Biogas, Subsidies - Is it the beginning of the end of deforestation in Rwanda?

Deforestation is a major threat to the environment and Africa is the most affected continent. According to the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) deforestation has wiped out roughly 90% of West Africa’s original forests and deforestation is accelerating in Central Africa. This massive deforestation in Africa threatens ecosystems due to the high dependence of the population on wood as fuel for heating and cooking. 

According to the REMA (Rwanda Environment Management), Rwanda is also affected by deforestation. It is stated that 80.4% of the population uses charcoal as fuel for household daily consumption. In the Government of Rwanda's  EDPRS II (Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy), it is expected to reduce fuel wood consumption by 50 per cent by 2020 and adopt the usage of clean energy through biogas to protect the forests and the environment in general.

Cooking with biogas
Cooking with biogas (Photo: REG)

In 2007 the government of Rwanda established the NDBP (National Domestic Biogas Program) in partnership with SNV (The Netherlands Development Organization) and GIZ (The German Development Organization) as financial and technical support partners. The objective of the program was to develop a commercial and sustainable domestic sector, substituting firewood with biogas for cooking and increasing agricultural production through provision of bio-slurry as a fertilizer. The NDBP technologies are divided into two biogas plant technologies: “Rwanda I” (foundation made of stones, round wall, dome, inlet and outlets made of bricks) and “Rwanda II” (foundation and round wall made of stones with dome, inlet and outlet made of bricks), and the domestic plant sizes are 4m3, 6m3 and 10m3.

The NDBP is being managed by REG (Rwanda Energy Group), and the government recently signed MoUs with SACCOs (Savings and credit co-operative). This will facilitate the financial flow of the government subsidies to the local level as SACCOs work closely with low-income people in each sector. The subsidy consists of 54.5% financial support of the total cost given to user willing to use biogas at his/her home.

For example, if a person wants to install a 4m3  biogas plant the government provides 300,000 Rwfs (≈ US$436) and the biogas user borrow 250,000 Rwfs (≈ US$363) from SACCO as a loan. The REG also provides a technical support on installation and a small solar power plant to facilitate lighting the rest of the house.

The NDBP has been expanded in all 30 districts of Rwanda and is being used by around 5,000 households. Biogas is expected to replace the unsustainable use of biomass. It will slow deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the latter associated with the decomposition and free release of gases from livestock manure.  There is a big hope that these clean leaps will continue to be developed, spread on a large scale to keep the environment healthy, and have a positive impact on the society.

Editor's note:  For more ways of reducing the usage of solid fuels in houseolds read David Kariuki's "Taking on the Killer in the Kitchen".