FILABUSI, Zimbabwe, April 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -
Irene Moyo, a cook at Phangani Vocational Training Centre, no
longer wakes up at dawn to prepare breakfast for the students.
Until the institution installed a manure-fed biogas digester
three years ago, the mother of five spent two hours a day
collecting firewood in the nearby mountains to meet the school’s
heating and cooking needs.
“It was very exhausting ... because of the distance to the
mountain, chopping firewood and pushing the wheelbarrow,” said
43 year-old Moyo, who works in Matabeleland South province in
"It became much tougher when it was wet, as firewood
produced a lot of smoke which affected my eyes,” she said.
The biogas stove lights instantly and is quicker at boiling
sugar beans, eggs, sorghum porridge and tea for the 200
students. She no longer worries about making the lunch hour and
There is also no shortage of student and staff volunteers to
feed cow dung into the digester, as the payoff is warm bathing
water on chilly mornings.
Biogas – the process of producing energy by fermenting waste
– is gaining in popularity around the world as a way of reducing
reliance on fossil fuels, cutting deforestation and providing
cheap, reliable and easy-to-produce local energy.
It has proved an attraction in rural areas, beyond national
power grids, where animal dung is plentiful but firewood is
becoming harder to access.
But a $3 million project to roll out biogas across Zimbabwe,
set up by the government in partnership with development
organisations SNV and Hivos International, has had a low take-up
in most rural areas.
Cost is a problem, in a country where 20 percent of the
population live on less than $1.90 a day.
Over the last five years, about 40 digesters have been built
at farms and institutions, and some 250 home units - well short
of the project's aim of 7,400 home digesters by 2017.
“Considering the high costs associated with constructing
biogas digesters for many rural households, the uptake has been
good,” said Blessing Jonga, biogas expert at the Ministry of
Energy and Power Development.
He said home units can cost $800 and institutional units
$2,000 or more, with cement the biggest expense.
People also have to buy stoves, lamps and refrigerators
designed to run on biogas.
Despite the challenges, Zimbabwe is pushing to scale up
biogas use, said Dumisani Nyoni, Matabelelend North Provincial
officer for the Agriculture Ministry.
"We realise that with shortages of electricity in Zimbabwe
and Africa in general, there is need to think (of) renewable
energy and promote the use of biogas and solar systems,” Nyoni
One way to cut costs and expand biogas use is to train local
technicians to make biogas stoves, lamps and other equipment,
said Kuda Mudokwani, a researcher specialising in climate change
and disaster risk reduction at the Fambidzanai Permaculture
Centre, a non-governmental organisation in Matabeleland South.
"Right now biogas products, even refrigerators, come from
China but they can be modelled and produced here ... This will
also create jobs for our people,” said Mudokwani.
People in rural areas can mould their own bricks and crush
quarry stone which will also reduce the costs of building a
digester, said Mudokwani.
“This way, we will beat the cost associated with setting up
digesters and roll out the programme more widely in Zimbabwe,"
In the meantime, the government has made imported solar and
biogas products duty free, to help cut costs, said Jonga.
Agriculture and mechanisation officer with the Agriculture
Ministry, George Chinyama, said households can get around the
high set-up costs by saving as communities.
“That way they can also approach the Ministry of Energy to
assist them,” said Chinyama.
Some district councils have set up revolving funds which can
be lent to communities to build a digester and paid back after
they have sold their crops, said Sandra Gobvu, a spokeswoman for
Environment Africa, an NGO that has also been backing the use of
biogas in Zimbabwe.
They can also earn money from selling the nutrient-rich
manure which is a by-product of the digesters, she said.
The $3 million push, which is due to end this year, aims to
help Zimbabweans run everything from hospitals, clinics and
schools to commercial dairy farms on biogas power.
The national Rural Electrification Agency and its partners
will continue to fund and promote biogas after the project ends,
Stella Nyanhete, a farmer who has installed a biogas
digester for her home in Mashonaland Central province, said it
had proved a good source of energy for cooking and lighting. The
manure from six cattle is enough to run her digester.
“It’s a resource that never runs out as long as we have
cattle that produce dung,” she said.
(Reporting by Lungelo Ndhlovu; Editing by Alex Whiting.; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.