Access to modern forms of energy remains sporadic or non-existent in much of rural Ethiopia. As a result the population is predominantly reliant on a scarce and depleting supply of solid fuels like wood and charcoal for cooking and lighting. There is also an increasing use of dung and crop waste as replacement fuels, which could otherwise be better used to enhance soil nutrients and contribute positively to agricultural production. Such inefficient fuels also produce high levels of household air pollution, a serious health hazard, especially affecting women and children.
In order to provide an alternative to wood and charcoal, a programme was initiated to promote a transition to biogas production and use in rural Ethiopia. Biomass energy in the form of biogas is a renewable fuel that is environmentally friendlier and safer than solid fuel alternatives. During the production process an enriched organic fertiliser or slurry is also produced which improves agricultural yields.
The National Biogas Programme began in 2009 with the objective of developing a commercially viable domestic biogas sector. Co-ordinated by the Ministry of Water and Energy, the project was designed by the Ethiopian Government in collaboration with the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV).
The programme aimed to help smallholder farming families install and manage biogas digester plants through promotion and marketing, providing demand subsidies, training, quality management, research and development, monitoring and evaluation, and institutional support.
A marketing and information campaign helped in raising consumer awareness about the benefits of biogas technology, as well as the financial implications and practical issues such as operation and maintenance. Providing incentives through microfinancing arrangements, which offer long-term, low interest credit, also make the technology more affordable and attractive. A subsidy was also provided to biogas users to offset the up-front costs.
Users were able to buy the technology from private suppliers on the competitive market. The programme directly supported the development of this sector by providing tailored training and certifying installers.
To facilitate the programme, training and resource centres were established in the four participating regions of Oromiya, Amhara, Tigray and the South Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). SNV-Ethiopia and other local capacity builders are providing support and technical assistance through advisory services, resource mobilisation and knowledge brokering.
To date the Programme has resulted in the construction of over 13,000 biogas plants in Ethiopia. More than 90% of these are producing fertiliser as a by-product, which has seen improved agricultural production and incomes, including from the sale of excess slurry to other farmers.
The programme administrators hoped to see the establishment of many biogas installation companies which would eventually create a self-sustaining market. However, company creation has been less than expected, with limited availability qualified masons to properly build the digesters. This is one of the reasons why the programme did not reach its initial targets in terms of total plan installations.
Despite the micro-finance arrangements put in place, availability of credit for households was still too limited. This is seen as a critical component to develop the market at scale, and especially critical to reach the poorest segment of society.
Given the potential for biogas to provide environmental, economic and humanitarian benefits to end-users, lessons could be learned from this example for greening rural economies at scale. It is estimated at GML 7.