Fire from waste liberates farmers in Dedza

Written by  Mirriam Kaliza

While most people in rural areas in Malawi and beyond still depend on firewood and charcoal for cooking their daily meals, these materials are becoming increasingly scarce due to deforestation and climate change. But people still need to prepare their meals anyway, and they have to find alternatives.

Chaoloka: We are benefiting a lot Chaoloka: We are benefiting a lot

For other families, the struggle continues as they need to use huge chunks of money and time on cooking fuels and other alternatives. But for Chaoloka Family in Chimtengo Village in Mayani Dedza, this has not really been a problem, they use a local renewable energy source from the herds of dairy cattle they keep. They are using Bio-gas from animal waste which they convert into a clean burning fuel for cooking.

Biogas is a mixture of gases produced by decay or fermentation of organic waste, kitchen waste, animal manure, food scraps and plant material.

Yohane Chaoloka says he got the Biogass plant through a non-governmental organisation known as VUNA Africa under the Malawi Climate Smart Dairy Value Chain Project.

He says the process is involving but worth the trouble.

“We collect the animal dung and feed it to an airtight tank made of concrete and stir it to make a paste,” said Chaoloka.

The tank behaves like a stomach of a human being, it collects the waste and digests it with the help of bacteria and then when the methane gas produced builds up on top of the digester, a gas pipe is attached to the top of the digester to carry the produced gas back into the kitchen where it is used as fuel for cooking and heating.

Chaoloka says after the process he then harvests the by-product known as Bio fertilizer which is very rich in Nitrogen and phosphorus which makes good manure for his 3 hectares of land.

“I used to use a lot of Fertilizers but the end result was not even satisfying, but now for the same three hectares I only use a 75 kg of fertilizer and the rest I use the manure harvested from the tank,” he explained.

Biogas provides a more sustainable cleaner and cheaper option for most people and Virginia Chaoloka says she is one liberated woman as she is able to concentrate on other household chores other than going to fetch firewood from the forest.

“Previously I would go to collect firewood up the hill, or if there are no more firewood up there, my husband would go looking for firewood to buy so that we can cook here, it was really tough. But today I am enjoying the freedom, “ she narrated.

She says because of the project from the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) under the Capacity Building for Managing Climate Change in Malawi (CABMACC) many doors have opened in their lives as they are able to feed their cattle, which produce more milk giving them more returns, dung for cooking and fertilizer among others.

“We are sorted,” she concludes.

The Project was only for research purposes on how dairy farmers can adopt new ways of feeding their animals for increased production while reducing chances of polluting the environment.

The Principal Investigator for the CABMACC Project Livness Banda says the main purposes of the project were achieved and it is fulfilling to note that farmers went further with other achievements including the use of biogas for cooking.

“The project phased out knowing that farmers had achieved more through other components apart from the main core objectivities of the programme,” Banda said.

Even though the use of biogas is relatively new in Africa, there is progress in some countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and South Africa. If the biogas story from the remote village in Dedza is anything to go by, there is every reason to believe that Malawi has potential.

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