By Mukami Githagui
The effects of climate change have reached unprecedented levels leading to land and water resources degradation and subsequently causing the loss of livelihoods among rural communities particularly those who live in arid and semi-arid regions.
Huku Water Project Self Help Group (Huku SHG) which comprises of 600 households is a community-based organization (CBO) based on the Western side of Mt. Kenya forest in Nyeri County. The group’s main focus is to enhance living standards of smallholder farmers and to advocate for pro-poor development, environmental conservation and promotion of sustainable agricultural-based livelihoods for communities living within the two sub-locations which are characterized by a semi-arid climatic condition.
To mitigate climate change in the region, where residents have been depleting forest cover by cutting down trees for firewood, Huku SHG came up with a project to promote use of renewable energy through biogas. The GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) awarded Huku a grant of US$ 47,112.5 towards procurement of building materials for the fixed dome digester, project administration, baseline survey study, end term evaluation among other project related activities. By enabling and encouraging more people in the community to use biogas, the CBO hopes to reduce carbon emissions emanating from use of wood fuel, charcoal and crop residue, to enhance carbon sequestration through increased forest cover and to support appropriate technologies aimed at poverty reduction.
Various activities were undertaken to achieve the project’s objectives including construction of fifty, fixed dome biogas plants, promotion of zero grazing practices, installation of 50 quarter acre drip kit systems and establishment of household woodlots. The residents would deposit the animal waste into the digestor and it would be converted to methane gas that they would use for cooking and lighting their houses, meaning that they would do away with use of firewood and kerosene light. The by product would be used as manure in their farms.
Charles Mwiti a member of Huku CBO’s committee says that they started off the biogas project with contributions from members of the community. Each target household was required to contribute Ksh50,000 ($500); half the total cost of the project. It was an uphill task for many households, but eventually they raised the capital and biogas plants were installed parts of Laikipia, NaroMoru and Meru.
“The biggest challenge we faced was lack of enthusiasm from members of the community at the onset. They couldn’t grasp the importance of this biogas and they were quite sceptical at first. After they saw their neighbours had built and benefitted from this project they begun to see its usefulness,” says Mwiti.
Nancy Gachakwe a beneficiary of the biogas project says they have benefitted from the project as they no longer have to source for firewood or purchase paraffin for kerosene lamps to facilitate their children’s study in the evenings.
She was one of the first people to build the biogas plant. “Once I got this biogas plant I stopped looking for wood, buying commercial gas or charcoal. I forgot about all these things. I only use biogas. In fact I even use it with my heater, and during the cold season, I enjoy its warmth in my living room. I am also planning to modify my chaff cutter for shredding nappier grass, so that it is converted to be usable with biogas. Currently it is using electricity which is costly,” says Gachakwe.
However in spite of these advantages Gachakwe goes on to add that she is suffering from an odd problem. She is producing more gas than she can utilize. She wishes she could find a way to share the excess with her neighbours, or even store it for use in the cold months, when biogas production is hampered by low temperatures.
That notwithstanding some of the ways the plant has benefited her include savings of Ksh3,000 which she was spending on purchase of gas and firewood/charcoal every month. Her house no longer reeks of smoke from burning wood or charcoal, which in turn has reduced incidences of smoke-related ailments like headaches and the flu especially amongst her children. She has also been able to use the slurry (biogas effluent) as fertilizer in her farm; her soil is therefore rich in nutrients, and farm produce has increased. Lastly she has a healthy herd of cattle that produce larger quantities of milk and are unlikely to get foot and mouth disease.
Her excitement is yet to abate as she plans to light up her home in future using biogas, and completely do away with paraffin.