Josephine Kairu is a smallholder farmer in Nakuru County in the Rift Valley of Kenya who makes her living from farming and selling milk from her cows. As a widow and the head of her household, she’s responsible for tending to her cows, sheep, and chicken, in addition to managing her family’s daily tasks. In places like rural Kenya, women and girls spend up to 18 hours a week gathering firewood for preparing food and heating water for their families. Reliable and affordable cooking fuel can be challenging to come by. “It is hard to get charcoal, and when you are lucky to find charcoal, the quality is bad,” says Josephine.

But technology is offering a cost and time-saving solution for farmers like Josephine and their families. Biodigesters are systems that break down organic farm animal waste and convert it into biogas and other outputs like fertilizer. They take a resource that’s widely available to dairy and pig farmers – manure – and turn it into an energy source for household and farm energy needs. On top of being a more sustainable and affordable source of energy, biodigesters reduce the amount of time that people, especially women and girls, must spend gathering firewood because they can instead use biogas for their cooking fuel. “When you have biogas, you save a lot. You don’t have to use firewood, charcoal, or petroleum gas, and it minimizes electricity expenses. Secondly, after providing heat, it also provides fertilizer and chicken feed,” says Kelvin Sang, senior sales agent at Sistema.bio, a company that manufactures and distributes biodigesters.

Josephine collects manure from her cows
Josephine collects manure from her cows that she will repurpose into cooking fuel for her kitchen by using a biodigester. “This biogas has really helped me, and it has saved me a lot. There is a challenge of getting firewood but now I have a very easy time cooking,” she says.

Last year, Accion’s Global Advisory Solutions team began working with Sistema.bio to pilot a biodigester rollout in Nakuru County in Kenya. Through this partnership, an initiative funded by Financial Sector Deepening (FSD) Kenya, we sought to understand why smallholder farmers haven’t widely adopted biodigesters and discover ways to address the obstacles holding them back from installing them on their farms.

One of the major barriers to the adoption of biodigesters is the cost of installation. Biodigesters can be expensive, putting them out of reach for many Kenyan farmers. Typically, equipment manufacturers such as Sistema.bio also offer financing options. To expand the pool of funding available to farmers, we explored partnerships with various types of financial institutions, including a fintech, a commercial bank, a microfinance institution, and a Saving and Credit Cooperative, to offer other avenues for extending financial support to farmers so that they can install biodigesters on their farms. With Accion’s support, Sistema.bio is now making these life-changing biodigesters accessible to farmers through customized, flexible loans from their own books, and with financial partners like Fortune SACCO.

Now that Emily Koech, a farmer and Sistema.bio customer, has been able to install a biodigester on her farm, she’s seeing her investment pay off. “It has helped me reduce the cost of living, and with the money I save, I pay school fees [for my children] and I buy basic needs that are needed in the house. It has helped me a lot,” she says.

Emily Koech stands by her cow
Emily Koech relies on her biodigester for cooking fuel, saying, “Biogas has helped me a lot in my house because I use it for cooking, to boil milk and water. There is no smoke in the kitchen, and I no longer have to buy firewood.”

As climate change presents mounting challenges, the need for climate-smart technology and renewable energy sources is becoming increasingly urgent. From our field research in the region, we learned that smallholder farmers recognize the adverse impact of climate change and are willing to adopt climate-smart solutions to protect their farms, but they need solutions that also help them to reduce costs and earn more income for their families. Some farmers are skeptical of new technologies, especially those they perceive as complicated, like biodigesters. Live demonstrations and testimonials from trusted sources, like relatives, other farmers, and local cooperatives, are effective ways to educate farmers about how climate-smart practices can benefit their farms and families.

By bringing renewable and cost-saving energy solutions to farmers in Kenya, we’re helping people strengthen their farms and improve their lives. See how biodigesters have made a difference in the lives of three smallholder farmers in rural Kenya:

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