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New research shows biogas feasible as a clean cooking solution in East Africa

Creation of biodigester markets in East Africa is feasible, according to a new analysis from the US Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) in collaboration with Hivos. With support from the US National Institutes of Health and the Clean Cooking Implementation Science Network; the biogas programmes of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda were evaluated using the RE-AIM framework, an approach that assesses Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation, and Maintenance.

The creation of biodigester markets in East Africa, such as this one in Kenya, is feasible, according to a new analysis from the US Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) in collaboration with Hivos.

Clean air is vital for human survival. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that Household Air Pollution (HAP), caused by something as basic as cooking on solid (wood) fuels, takes over 2.6 million lives each year; more than HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis combined. Household air pollution has been called the ‘silent killer’ taking mostly women and children before their time.

Scalable solutions to address household air pollution are still scarce. A joint report from International Energy Agency (IEA), International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), World Bank (WB) and World Health Organization (WHO) published in May 2018 shows that that the pace is too slow to achieve targets for clean cooking in SDG7 by 2030.

With current interventions, it is projected that by 2030, the increase in Sub-Saharan African households gaining access to clean fuels will not keep pace with population growth. In other words, more people will use polluting fuels like firewood and charcoal in 2030 than in 2015.

Demonstrated demand for biodigesters in East Africa

Biogas is one potential solution to combat household air pollution and promote clean cooking in Africa, particularly for rural households. Before 2007, the use of biodigesters in Africa was very limited. Compared to Asia, economic and financial conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa are less favorable: raw materials and credit are more expensive and people have less disposable income.

Nevertheless, the Africa Biogas Partnership Programme (ABPP), established in 2009, shows a proof of principle for the creation of biodigester markets in East Africa. The new research by US Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Hivos, was conducted to systematically review the experience of ABPP in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Developing bottled biogas distribution in Kenya.

Demand for biodigesters has been demonstrated and new enterprises are entering the market, especially in Kenya. The results have been published as an open-access article entitled “Africa Biogas Partnership Program: A review of clean cooking implementation through market development in East Africa” in the journal Energy for Sustainable Development.

The ABPP country programmes in East Africa have been dynamic and adaptive, moving along the cycle of market development. Notwithstanding high upfront cost and limited access to credit, over 27 000 households adopted biogas, half of them in Kenya. This is substantial growth considering that by 2009, only Tanzania had more than 1 000 functioning biodigesters.

The evaluation of ABPP in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda finds that biogas is a feasible and scalable means of promoting clean cooking and household air pollution reduction in rural Sub-Saharan Africa. Surveys indicate that households perceive several direct benefits such as:

  • higher crop yields from the use of bio-slurry, a co-product of a bio-digester,
  • reduced fuel consumption,
  • substantial savings in time or money depending on whether the family collects or purchases fuel,
  • cleaner and more convenient cooking.

In addition, fuel consumption tests show households with biodigesters use 2.1 to 3.3 tonnes less wood per year than similar households without biodigesters.

A scalable solution but with challenges

Besides showing the potential for biogas as a scalable solution to promote clean cooking in East Africa, the analysis also identifies challenges. Market conditions in Africa for the adoption of bio-digesters are challenging because of the high costs of raw materials, low level of household income and lack of credit access.

Furthermore, while half of the adopters in Kenya exclusively use biogas for cooking, in Uganda and Tanzania 70-90 percent of biogas users continue to use firewood for cooking some of their meals. This “stacking” of solid fuels with biogas leads to continued air pollution and makes it more difficult for ABPP to deliver health and environmental benefits.

A dual-fuel portable oven developed in Kenya that can run on biogas and/or charcoal.

To stimulate adoption and sustained use of biogas as a scalable solution in Africa, deeper engagement with governmental and non-governmental stakeholders is needed. Furthermore, the international community and policymakers should promote long-term financial commitment and enabling policies.

With the new analysis of biodigester market development in East Africa, using the RE-AIM framework as an analytical tool, researchers from SEI and Hivos conclude that biogas is a viable, scalable solution to promote clean cooking among a segment of the rural population. The research will help to increase action towards achieving the environmental and health goals for clean cooking in SDG7 by 2030.

About ABPP and US SEI

With a presence in more than five African countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Burkina Faso, the Africa Biogas Partnership Programme (ABPP) is the largest biogas programme in Africa. ABPP is a partnership jointly executed with Hivos as the fund manager and SNV as technical adviser and supported by the Dutch Government.

The US Center of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) conducts research and engages with decision-makers and civil society on energy, water, and climate policy as well as on broader dimensions of development, sustainability, and equity. It builds capacity through training and collaboration, and its decision-support tools are used widely around the globe.

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