation of employment in their communities. Farmers are now selling bio-slurry and generating additional income from their investment in biogas digesters.
A farmer shows off his healthy bio-slurry fed coffee plants
We have launched three biogas marketing hubs covering 15 districts in the Central, TIDE (covering South Western) and Mbale region in a bid to promote linkages between different actors (farmers, Value Chain organizations, Financial Institutions and Biogas Construction Enterprises) involved in biogas. The hubs are business networks that we have established with the objective of strengthening the dissemination of domestic biodigesters in a given geographical area. The hubs are showing positive results with a pipeline of at least 80 plants per month expected to be constructed this year through the hubs alone.
Biogas Solutions Uganda Limited entered into partnerships with KAWACOM, Millennium Village Project, Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision Uganda, Vi Agroforestry and the National Agricultural Research Organisation. We believe that these partnerships will boost the uptake of biogas.
With the current momentum and partnership agreements we have signed with different organisations and fully functional biogas hubs, I believe that we will see more households constructing biogas plants and improving the health and wellbeing of their children and the overall livelihoods of their communities.
James Namara, a retired public servant now turned model farmer in Ntungamo district attests to the benefits of biogas, calling it his most prized asset. “Biogas is the lifeline of everything I have in my home because it supports every aspect of my farming and family life.” Indeed everything in James well maintained farm revolves around biogas. James uses bio-slurry to fertilise his crops, both food and cash crops. James treats the liquid bio-slurry as ‘first aid’ for his crops when they are not doing well. He swears by his bio-slurry as the most effective remedy for resuscitating his weak crops. Looking at his diverse and healthy crops that range from banana plantations, coffee, chia plants, vegetable gardens, fruits and flowers is enough to dispel any doubts about the importance of biogas. James also uses the bio-slurry to feed his fish and fertilise his fish ponds.