Aloycia Mndenye quite literally shouldered the burden of her family’s need for fuel. She often tried to convince her husband to help her collect firewood from the forest, but her efforts failed. He believes that collecting firewood is women’s work.
Mrs. Mndenye is a 32-year-old farmer from Lunyanywi village in the Njombe region of Tanzania’s Southern Highlands. Like most people in rural Tanzania, Mrs. Mndenye does not have access to grid electricity and depends on firewood and kerosene for lighting and cooking.
She spent two hours a day collecting firewood to provide heat for her home and fuel for her cookstove. Mrs. Mndenye says: “It was very exhausting to be honest. I had to go longer distances to get enough stock. Nights are very cold here sometimes [and] the temperature drops to [the] freezing point.”
But two years ago she installed a manure-fed biogas plant which changed everything.
Her husband used to avoid most domestic tasks. But now he takes part in operating the biogas plant. He sometimes even cooks with the gas – leaving Mrs. Mndenye more time to tend to her fields.
She says: “This plant has simplified a lot of work. My husband and I are taking pride in the project. He’s very keen to ensure that it is well-maintained so that we can offset the cost of installing it.”
The biogas plant is just outside the family’s four-bedroom house. The digester can create enough gas to power a cooking stove and several gas lanterns.
The biogas plant was installed as part of a project supported by Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture. Researchers from the institution say that biogas has caused men in villages across southern Tanzania to reassess their responsibility for providing the family’s fuel.
Mr. Mndenye says that despite the pungent smell of fermenting cow manure, he enjoys shovelling dung from the family’s dairy herd into the digester.
He spends half an hour every day mixing manure with water to remove impurities that slow down gas production. He adds, “It’s much easier and more dignified than collecting firewood. I mix water in two buckets of manure to get enough gas.”
According to the Tanzanian government, surging demand for firewood has placed huge pressure on the country’s forests, and has also affected water resources. The biogas unit not only saves wood otherwise used for cooking and heating, but also saves families the money they normally spend on other fuels.
Mrs. Mndenye has invested the money she would have spent on kerosene in a small shop that sells a range of consumer goods. She says, “I don’t want to waste money … [so] I put it somewhere to generate more income.”
Biogas plants have other benefits. Professor Ndelilio Urio of Sokoine University says the residues from biogas production are a better fertilizer than dried manure. The high levels of urea in the slurry increase the amount of nitrogen in the soil.
Professor Urio says that families have been taught how to use the slurry in their home gardens to boost production of vegetables and fruits. And, thanks to the economic benefits of increased agricultural production, men are now taking an interest in feeding the biogas plants.
Mrs. Mndenye says: “Before setting up this project, my husband was spending over 2,500 Tanzanian shillings [$1.50] every week purchasing kerosene – but now we use our own resources to get night light.”
To read the full article on which this story was based, In Tanzania’s switch from firewood to biogas, men step up and women get a break, go to: http://www.trust.org/item/20140702094720-nr1t9/