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Rwanda: Biogas saves money and firewood (by Solange Ayanone, for Farm Radio Weekly)

When evening comes, Veronica Mukantibenda’s house is the only one in her village with lights shining in the windows. But this was not always the case.

Mrs. Mukantibenda used to spend a lot of money buying firewood. She remembers, “It cost me 15,000 Rwandan francs ($20 US) per month to buy firewood, and 3000 francs ($5 US) for the oil I used to light my house.” Today, she uses biogas to cook her food and light her home.

Mrs. Mukantibenda lives in Gitima, a village in Muhanga District, southern Rwanda. Her house is surrounded by banana plants. In the courtyard are two dairy cows that provide Mrs. Mukantibenda with milk for sale and manure for her fields.

Mrs. Mukantibenda had difficulty finding firewood because she did not have access to woodlands. Then she heard about biogas. She says, “I listened to a radio show which taught me that I could easily illuminate my house and cook my food with biogas.” Now she produces biogas from the dung and urine generated by her two cows.

The 45-year-old mother and farmer has been using biogas for three years. Thanks to funding from the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture, she was able to afford the 800,000 Rwandan francs ($1,150 US) needed to set up the biogas equipment.

Nkurunziza M. Theoneste is an agronomist in Muhaga district. He explains: “It is through our policy of protecting the environment that the department supports farmers and herders. [We] help them access the biogas to reduce the tonnes of firewood used by their families as a source of energy.”

Mrs. Mukantibenda collects approximately twenty kilograms of dung and twenty litres of urine each day. She built two cement-lined containers to contain the animal waste. A pipe connects the two containers. She deposits the cow dung and urine in the first container. The dung and urine mixture then flows into the second container, where the gases ferment.

The gas then passes through a second pipe into Mrs. Mukantibenda’s home, where she uses it for cooking and lighting her home. She says proudly, “I can prepare food quickly and cleanly. The smoke from the firewood used to get everywhere. Now look at my pots; they are clean. ”

Mrs. Mukantibenda’s neighbours are envious and want to light their own homes. Unfortunately, they lack the money for the biogas equipment. Mr. Kayumba is one of Mrs. Mukantibenda’s neighbours. He says, “I want to use biogas but I only have one cow, and you need two. But next year, I will do it.”

He continues: “However, Mrs. Mukantibenda helps us to charge our phone batteries, so we no longer need to go to the [village] centre, which is a long way.”

Mrs. Mukantibenda is not the only one in her household who benefits from biogas. Her children used to suffer respiratory diseases from inhaling wood smoke. But her kitchen, ceilings and roof are now clean and free from soot. In addition, her children now have light to study during the evening. One child says, “I can now do my homework properly because we have bright light. I used to have to go to school without having done it, because it was dark at home.”