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Benin biogas pilot to tackle farming livelihoods and deforestation

20/11/2020

In Benin, 80% of the population outside the cities relies on biomass for cooking. To help address the stark environmental, livelihood and health repercussions of burning firewood, the Swedish Postcode Foundation awarded Energy 4 Impact a grant in November 2020 to pilot the use of biodigesters on farms across rural northern Benin in the Borgou and Alibori regions. 

The dependency on biomass for cooking in Benin means roughly 160,000 hectares of forest are cut down for fuel each year. This deforestation leads to flooding which causes soil erosion – and 50,000 hectares of farming land are lost annually. Such disturbances in the farming cycle diminish agricultural yields for farmers whilst putting much of the population at risk of energy poverty due to biomass shortages. 

However, biogas presents a sustainable alternative for cooking fuel. This flammable gas is produced in an airtight tank, known as a biodigester, when organic materials mixed with water are digested through anaerobic microbial action (also producing a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer called ‘bioslurry’). Most agricultural waste goes unutilised in the farm-based economy of Benin, so the market potential for biogas is high. The Piloting Biogas in Benin towards National Scaling programme aims to demonstrate a viable market for biodigesters and the resulting compost. 

An overall total of 120 smallholder farms in the agricultural communities of Borgou and Alibori will benefit from the project. 40 selected farms will receive technical guidance after the installation of biodigesters and the remaining 80 will receive support to either source or sell organic fertilisers from biodigesters already in place. As farmers make a partial contribution to outlay, Energy 4 Impact will work with MFIs and farmer cooperatives to bridge gaps in access to finance. Given the biodigesters are made financially viable through the sale of bioslurry – farms will use some for their own crops and sell the rest – training will help farmers perceive the agronomic and market potential of compost. Energy 4 Impact will put a robust monitoring and evaluation system in place to monitor key performance indicators. 

The anticipated benefits of this programme are wide-ranging. Not only will the roll-out of biodigesters help counteract deforestation caused by burning firewood, the programme will increase soil fertility through the use of organic fertilizers in rural areas. Higher agricultural yields will lead to a projected 20% increase in farmer income – and proving a viable market will boost rural livelihoods and employment. As biogas will provide domestic fuel for farming families, the programme will also alleviate the harmful health impacts of smoke emissions as well as lessen the burden of collecting firewood on women and children. 

Enabling the transition to sustainable energy sources is crucial for the sustainability of this planet. We are therefore very proud to support Energy 4 Impact's pilot, creating a sustainable model for turning waste into biogas and fertilizers, in Benin,

says Marie Dahllöf, Secretary General of the Swedish Postcode Foundation. 

By demonstrating more efficient and sustainable market-based mechanisms for biodigester technology, the programme will assist the government of Benin with expanding the implementation of the National Biogas Program. Findings from the programme will lead to a proposal by Energy 4 Impact for scaling biodigester uptake. As the government estimates there is national capacity for at least 150,000 biodigesters, biogas has the potential to become a huge growth sector for clean energy in Benin.