Smallholder Farming and the Takamoto Biogas Model: ‘Keeping The Fire Burning’ in a Circular Economy

Smallholder farming is primarily characterized by differentially low incomes, in particular the poor sub-Saharan African farmers. Closely tied to this are the high proportion of farmers income spent on their energy needs, both at the domestic and crop-production level. There is essentially a correlation between income levels and access to clean modern energy.  High energy overheads and other domestic expenses, however imperceptible, put a strain on the meager incomes of small-holder households, invariably consigning farmers to perennial poverty. Rising energy costs overall translate into increased costs of crop production, and this has a net effect of translating into high food prices to the urban consumer. Being in a position to cushion themselves from the rising costs of energy is a desire for many a farmer, and a step in the right direction, globally. The challenge still remains: How can they do it? Being able to generate energy using readily-available organic materials becomes a desire for many people, not only to farmers. Energy consumption is one of the largest areas of expenditure around which costing of inputs in industries revolves around. 

In order to meaningfully improve standards of living for the sub-Saharan poor, sustainable farming alone is inadequate; cheap access to clean, sustainable modern energy source is crucial. Lack of access to modern energy by sub-Saharan poor is generally recognized as the biggest obstacle to sustainable development. 

In Kenya, the energy situation could be getting better, in a space where the rural poor have gained notoriety in over-reliance on firewood and charcoal for heating and cooking on one hand, and on kerosene for lighting on the other. With a social enterprise that invests in an end-to-end solution in the rural Kenyan smallholder farmers, Takamoto Biogas is tackling the fundamental global problems of deforestation and climate change. It aims at lowering domestic energy costs for farmers, whose purses are already stretched through competing energy demands both at the farm production and the domestic levels.

How it works:

‘Takamoto’ is a creative blend of two Swahili words, Taka (waste) and Moto (fire). It signifies the fact that the fire (read energy), is derived from waste. When translated literally, in the same fashion as the two words are ordered, it could mean ‘hot waste’. How hotter can it get? Well, let’s see.

The renewable energy model provides farmers with loans to obtain biogas kits which retail at an upfront cost of KES 15,000 (US $150), and a further KES 3,000 (US $30) to be paid in installments till one fully acquires the kit. A farmer or buyer however only needs to have a sustainable source of dung and sufficient water in order to process biogas through the digester. The hire-purchase model affords many a poor farmer the chance to own a renewable energy plant of sorts.

Beyond the basic biogas-generation kit, there are related accessories like lamps and stoves, which provide farmers with a conjoined benefit of affordable lighting and a decent cooking environment. The additional provision of solar lamp by the enterprise ensures farmers adopt clean energy sources for their lighting needs, which cumulatively leads to a reduction in the atmospheric carbon-footprint.

The Biogas digester infrastructure lends itself to an arrangement where a group of users could tap into its gas depository, making it possible to serve multiple households within a reasonable range of radial proximity (which could sustainably ease the stress of energy sources within a locale). SNV, a Dutch technical partner involved in the syndicated Ethiopian Biogas program, has also rolled out a biogas-enabled milk-cooling innovation in three African countries, namely; Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania. With such a dual innovation, dairy farmers can reap circular benefits by ‘plowing back’ the animal waste gained, while at the same time, generate biogas to cool their milk.

More information from Cleanleap on Biogas 

Images: Takamaoto Biogas