Zvamaida Murwira : Senior Reporter
A biogas project in Mutoko and Mudzi, Mashonaland East province has transformed several lives of villagers in the area, with people moving away from use of firewood and candles among other energy sources. The villagers lead lives that resemble those of an urban setting through reliance on biogas digesters for cooking, lighting and refrigeration among other activities without use of conventional electricity through jatropha farming.Biogas is a combustible gas produced from the decomposition/breakdown of any organic material like cow dung, jatropha seedcake or human waste by bacteria in the absence of oxygen.
A biogas digester is a specifically designed airtight plant, tank or structure in which biogas production takes place.
Not only are the people in Mudzi and Mutoko using biogas digesters for cooking, they are also using cow dung, jatropha, a drought resistant plant to process products like soap and biogas lamp among others.
All this has been made possible by the support of development partners such as Environment Africa, Worldwide Fund for Nature coupled by the huge determination of the villagers who have worked tirelessly to make the project a success.
At least 10 builders have been trained to construct biogas digester.
Not to be outdone, the Rural Electrification Agency has also been tapping into the expertise of the builders to construct a biogas digester at Kotwa business centre where it has turned human waste into biogas energy.
The programme dovetails with Government’s economic blue print Zim-Asset’s two clusters which focus on value addition and benefaction and job creation.
Communities have also constituted themselves into environmental action groups of about 30 women each where they make full use of jatropha plants. They now boast of processing centres at Kotwa and Mutoko to turn the seed into finished products for sale.
Energy and Power Development Secretary, Mr Partson Mbiriri commissioned the biogas digester pilot project in Mudzi and Mutoko and was also shown through processing centres that the communities had been using as small to medium enterprises.
One of the beneficiaries of the biogas digesters, Mrs Dorika Mariyapera said her life had been transformed since she started using biogas.
“When I first used it I was sceptical but the project has since started bearing fruits. I now cook using a biogas stove, lamps among others,” she said.
Mrs Mariyapera gave a testimony of her life as a widow which had initially taken a slump after losing her husband a few years ago but has suddenly changed course owing to the support given to her to construct a biogas digester.
“I am amazed by the kind of life that I am now living owing to the installation of the biogas digester. I am sure that my life will act as inspiration to those that were sceptical and refused to come on board on the project,” said Mrs Mariyapera.
Another beneficiary, Mrs Grace Kanemanyanga said she had since stopped using firewood for cooking owing to the biogas digester.
On the biogas digester, development partners supported the villagers with products that required money like cement while they mould bricks, pit and river sand and concrete stones among other such products.
One of the builders trained by WWF, Mr Godfrey Chatsure said he was indebted to development partners for training them.
Environment Africa country director, Mr Barnabas Mawire said they had ensured that the products emanating from the jatropha was certified by the Standards Association of Zimbabwe.
“As an organisation we do not want to create a dependency syndrome. We have been providing those products that are not found like cement, software, costs of officials that have been supervising the project so that the meet required specifications,” said Mr Mawire.
He said biogas energy could be used for cooking, heating, lighting, refrigeration and electricity generation.
“There are environmental and social benefits for using biogas. It contributes to the reduction of deforestation, there are health benefits as it is clean energy source without smoke, soot and odour,” said Mr Mawire.
“There are also economic benefits of biogas. It produces nutrient rich organic fertiliser which can complement or substitute chemical fertilizer. It is cheaper source of cooking energy as compared to paraffin and LP gas. There is also job creation in building and maintenance along biogas supply chain.”
Mr Mbiriri lauded development partners for coming in handy in supporting the biogas project where some villagers were using lights, biogas stoves among other array of products.
“What we also need is a mindset shift for people to embrace these alternative sources of energy such as biogas. One challenge is that people want conventional power yet with biogas is cheaper. With what we are seeing here I am hopeful that people will embrace biogas the same way they have done with solar energy, Use of solar energy is getting cheaper by the day,” said Mr Mbiriri.
Mudzi North MP Cde Newton Kachepa (Zanu-PF) the biogas project was consistent with President Mugabe’s empowerment vision.
“We should consider ourselves blessed for this project. The thrust is consistent with President Mugabe’s aspirations to empower communities,” said Cde Kachepa.
Mudzi Assistant District Administrator, Mr Norest Mugiya said the jatropha project was a Government initiative to counter the effects of El Nino induced drought.
“It is also Government’s programme to conserve the environment. It fits in well to the two clusters of Zim-Asset, that of value and addition and beneficiation together with that of job creation,” said Mr Mugiya.