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February 21, 2018

Taita Taveta dumps firewood for biogas

Honorata Nyange cleaning utensils at her Lushangonyi home.Photo/MALEMBA MKONGO
Honorata Nyange cleaning utensils at her Lushangonyi home.Photo/MALEMBA MKONGO

With the rising cost of living, everyone is looking for ways to cut expenses in their day-to-day lives. Residents of Taita Taveta county are no exception. At least 600 households and schools have adopted biogas to tame the fuel budget.

Biogas is regarded as cleaner energy and a quicker means of cooking compared to previous means: firewood, charcoal and paraffin stoves.

In 2013, an NGO approached residents with a proposal of setting up this effortless system of cooking. Taita Biogas urged residents of Wundanyi subcounty to accept the pilot project.

But due to inadequate information and scarce knowledge on biogas, many families turned down the request. Many residents feared the gas was unsafe for domestic use, as it was homemade and not certified by the Energy department.

However, Fredrick and his wife Honorata Nyange took the risk and accepted the challenge of changing their lives. They are among four people in Lushangonyi who agreed to have their homes used for the trial project.

 HOW THEY BENEFITED

The NGO offered to cater for half the cost of the project. Honorata said this natural gas company paid for the constructor and some construction materials. The family coughed up Sh145,000 for the remaining items.

A year later, Honorata, a macadamia farmer, says they have forgotten the trouble of collecting firewood or using charcoal to prepare meals for the family.

Their plant uses animal waste, even though there are some which use human waste as well as farm waste.

Honorata said her only job is ensuring their two cows are well fed and mixing the bioslary in time.

“Using biogas has made my life so easy and simple. It has changed the entire concept of cooking,” she said.

Honorata said this animal-waste gas has spared her the trouble of collecting firewood. It has also made cooking quicker, as one only needs a matchbox to light the gas.

Another advantage is how she no longer has trouble washing cooking pots and sufurias.

“When one uses firewood or charcoal, the sufurias always remain with soot, which is hard to remove while washing. But for biogas, there is no soot and you can use the same sufuria without cleaning,” she said.

The couple now plans to set up a business of producing biogas in large quantities and then selling it to people who can’t afford to build the digester.

A kilogramme of biogas energy goes for Sh200, while common gas ranges between Sh170 and Sh250 per kilogramme.

“With authorisation and clearance from the Energy ministry, we will be selling the gas, which is way cheaper,” Honorata said.

 BUILDING THE PLANT

Rophus Kirigha of Wundanyi hoped to own a digester but it malfunctioned. Outside his home, waste from his three cows stands in a heap, waiting to be utilised.

Kirigha had built a digester but could not operate it, as the first chamber, which served as a collection point, sat on a wetland.

This could fill the chamber with water instead of the cow waste, making the byslary too light to produce gas.

“I even tried to put a polythene bag to control water from entering the chamber, but it did not work,” he said.

However, all is not lost. The engineers informed Kirigha the structure can be corrected during the dry season, when the land will be less wet.

“The engineers have also requested I buy a special bag that will be laid at the bottom of the chamber, which will stop water from rising into the chamber,” he said.

Even though the use of biogas has proved to be essential, Kirigha’s case shows sometimes, the systems may fail.

Poor planning, designing and construction of a digester may hamper its function, while poor maintenance may lead to breakdown. The construction needs to be handled by a professional with vast experience, while owners need training to use it properly.

The digesters also need adequate water supply to make the waste soft, because heavy waste might cause blockage of transition systems. One is also required to monitor operations often to arrest any malfunction.

 HOW COUNTY ADOPTED IT

Taita Biogas director Carly Mwandia said they have installed 600 plants in Taita Taveta since their inception back in 2012.

Mwandia said the project, which came as a trial, caught his eye and he saw a business opportunity.

He said he also saw a job opportunity for many youths, especially those who undertook masonry courses at youth polytechnics.

In 2011, Kenya Biogas Programme approached Mwandia and requested him to register all constructors he knew in the county.

A few weeks later KBP went to Taita, where they held a 21-day training on the construction of biogas, which was a new thing to them.

“We learned both practicals and theory. We built three plants and the results were exceptional. I wanted more from this project,” he said.

At the end of the training, Mwandia, a civil engineer from Kenya Technical Institute, was picked to supervise other members who had undergone the training.

He was also mandated with supervising constructions of the plants in the county.

In 2012, they got sponsors from Germany, with whom they started Taita Biogas. A year later, their partnership had resulted in the construction of 200 plants.

With the numbers growing and benefits seen all over, more people bought their idea.

 MORE PARTNERS NEEDED

Spreading their wings, Taita Biogas sold the idea to Micro Enterprise Support Project, an organisation that deals with farmers who have ventured into macadamia and French beans farming.

MESP offered to pay 35 per cent of the plant, while the beneficiary was to pay for the remaining amount. However, their support came to an end two years later.

Mwandia said they have approached various groups, including the county government, CDFs and NGOs.

MESP has promised to come back, and this time they will give loans to the members.

CDFs in the county have also requested schools to forward their proposals seeking funds to implement the project.

“This project saves 50 per cent of the money used in schools to buy firewood,” Mwandia said.

The first school to adopt biogas use was St Mary’s Boys’ High School in Lushangonyi. Mwangeka Girls’ School in Wundanyi has joined the wagon, while Mwasere Girls’ School’s plant is in its final stages.

In these schools, the plants produce the gas using human waste. Mwandia said this form of energy should be embraced, especially by schools and households.

Since 1980, the Energy ministry and other stakeholders in the private sector have made efforts to promote use of natural gas.

A ministry report notes that 17,000 biogas digesters have been installed in the past five years under the Kenya Biogas Programme, done in partnership with the Dutch government.

Another 2,000 digesters have been installed by private domestic biogas entrepreneurs such as Taita Biogas and Takamoto.
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