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.
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 Sistema.bio 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 Sistema.bio 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 Sistema.bio 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:
Economic benefits of green energy
Biodigesters 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 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.