Villagers in Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra have turned to biogas as cooking fuel, which cuts out indoor air pollution, reduces carbon emissions and saves trees from being chopped for firewood  

A Sindhudurg family cooks with a new fuel, biogas (Photo by Hiren Kumar Bose)

A Sindhudurg family cooks with a new fuel, biogas (Photo by Hiren Kumar Bose)

Sitting snugly between the Sahyadri mountain range on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west, Sindhudurg district in Maharashtra is famous for its Alphonso mangoes. It is also a district that has 48% of its area covered by forests. But these forests are under severe pressure due to the rising demand for firewood.

A survey in just one village called More showed that its 92 households use 549 bullock carts of firewood each year.

Sindhudurg district, Maharashtra

A major solution to this has been long known – using biogas for cooking. That is now becoming more and more popular in the district. It also enables farmers to move towards organic farming, by using the biogas slurry instead of chemical fertilisers.

Bhavana Hodawadekar of Zarap village used to spend one to two hours daily to scour her surroundings for fuelwood. Now she says, “With the guidance provided by BGP (Bhagirath Gramvikas Pratishthan) and the help of a bank loan and subsidy, I have installed a biogas plant in my backyard. It provides me with enough fuel to cook meals for my family of four.”

Working in the district since 2004, BGP has helped set up close to 8,000 biogas systems in Sindhudurg. They run on cow manure, poultry droppings, fish and human waste.

Biogas has been tried all over India since the 1960s, but has been given up in many places because only 40% of them worked. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) says 12 million domestic biogas plants can be set up in India – only five million have been set up so far.

It is different in Sindhudurg. Prabhjot Sodhi of the United Nations Development Programme says, “Our investigation revealed that the success rate of the biogas plants in Sindhudurg was around 98%, which is really exemplary. BGP model is replicable for climate mitigation issues especially in the rural areas in South Asian countries.”

The high success rate is partly attributed to the sale of the slurry for manure, which gives extra income to the plant owners. To society, there is the added benefit of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases methane and the oxides of nitrogen, quite apart from arresting deforestation.

India has a problem – its 512.05-million livestock population emitted 15.3 million tonnes of methane in 2012, according to a study by the Indian Institute of Technology (Delhi) and the Deenbandhu Chhotu Ram University of Science and Technology (Murthal, Haryana) and published in Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety. This can be almost totally nullified by using biogas, which can total 18,240 million cubic metres of this cooking and lighting gas if all the livestock waste is used.

It is relatively easy to set up a two-cubic metre biogas plant in the backyard. Mason Sonu Nilu Shinde, 42, of Ambegaon Sutarwadi village, has built 300 plants. He says it takes just four days to complete the structure — from making the dome-shaped frame with wire and steel rods to cementing the walls.

The Sindhudurg District Central Cooperative Bank is giving a loan of RS 22,000 (USD 309) for the purpose, of which Rs 8,000 (USD 113) is a subsidy that does not have to paid back. “Most borrowers pay up the principal amount months before it is due and we don’t have a single defaulter,” says Aniruddha Yeshwant Desai, the bank’s CEO.

Masons giving finishing touches to a domestic biogas plant in Sindhudurg (Photo by Hiren Kumar Bose)

Masons giving finishing touches to a domestic biogas plant in Sindhudurg (Photo by Hiren Kumar Bose)

BGP brings the stakeholders together — the farmer, the women in the household, the mason, the local authorities, the bank. “People wishing to construct biogas in their backyards are trained thoroughly for use, maintenance and troubleshooting and are members of a WhatsApp group,” says Prasad Deodhar, founder and chief trustee of BGP. “Moreover, a trained local is just a call away in case a system is not performing.” He now wants to know if the NGO can claim carbon credits from the UN system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A two-cubic metre biogas plant requires four to six cows producing 50 kg of dung and can generate sufficient gas to cook all meals for five to eight people. A study by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and the International Rice Research Institute found that a biogas plant of this size can replace 316 litres of kerosene, 5,535 kg of firewood and 4,400 kg cattle dung cake (used as cooking fuel). That reduces emissions oxides of nitrogen by 16.4 kg a year; sulphur dioxide emissions by 11.3 kg a year, carbon monoxide emissions by 987 kg a year and emissions of volatile organic compounds by 69.7 kg a year.

Carbon credits

“Villagers should definitely get the carbon credit for developing biogas plants for their energy needs,” says Saudamini Das, NABARD Chair Professor, Institute of Economic Growth. “However, to claim carbon credit, the emission calculations have to be made which requires technical help. Some preliminary estimates show the carbon credit of a biogas plant is usually around USD 22 per year per ton of cow dung used in the plant and this shows the potential of high earning for the village community.”

In 2011, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change issued carbon credits to two Nepalese biogas projects. In India, Lucknow-based Gramin Bank of Aryavart received carbon credits of USD 2 per year per home for five years, for setting up a solar home lighting system in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district.

Boon to eyes and lungs

The biogas plants have significantly reduced indoor pollution that was caused by burning wood and dung. Dattatreya Yeshwant Sawant, 37, of Niwaje village was among the first to install a biogas plant in 2012. He says, “Kitchen is no more the place which women of the household feared due to the smoke which cause eyes to burn, aggravate breathing issues and left them irritable. Women find time to attend meetings of self-help groups and for activities like stitching.”

M.V. Ashok, Tata Chair Professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, says BGP has achieved its goal due to people’s involvement in the activities, from installation to maintenance of the biogas units. “India can achieve the MNRE target of 12 million biogas units if the same model is followed. The clean energy will wean us away from our dependence on fossil fuel and in the process, India can contribute to climate change mitigation in a big way.”

A report titled Biogas for rural communities jointly authored by the Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas and Indian Institute of Technology (Mumbai) also says Sindhudurg project has been successful as the plant owner contributes a substantial amount of the initial funding and is involved in the daily operations.

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