Communities living around Dunga beach on Lake Victoria in western Kenya will soon convert the hyacinth and organic waste into clean green energy, thanks to biodigesters that are to be installed at the beach.
The project, overseen by AstraZeneca Plc and Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, expects to result in reduction of time taken to collect firewood for cooking by villagers, especially women and children.
According to AstraZeneca, the project entails feeding waste materials with water hyacinth — which clogs lake — to digesters to generate cooking gas and fertiliser.
Biogas can be used for incubating chicks, purifying water and cooking.
“Each digester will provide enough energy to meet needs of a typical home for a day while the larger community systems will provide cooking services for local fishermen, fish processors and market stalls,” said AstraZeneca.
Clean burning biogas is produced when waste organic materials are digested anaerobically. The process yields a high-quality liquid fertiliser as a by-product, which can be used to enhance the productivity of gardens.
“We look forward to working with our partners and local community to get the pilot project up and running,” said AstraZeneca’s executive vice-president for sustainability and chief compliance officer Katarina Ageborg.
Ms Ageborg said the project will allow the company to leverage AstraZeneca’s strengths in access, science and innovation to provide a package that will ultimately benefit the local community at Dunga.
Dunga is an ideal site for the pilot project, seeing as cooking of fish on wood-burning stoves here leads to daytime smoke inhalation by women.
Also, the cost of firewood is rising steadily due to depletion of trees, Kenya government’s ban on logging and charcoal production.
Under the project, large community digesters will power kitchens and fish driers, electric lights for local fish processors, fishermen and market stalls.
Avoiding collection of firewood will see a reduction in risks of cuts and bruises, accidents and assault, which women experienced on long treks away from the village.
Impact on environment
According to Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership executive director Dr Jake Reynolds, the project explores how a simple sustainability technology with locally generated biogas can improve health and economic outcomes in a rural location in Kenya.
“By partnering, Cambridge and AstraZeneca hope to create unique sharable insights to positive development solutions in sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.
Shift from firewood to biogas is also expected to have a positive impact on local environment and support the Kenya government’s target to increase the country’s tree cover from the current 6.2 per cent to 10 per cent.
Adoption of biogas at Dunga beach is expected to open up opportunities for income generation.
Large biogas plants will create several direct jobs ranging from technical management of biodigesters to collecting organic waste, fertiliser sales, cooking and electric charging services.
The outcomes of the project will be evaluated by a team led by the Centre of Development Studies at Cambridge and supplemented by health monitoring from AstraZeneca.
“A baseline study will be accomplished before any biodigesters are installed, and following their deployment outcomes will be monitored over course of one year,” said Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.
Study will examine project’s impact on health, status and activities of women, energy costs, household income and biogas technology diffusion. It will also attempt to understand how and why lessons can be replicated.
“In the case of the community digesters, the study will also explore the potential for biogas to stimulate employment through a financially self-sustaining and potentially scalable business model,” said Dr Reynolds.
Kenyan-based Biogas International Ltd will be required to install 50 domestic-scale flexi-biogas plants and two community scale plants by October at Dunga beach.