Domestic biogas – Feedback from Rwanda

The NGO Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Belgium (VSF-B) supports local populations to improve livestock keeping and other related aspects such as natural resources management and micro-loans. In 2013, ENEA conducted a study to assess the opportunity for VSF-B to include domestic biogas energy within its scope of activities in Rwanda. In 2014, VSF-B launched the EVE project to install 100 biodigesters and provide capacity building to smallholder farmers in Southern Rwanda within 3 years. In mid 2015, ENEA conducted a new study to provide VSF-B with an intermediate evaluation of the project, a preliminary assessment of its impacts as well as recommendations to scale-up.

Sensitisation and financial and technical support of end-users of biogas systems are keys for success in a domestic biogas project.

By September 2015, half of the target of the EVE pilot project had been reached already. This is the result of an efficient approach for domestic biogas distribution set up by VSF-B and IMBARAGA, its local partner. Intensive work of sensitisation of farmers combined with an adapted financial support scheme (additional subsidies and guarantee funds for credit) and with technical support and monitoring of farmers are the three pillars on which VSF-B / IMBARAGA’s success is based.

End-users are highly satisfied of biogas systems and use, thanks to the robustness of the technology and the various outcomes delivered. Although the initial levers for biogas adoption by farmers were fuel savings and convenience to cook, other outcomes appears to be as meaningful to them once they start using the system.

Impacts of the biogas project on climate change and on livelihoods already materialise and most of them will be measurable at the end of the project.

Biogas is used to cook and boil water but former cooking fuels (i.e. wood and charcoal) are still used for time consuming meals such as beans for which biogas production is insufficient. However, savings on wood, and in limited cases on charcoal, are significant even though their measurement at the pilot survey stage includes uncertainties. Significant improvements on hygiene and sanitation thanks to biogas use were proven on a qualitative basis for smoke exposure in the kitchen and for toilets hygiene in particular.

Although domestic biogas is suited to a limited fraction of farmers in Rwanda, the potential to scale up the project is significant if subsidies from public authorities are maintained.

Adopting biogas requires holding at least 2 adult cows and subscribing to a credit which is suited to the wealthiest and most progressive part of farmers in a rural village. This automatically restricts the number of farmers who could adopt biogas. However, a scale up phase is deemed be realistic in the 3 districts currently covered by the project, if subsidies from public authorities are maintained.

VSF-B and IMBARAGA have achieved a considerable work in the pilot phase by implementing biogas in villages where the technology was completely unknown. The power of sensitisation by current users of the technology in these villages should now be leveraged in a scale up phase.