Turning Livestock Manure into Sustainable Energy in Bangladesh
The livestock sector is one of Bangladesh’s fastest-growing sectors, creating income and nutrition opportunities for rural populations across the livestock market system. However, it’s also a major contributor of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane. Livestock may also contribute to other sustainability issues related to equity and human health.
Where Feed the Future operates in southwestern Bangladesh, the region’s highly saline soil and increasingly flood- and disaster-prone nature has forced many farm families to raise stall-fed livestock as a major source of household income and assets. Many farmers living in the region have shifted from agriculture to aquaculture because of the agricultural land loss caused by saltwater intrusion. The inability of farms to use livestock manure has resulted in the indiscriminate dumping of fresh manure into aquaculture ponds and adjacent farm areas, making the overall management of manure environmentally damaging.
Meanwhile, women in the region who are responsible for cooking suffer from a range of chronic illnesses due to inefficient cooking facilities. According to the World Health Organization, around 80% of Bangladesh’s population used solid fuel for their household cooking in 2016. In addition to health concerns, this forces women and children to spend many hours each week, that could otherwise be spent on more productive activities, collecting firewood, leaves and wood residues.
The Feed the Future Bangladesh Livestock Production for Improved Nutrition Activity, funded by USAID and implemented by Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance (ACDI/VOCA), has been working to improve food and nutrition security in Bangladesh by improving livestock farming practices and productivity and increasing household incomes. To promote sustainable alternatives to the current manure management and cooking systems, the activity partnered with ATEC Australia International Limited to establish prefabricated, easy-to-use biodigesters for use among rural households in southwestern Bangladesh. ATEC is a certified vendor of Bangladesh’s Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), a government-owned institution that finances medium- to large-scale infrastructure and renewable energy projects in Bangladesh.
The smart version of a biodigester is a compact and cost-effective system that converts livestock manure, as well as human, kitchen and green waste, into biogas and fertilizer. Its airtight, high-density polyethylene container dilutes waste in flowing water, which causes the wastes’ microorganisms to ferment. The fermentation process produces less harmful biogas, which is a mixture of gases produced by the decomposition of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. With support from the activity, ATEC conducted 11 demonstrations of the biodigester for rural households throughout the region.
Within a few months, this new, climate-smart technology not only brought health benefits to rural households but also created new income opportunities for farmers selling organic fertilizer to other farmers. These households are now able to produce 1,400 liters of clean gas per day for cooking and 36 kilograms of organic fertilizer per day for crop farming. They also save an average of three hours per day that were previously spent collecting firewood.
"Earlier, we needed about six hours a day to gather firewood and cook. But, these days, I only need two hours a day to cook. There is no more smoke and no more black pots!" — Topoti Adhikari, a livestock farmer in Khulna who set up a biodigester in her backyard in November 2020
To increase the number of biodigesters in the region, the activity, in collaboration with ATEC, has trained livestock service providers on the installation and dissemination of the technology. The activity is organizing cross visits for other USAID implementing partners to observe the performances and benefits of the technology at the household level.
Looking forward, the activity will continue collaborating with ATEC to promote climate-smart technology among more farmers and livestock input shop owners. Additionally, to enable farmers to purchase the biodigesters, the activity has been building links between ATEC and commercial banks to offer low-interest loans to farmers.
With a growing demand for sustainable energy sources for cooking in rural areas around the world, livestock projects can play an important role by promoting climate-smart technologies, like biodigesters, to meet this demand. The adoption of biodigesters can not only help to address the gap in access to natural gas but also reduce women’s mortality rates from unsafe cooking practices and achieve environmental sustainability in the livestock sector.