Biogas: the miracle of Burkina Faso

December 6, 2016

”Show me your magician’’ remains a life-changing statement that Hivos East Africa’s Regional Director Mendi Njonjo vividly remembers from her recent trip in Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso has been referred to as West Africa’s fastest growing biogas market by the Africa Biogas Partnership Programme. Mendi’s encounter with the programme’s impact in the Sahel country showed how true this appraisal is.

Unknown to many, half of the country is extremely arid and receives only 600 -1000mm of rainfall annually. As a result, many farmers in the country grow their food on degraded land with poor soils and inadequate rainfall.

Bio-digester technology has, however, improved the communities’ resilience in adapting to climate change. Before the inception of the national biogas programme, it is estimated that a woman in a rural household would walk up to five hours every day in search of firewood for cooking and lighting. Thanks to the Africa Biogas Partnership Programme, the use of biogas instead of firewood has greatly reduced this search, and up to 364,500 lives have been saved this year alone by the elimination of poisonous indoor pollution.

During her four-day visit, Ms Njonjo visited households in the country’s rural areas to witness for herself the transformation they have undergone.

On the first day, she met Burkina Faso’s Minister of Animal Resources, Somanogo Koutou, who shared his enthusiasm for the National Programme of Bio-digesters’ (PNB-BF) role in scaling up the use of bio-digester technology in the Sahel. He noted that the government appreciates biogas as a mitigation mechanism that will go a long way to supporting families at the bottom of the pyramid to adapt to climate change. Government ownership of the programme has been so successful that the president has committed to construct 40,000 plants by 2020 during his tenure.

In Bouasa, she met an agro-businessman, Silvian, who keeps a breed of cows that produce pasteurised milk. Silvian spoke of how bio-slurry has transformed his once barren land, “The previous owner couldn’t grow anything on this land for almost 30 years. He’s actually shocked that it has produced pumpkin, maize and groundnuts. Would you imagine that I now have three planting seasons because of bio-slurry?’’ he said.

Ms Njonjo made her final stop at Nununa Women’s Federation, a women’s group that champions livelihoods for vulnerable orphans and widows in Leo district. The federation, an avid producer of Shea butter products in the region, trains women on business skills and social enterprises. Nununa is PNB-BF’s implementing partner in the region and has constructed five bio-digesters in Metio village. While in the village, she was inspired by Madi Solga, a farmer who has saved 420USD ever since he started using bio-slurry instead of chemical fertilizer and pesticides. He sees bio-slurry as the biggest win in owning a bio-digester, even though he also confesses it has reduced the burden of fetching wood (up to five hours) for his wife. “Minata (his wife) doesn’t cough anymore, my kitchen is now cleaner thanks to biogas,’’ he said.

After a week of exploring Burkina Faso’s biogas regions, Ms Njonjo concluded bio-digester technology is not just “fuelling fertility”, but also hope amongst a people of integrity, as the Burkinabes are traditionally known. “This is a miracle, the soils smell of fertility and the hearts of this warm people speak of the great strides they are taking to adapt to climate change,’’ she said.

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