Biogas — saving nature naturally in Nepal

Posted on 06 March 2007

A WWF initiative that introduces alternative energy sources to villages in Nepal is helping conserve the area's biodiversity. Find out more about the benefits of biogas in Nepal's Terai Arc Landscape.

By Trishna Gurung*

“One day I woke up and told my husband that I wasn’t going to risk my life by collecting wood from the forest any more and that we were going to get a biogas stove, even if we had to take a loan,” recalls Jari Maya Tamang, 41, as she stands proudly next to the first biogas system in her village in Badreni, Nepal.

Since Jari Maya took out a micro-credit loan to install the energy-efficient stove, others have quickly followed. Today, 80 per cent of the 82 households in the village — about a four-hour drive south-west from the capital, Kathmandu — have similar systems in their homes.

Sitting on the edge of Nepal’s Chitwan National Park — home to some of the largest surviving populations of Bengal tigers and greater one-horned rhinos — Badreni has earned the distinction of being the first biogas village in Nepal’s Terai Arc Landscape.

Located in the shadow of the Himalayas, the Terai Arc covers 5 million hectares from Nepal’s Bagmati River in the east to India's Yamuna River in the west.

A role model for alternative energy
As part of WWF Nepal's Terai Arc Landscape Programme, some 7,500 biogas plants are to be installed in villages like Badreni over the next three years.

“With more than 9.3 million head of cattle and over 6.7 million people, there is a future for biogas in the Terai Arc, but this technology is still out of reach for the majority of people who cannot afford it without micro-finance schemes that WWF funds through grassroots forest users groups,” says Basu Dhungana, Chairman of the Mirgakunj Buffer Zone User Committee in Chitwan.

“Badreni is our model. The people understand there is a direct link between our actions and impacts on the environment.”

With a dense population, high biodiversity and fragile ecosystems, deforestation is a major issue facing the Terai Arc. Unsustainable fuelwood extraction affects both community and government-managed forests.

Sixty-one per cent of all households in the Terai Arc Landscape in Nepal currently rely on fuelwood for cooking, and 49 per cent source their wood from nearby government-managed forests. A family uses an average of between 1.3–2.5kg wood everyday. Evidence suggests that this is not sustainable.

Reliable and efficient
More and more people are turning to biogas in Nepal, especially as the technology is relatively simple, reliable, accessible and risk free.

“The advantages of a toilet-attached biogas plant are numerous,” says Jari Maya. “The village’s reliance on forest fuelwood has decreased dramatically, and health and sanitation conditions have improved.”

Cooking with firewood causes chronic respiratory diseases, especially as there are no chimneys in traditional rural houses in Nepal. Installing a biogas system in the house often improves the health of the familly, especially that of women and children, who spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

Not only has research shown that an average-sized biogas plant can save 4.5 metric tonnes of firewood annually, but woman like Jari Maya don’t have to go as often to the forest to collect wood where they are vulnerable to wildlife attacks.

Biogas and climate change
Biogas also has a direct positive impact on climate change, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. According to WWF, a single biogas plant reduces carbon emissions by 4.7 tonnes per year.

Alternate energy promotion is an important priority for WWF’s work in Nepal’s Terai Arc Landscape. In 2006, WWF Nepal partnered with the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre and Biogas Sector Partnership–Nepal, signing a tripartite working arrangement to install the 7,500 biogas plants.

“We are actively promoting biogas installation through microfinance schemes in 13 sites in the Terai Arc, particularly for the poorer, more marginalized communities,” said WWF Nepal Country Representative Anil Manandhar.

“There is a great potential for biogas villages like Badreni to be replicated throughout Nepal.”

* Trishna Gurung is WWF Nepal's Communications & Marketing Manager.

• Biogas is produced from cattle manure and toilet waste. Each household can produce their own biogas by installing a toilet-attached biogas plant. The technology is simple: the manure and toilet waste are mixed with water and dumped in an airtight underground pit of about 6 cubic metres. In these anaerobic conditions, methane starts forming and it is led via a narrow pipe into the gas stove in the kitchen. A valve is turned on whenever the gas is needed for cooking. The gas in itself is pure methane, clean and odourless. It burns more effectively than wood, increasing the efficiency of cooking.

• Through the Terai Arc Landscape Programme, WWF-Nepal encourages installation of biogas systems by giving information and advice, and finances a part of the cost, especially for the construction of toilets and linking them to biogas plants. The total cost for an average sized biogas plant is 20,000 Nepali rupees (US$280).
Jari Maya Tamang, one of the first to install a biogas system in her village. Badreni, Nepal.
© Trishna Gurung / WWF Nepal
Cooking with a biogas stove, instead of burning firewood, eases the workload of women and saves forests.
Cooking with a biogas stove, instead of burning firewood, eases the workload of women and saves forests.
© WWF / Helena Telkanranta
Many villagers are turning to biogas in Nepal, especially as the technology is relatively simple, reliable and accessible. A biogas system attached to an outhouse. Badreni, Nepal.
© Trishna Gurung / WWF Nepal
Greater one-horned rhino female and young, Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal.
© WWF / Jeff Foott