Botswana is more than half a million square kilometres and its 2.5 million inhabitants are thinly spread over a large area. To build and maintain an electrical grid in these circumstances is a challenge. At the same time, the country is one of Africa’s largest producers of cattle. About 2.5 million cows, 300,000 goats and 200,000 sheep graze fields in the rural areas where access to energy is the most complex.
So why not use energy that is abundant, safe, and just as sustainable as solar power?
“In Bostwana people have a lot of cattle and the waste generated by cows, chickens and pigs can produce gas for cooking and light.” — Babaloki Autlwetse, UNDP Biogas project manager
Biogas is produced when organic material is broken down by bacteria in an oxygen-free environment, called a digester. This biological process provides environmentally friendly energy which can be used to power stoves, generate heat and lighting, and even produce electricity on a larger scale, while at the same time cutting down on the soil and water pollution.
An added benefit is that after the manure has been digested, it becomes a high-quality fertilizer for gardens or crops.
Phatsimo Mmifinyana, 44, has installed a 10 cubic metre biogas digester at her farm in Nkoyaphiri, Kweneng District. She feeds it daily with dung from her cows in the nearby kraal (or village). She also puts in chicken droppings and pig waste. The digester produces 2.0 to 2.3 cubic metres of gas per day, providing enough energy for cooking, lighting and heating the poultry house during cold seasons.
“I read about it and realized it could be a solution to my energy needs in my farm since we are currently living off-grid. When the opportunity came through UNDP to apply to be a beneficiary, I was happy to do so,” she says.
Funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by UNDP with the Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI), the project started in 2018, with the aim of benefitting mainly young people, women and those living with disabilities.
In rural Botswana, firewood is the main source of energy for domestic use. But the increasing energy needs of rural communities have led to large-scale deforestation, pushing CO2 emissions upwards, and contributing to soil erosion and biodiversity loss.
Finding wood and transporting it back home is a task done mostly by women and children. It isn’t easy or safe and takes up many hours of their day.
Burning firewood in the kitchen also comes with risks. Smoke in confined spaces can be harmful to health and indoor fires can be dangerous if left unattended. Cooking, lighting and heating with biogas is much safer because the low pressure of the digester ensures that there is no risk of leakage and uncontrolled combustion.
UNDP is interested in promoting sustainable development while preserving the environment. Through this project we are looking at agricultural waste management and using that waste as a resource.” — Ludo Moroka, Biogas Project Engineer
Inspired by the success of the technology in other countries such as Ethiopia and Uganda, BITRI engineers adapted the design of small-scale biogas digesters to the needs of Botswana’s rural environment. Currently 31 digesters ranging from six to 30 cubic metres have been constructed within the south-eastern part of Botswana, and the programme will expand throughout the country with another 200 digesters.
So far, 36 young people have been trained and certified to understand the technology and construct biogas digesters using bricks, sand and water — materials that are readily available. To ensure sustainability and continuity beyond UNDP’s participation, the project also organized “train the trainers” sessions for 15 people.
Though Botswana is a minor emitter of greenhouse gases, the country is still affected by climate change. As a party to the Paris Agreement and having ratified the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) to promote the production of green energy and to reduce greenhouse gases, the goal of the government is to ensure that by 2030, 15 percent of the country’s energy needs come from renewable sources. Biogas for medium and large-scale enterprises can help reduce the need for coal, as well as reduce CO2 emissions.
The project aims to cut of 1.65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and increased incomes using small-scale biogas and bio-fertilizer, especially for women.
For farmer Faith Malefo Gabonthone it has made all the difference: “I heard about it on the radio. The building of the digester started in July and by December we were having biogas at home. Now I don’t have to fetch firewood before I can prepare tea. Life has become easier,” she says.
Story by UNDP Botswana; Photos by UNDP Bostwana/Santi Risco