Green energy provides a triple win for women dairy farmers in India

Vidya Nanawara from Vidani village in Satara district of Maharashtra

For women dairy farmers across rural India, mornings can be a very stressful time. On top of completing household chores and getting their children ready for school, many women must handle the time-consuming task of collecting firewood which they need to for cooking fuel, before they begin tending to their farms. Energy poverty is a challenge for people all over the globe, especially women, who are the primary users and producers of household energy. When energy is scarce, the burden of tedious tasks like collecting firewood, leaves, twigs, and dung for cooking fuel often falls on the women of the household.

Swati Jagtap from Malegaon village in Satara district of Maharashtra

Swati Jagtap from Malegaon village in Satara district of Maharashtra

Around 2.4 billion people worldwide — about one-third of the global population — lack access to clean cooking solutions and use open fires or inefficient stoves fueled by kerosene, biomass (wood, animal dung, and crop waste), or coal, which generates harmful household air pollution. As climate change presents mounting challenges, the need for climate-smart technology and renewable energy sources is becoming increasingly urgent. In June 2022, Accion’s Global Advisory Solutions team partnered with to conduct a study to understand the benefits, financing, and barriers to adopting green energy assets by women dairy farmers using biodigesters in India. Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) funded this initiative.

Biodigesters are systems that break down organic farm animal waste and convert it into biogas and other by-products which can be used as substitutes for fertilizers. Each biodigester installation helps us get one step closer to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, with a goal to provide biogas to all small dairy farmers. In remote areas, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) is not readily available, and electricity in villages is unreliable. After introduced a technology with a prefabricated modular biodigester (including a full suite of biogas connections and a hybrid reactor designed to treat the daily waste of animal farms), the daily lives of the women dairy farmers we spoke to improved in quality. It became easier for them to manage the household and other chores. Biogas energy is not only used for cooking but also for chaffing the fodder for cattle. A biogas by-product, called bio-slurry, is produced by anaerobic fermentation of biomaterials (waste like cow dung, etc.) which has been widely used as a natural fertilizer in agricultural production, which has many nutrients and is also used like natural fertilizer in kitchen garden or farmlands to grow better quality, organic food produce. Among the dairy farmers we surveyed, biodigesters are acclaimed as a promising product made even more attractive by prompt and proactive service from staff, for both installations as well as servicing.

Our insights from this study show that green energy assets like biodigesters provide a triple win for the woman dairy farmer, benefitting them economically, environmentally, and socially. Here’s what we learned:

Benefits of green energy for women farmer

Benefits of green energy for women farmer

Economic benefits of green energy

Daily Cost of LPG vs. Biogas over 10 years

Table 1: Daily Cost of LPG vs. Biogas over 10 years

Biodigesters[1] are green assets with optimum return on investment, leading to more household savings: For smallholder dairy farmers, the study confirmed that, assuming that liquified petroleum gas (LPG) cost increases by ₹100 ($1) annually over a 10-year period, and comparing the cost of LPG and biogas used for biodigesters, the daily cost for LPG is ₹48 ($0.60), which is almost four times the daily cost for biogas (₹11 ($0.10)).

In monetary terms, on an average, every household saved ₹6,786 ($85) per year by cutting down on LPG usage per year. The minimum cost saved is ₹500 ($6) to as high as ₹19,000 ($240). With these savings, farmers can focus on providing for their children’s education, purchasing food, and managing other household costs.

On average, each household with biodigesters reduced the usage of LPG by seven cylinders, which is about 85 percent of their petroleum gas consumption prior to using biodigesters.

Replacing chemical fertilizers with bio-slurry reduces agricultural production costsReplacing chemical fertilizers with bio-slurry reduces agricultural production costs for women dairy farmers: Bio-slurry, a byproduct of biogas, is not only an environmentally friendly organic fertilizer but also an efficient use of waste material, following the waste management principles of reusing and recycling. All of the women dairy farmers participating in the study were aware of the benefits of bio-slurry and use it for growing crops both for commercial and household consumption purposes. In our research, we found that the usage of chemical fertilizers was reduced on average by 650 kg or 1,433 lb. — about twice the weight of a large motorcycle — every year.

Using biodigesters leads to a significant reduction in time spent on cooking, creating an opportunity to seek additional means for income or employment: Owing to social norms, women dairy farmers cook meals for the family at least three times a day using firewood, which takes close to three to four hours of travel time to collect. Installing and using a biodigester is simple and convenient, and the daily time spent on cooking is reduced significantly. It gives women dairy farmers the opportunity to spend their time more efficiently, allowing them to undertake productive and fulfilling activities that they were previously unable to consider, like teaching or taking on tailoring work, for example.

Using a biodigester helps me lead a satisfying life. The time I save from collecting firewood allows me to teach children in the Anganwadi (government primary care center) and earn ₹5,000 ($65) monthly.
Rajashree Thorat from Sonawadi village in Baramati district of Maharashtra, India

Environmental benefits for rural communities

Rajashree Thorat from Sonawadi village in Baramati district of Maharashtra

Rajashree Thorat from Sonawadi village in Baramati district of Maharashtra

Biodigesters have low emissions, create less pollution, promote afforestation, and follow the waste management recycling principles: Using livestock waste as renewable energy, women dairy farmers use biodigesters act as a catalyst to build a cleaner and greener environment. More than half of the respondents know about renewable sources of energy like solar panels that help in converting solar (heat) energy into electricity, and that biogas falls in the same category of renewable energy sources.

Using bio-slurry helps women dairy farmers transition to organic agriculture: Bio-slurry is considered a nutrient-rich fertilizer for crops that improves soil fertility, soil structure, and crop yields. Among the small and large unit dairy farmers, it is considered to be even better than regular farmyard manure. In fact, large-scale commercial dairy farm owners have invested in large units of biodigesters, just to produce bio-slurry as it significantly improves the yield and quality of their crops.

With access to and by consuming superior quality organic food, women dairy farmers and their families have seen their health improve, and no longer suffer from burning eyes, coughing, and other concerns resulting from wood-burning stoves.

Social benefits for women farmers

Women are empowered by owning assets and having the agency to make financial decisions: Traditionally, men have owned and controlled most of the fixed assets like land, cattle, and houses. Our study highlighted that though all respondents had land holdings, only 25 percent of the families had land under the woman’s name and 71 percent of the biodigesters were owned by the men in the family. Although the woman dairy farmer does all the hard work in the dairy value chain, she is deprived of income and profit sharing due to her lack of financial education, empowerment, and confidence to access financial markets independently. We found that despite 90 percent of the respondents having bank accounts, only 23 percent of the women dairy farmers had income from the milk they produce coming directly into their bank account.

Women are empowered by owning assets and having the agency to make financial decisions

During the focus group discussions, we observed that the societal norms do not grant permission for women to travel outside the village alone. The perception around women lacking knowledge and confidence to operate banking facilities on their own persists. Just opening a bank account does not guarantee a woman’s inclusion into the financial markets.

The biggest obstacle to adopting biodigesters is the upfront cost of investment. For a smallholder woman dairy farmer, the cash outlay presents a trade-off between short-term needs, such as household and production requirements, versus long-term cost savings. Overall, the average return on investment for farmers purchasing biodigesters can reach as high as 270 to 300 percent over five years. So, there is a need to create awareness about the farmers’ long-term benefits and cost savings, potentially through gamified sessions, simulations, and campaigns. Currently, is providing asset financing to their customers, which is not sustainable. Financial service providers (FSPs) need to be encouraged to provide credit to women dairy farmers for buying green assets like biodigesters. This can be achieved by developing use cases with cost-benefit analysis, or incentivizing FSPs to build green asset financing portfolios.

Based on the insights from this study and building on our work in Kenya, we are initiating dialogues with different stakeholders in India to improve access to finance and facilitate building an effective dairy value chain, and to scale and accept green assets like biodigesters among women dairy farmers and other low-income farmers. This intervention can help accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy by promoting clean energy and more efficient energy use, as well as help tackle energy poverty.

We will continue to build from our experiences in India and Kenya to explore ways to strengthen the dairy ecosystem and are keen to work more in the area of green asset financing to help small-scale farmers reap the benefits of renewable energy. Reach out if you would like to learn more.

[1] The smallest unit of biodigester from costs between ₹30,000 – ₹50,000 ($370- $630) in India. The Sistema 62 (provides 3 hours/day of biogas which is equivalent to 1.5LPG cylinder/month and Sistema 82 (provides 4.5 hours/day of biogas which is equivalent to 2.2LPG cylinder/month)

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