Climate-friendly biogas becomes ‘fashionable’ in rural Tanzania
In Malambo village, Ngorongoro district, the lush forests and livestock that once flourished and the rivers that flowed year-long are now a distant memory. Today, gaunt thorny trees and other drought-resistant plants dot the parched landscape along dry ravines.
In this northern region of the United Republic of Tanzania, the bulk of residents are cattle, sheep or goat herders who for many years have depended on their livestock for living. But with severe droughts spanning three consecutive years, this once-thriving source of livelihood is under threat. Hundreds of farmers are losing their livestock while the prospects of shifting to crops are equally bleak.
Ngorongoro, a remote district in Arusha, is a testament to how rural communities are bearing the brunt of a changing climate that is ravaging many parts of East Africa.
“In the face of these frequent droughts, rural women in Ngorongoro have come to realize that they must mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change or their families will also die, just like their livestock,” says Maanda Ngoitiko, Executive Director of the Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC), which spearheads the Energize project in partnership with UN Women and UNESCO, with funding from the Korea International Cooperation Agency.
The project seeks to build new skills for out-of-school pastoralist adolescent girls and young women on biogas and solar energy products, as well as on how to run sustainable businesses.
Ngoitiko explains how in past droughts women from Malambo used to walk distances of up to 5 km to fetch water and firewood. Then, two years ago, UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality supported the construction of a borehole that is now providing water to the community and their livestock.
To further build the community’s resilience to climate change, UN Women teamed up with PWC to help young women benefit from environmentally friendly biogas energy using cow dung. Since 2018, the project has trained 100 adolescent girls and young women in Ngorongoro district to build small-scale biogas plants.
Biogas is an environmentally friendly fuel that is naturally produced from the decomposition of organic waste, such as cow dung. It recovers waste that would otherwise release dangerous levels of methane gas, which contributes to global warming. Biogas generation also reduces reliance on fossil fuels, saves money by treating waste on-site, and reduces pollution in landfills, among other benefits.
Over a four-month training period, they also acquire basic knowledge of computers, leadership, entrepreneurship, community microcredit and banking, sexual and reproductive health information, as well as solar systems installation and maintenance.
In Malambo village, five women have benefited from the project, which also established a biogas learning centre to spread knowledge about this fuel and offer local construction services. One of the beneficiaries, 26-year-old Teresia Simon, says the learning centre in Malambo has made using biogas for cooking ‘fashionable’.
“The number of families opting for biogas here in Malambo is increasing and some of the attraction includes how it is reducing the burden of walking to faraway places to fetch firewood – and combating deforestation,” says Simon. “If all people around the world can stop cutting down trees – which absorb carbon that causes global warming – and resort to clean energy, we can reclaim our once-beautiful environment.”
The use of biogas came with other benefits in Malambo. Besides avoiding soot from their pots, which made washing dishes take longer, some users now have modern kitchens.
One of the users of a biogas stove, 32-year-old Nooretet Lenchoe, explains that her traditional low-roof kitchen wasn’t compatible with the stove.
“I am now happy to use a biogas stove in my new modern kitchen,” she said. “Collecting firewood from distant places was dangerous because of wild animals that roam this area.”
From the 26 cows her family owns, Lenchoe collects 20 kg of cow dung every two weeks, which she mixes with water to process the waste into biogas.
“Because biogas cooks faster than firewood, I now have more time to focus on my small shop,” she explains.
UN Women Representative for Tanzania, Hodan Addou, says time is an essential commodity for rural women.
“Here in Tanzania, we are looking at increasing support for rural women to be able to use green cook stoves as one way to improve their quality of life and to combat deforestation. We are seeing how those we are assisting are also able to spend more time running income-generating projects and improving the well-being of their families,” she says.
Addou adds that indoor air pollution caused by burning wood or similar fuels for cooking is a source of sickness and death for poor women around the world.
UN Women is part of the Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves, which advocates for the establishment of a global market for clean and efficient household cooking devices.