Cutting energy poverty one digester at a time

by Esther Kahinga | Kenya Climate Innovation Center
Tuesday, 13 October 2015 13:15 GMT

Simon Kirubi and a technical expert work on the biodigester at Kirubi's home in Kenya. Photo: Kenya Climate Innovation Center

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Biogas is protecting forests, women and health in Kenya

Alice Njoki Kirubi is 31, a mother of two and lives in Githunguri, in Kenya’s Kiambu County. Since childhood she has used firewood and charcoal for cooking.

Fetching firewood used to be a whole day’s work that involved going to the forest two kilometers away and then returning with a load of firewood on her back. It was time consuming and tiring. During the rainy season cooking was even harder because firewood was wet and often smoked heavily.

Two months ago, her situation changed for good. The Takamoto biogas team came and installed a biogas system on her farm after her husband Simon agreed to pay for the installation of the system.

“Since the biogas was installed, I have not gone back to the forest,” Kirubi says with relief. “Waking up to prepare breakfast in the morning is now enjoyable. I do not have to go through the annoying experience of lighting damp firewood in the morning. I can quickly make chapatti (a flat bread of Indian origin) and tea for breakfast in a smoke-free environment.”

Takamoto biogas is an initiative of Schutter Energy Ltd that enables small scale farmers to switch to clean cooking fuels at an affordable cost. The company sells biogas digesters to farmers then shows them how to generate biogas and maintain the system. A mixture of water and cow dung is added to the digester where bacteria cause it to ferment and produce biogas. The gas is then fed directly to the house where it is used for cooking.

The biogas digesters come in two forms, the kentainer and flexi-bag. The kentainer provides enough gas for four hours of continuous cooking, while the flexi-bag lasts six hours. The biogas is generated

To make the biogas system affordable, Takamoto uses a lease-to-own model where farmers pay 3000 Kenyan shillings ($30) each month for a period of two years for the kentainer system and three years for the flexi-bag. For the flexi-bag, the farmer also makes an initial deposit of of Ksh 15,000 ($150). A complete biogas system comes with the digester, piping of up to 40 meters and a double burner cooker.

When they were doing the pilot in 2014, Takamoto noted that many households still used firewood for cooking githeri (a Kenyan staple made of maize and beans) that required long hours of boiling. These days the company also sells pressure cookers and households use them for githeri.

The Kirubis make their monthly payments through a check-off system at their cooperative. They have six dairy cows whose milk is sold to the Githunguri Dairy Cooperative Society. Takamoto has partnered with Githunguri Dairy to provide a credit facility where farmers get the biogas system installed and their payments are deducted by the cooperative and remitted to Takamoto. Since this partnership started in February this year, 10 farmers are using it.

The Kirubi household is among 109 that have installed the biogas systems in Githunguri area. These farmers and Takamoto are contributing to the attainment of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goal 7 on ‘Affordable and clean energy.’

Githunguri is an area that has electricity and so addressing the problem of smoky cooking fuel for the community means that smoky kitchens could become a thing of the past for them. According to the World Health Organization, indoor air pollution from solid fuels contributes to 1.6 million deaths each year, mostly among women and children in Africa and Asia.

The solid fuels also emit carbon that is stored in the atmosphere resulting in global warming or climate change.

The World Bank Group president, Jim Yong Kim, in a 2014 report, noted that, “Energy poverty makes it hard to think about anything beyond basic survival. If we don’t address energy poverty, we will not achieve our goal of ending extreme poverty. It’s going to take all our efforts to scale up public and private investment so that everyone has access to clean and reliable energy.”

Esther Kahinga is the communication and knowledge management officer at the Kenya Climate Innovation Center.  The center builds the capacity of entrepreneurs with innovative solutions to end energy poverty and also provides financial support to test the commercial viability of innovations. In 2014, Takamoto received funds to pilot a metered biogas system which was found to be not appropriate for their target market. The lessons learned enabled Takamoto to adopt the lease-to-own model.

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