To alleviate poverty in remote communities by providing a clean and sustainable source of energy for cooking and heating. Installations serve as a catalyst for a number of life-enhancing changes that tackle the root causes of poverty. As well as installation, community training programmes and micro-financing services ensure the projects longevity.
Nepal is ranked 145th out of 187 in the Human Development Index, with the UNDP stating that 92% of the countries’ population have no access to clean cooking facilities. This means that some 26 and a half million people are exposed to household air pollution (HAP). Women and children are most affected by this silent killer which causes the deaths of 4.3 million people worldwide every year. 725 people die from issues relating to HAP each month in Nepal alone. HAP is caused by the burning of firewood, the collection of which is the burden of women and children in communities. Thousands of hours each year are wasted spent collecting firewood, often in hazardous conditions, meaning that children have limited time for education, and women are not able to conduct income-generating activities. This cycle of reliance, ill-health and poor education results in poverty being ever-present within communities. Renewable World’s (RW) COBLE project seeks to break this cycle and provide communities with clean, sustainable energy for decades to come. It does this by installing biogas units in the communities in need of them, and offering maintenance and enterprise training to the community members. Once completed, units are filled with cow dung, which is then left to ferment. This produces methane gas which can be piped into the residents’ houses around the village, thus providing the community with a supply of energy for cooking, heating, and entrepreneurial tasks.
Remote Nepali communities who have no access to clean sources of energy. COBLE is particularly beneficial to the women and children within these communities as the women are empowered, both women and children are freed from the burden of wood collecting, and children spend more time in education.
Following the completion of the initial stages of the project it is clear that COBLE is on the path towards achieving its stated aims and objectives. Currently 229 of Nepal’s poorest and most disadvantaged members of society are benefitting from our projects across four communities. A further 49 are set to benefit upon completion of the next COBLE installation which is set to take place in a fifth community. In the communities whereby biogas units have already been installed we have seen decreased health and injury problems, increased school attendance, and a range of entrepreneurial enterprises being established. These vary from candle making, to animal rearing, to vegetable growing and selling. All of these dramatically improve the incomes of those involved, and contribute to a greater quality of life. Prior to the biogas installations girls attendance at school was limited to only once or twice a week, whereas now they are regularly attending school and benefitting from education.
RW is in the closing stages of the final phase of its programme with the last handful of communities being selected for COBLE units. This scale up phase precedes full rollout of the units in line with both our own objectives, and those of the Nepalese government. Nepal’s Rural Renewable Energy Program (RREP) is set to install 11,000 individual and community biogas plants in the coming five years. The experienced gained by RW during our pilot and scale-up phases will be instrumental in this.
We look to incorporate all the lessons we learn into future installations. Throughout the process we are constantly learning, and it is important to realize that not all communities will benefit from the same model. Recent evaluation has shown us the need for special emphasis on young adolescents’ engagement with the projects as many felt they lacked ownership. Moving forwards we have committed to ensuring a 30% representation in user group committees. We have also learned the need to diversify the technology used, with some communities unsuitable for simply a single COBLE unit. For this reason we have invested in biogas backpacks which can be used to transfer energy from the main unit.
One of the key features that set COBLE aside from other similar projects is that it is dedicated to the ethos of community. Both in terms of access and installation, and in terms of ownership, community is central to the project. Whereas some biogas projects seek to benefit individual households, we see greater opportunity for development in benefitting communities as a whole. Sustainability is not only ensured through training and maintenance programmes, but also through the fact that community members have a stake in the biogas units themselves. Another key feature of COBLE, which also helps to ensure sustainability is the provision of access to micro-financing. Thanks to this, community members are able to apply for loans and funding which can be used to help them develop business models, and establish income-generating activities.
As well as the numerous advantages and impacts listed previously, COBLE has a number of by-products which improve the projects beyond even their primary objectives. The slurry that is formed once the dung has fermented is a fantastic fertilizer for crops, and so is highly sought after by farmers and vegetable sellers. By using the slurry they are able to increase their yield, and thus their nutrition and income. As mentioned previously, biogas backpacks have also been developed for use in our projects which allows for collection and transportation of the gas created in the COBLE unit. This is an important development as it means that even households that are not piped up to a COBLE unit can still benefit from it. COBLE units also have the potential to improve sanitation within communities. This is because, where appropriate, they have the ability to be linked up to communal toilets which can then directly feed the biogas digesting unit.
Souter Charitable Trust
Biogas Sector Partnership - Nepal (BSP-Nepal) (Government)