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Biogas project helps Kenyan school save money, and trees

A school in Kenya uses biogas from human waste for fuel, saving money and trees, and reducing carbon-dioxide emissions from burning wood.

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Gachoire’s principal, Naomi Njihia, said the school has been able to save more than 10,000 Kenyan shillings (about $117) each month on fuel.

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“It is very helpful,” said Njihia. “The school has also saved money by (not having to empty) the pit latrines.”

Samuel Githumbe, a Gachoire cook who has worked at schools that used wood for cooking, believes that cooking with biogas has a number of advantages over firewood.

“This gas is very fast,” he said. “If you have a big number of people to cook for, the work is faster, you don’t waste time splitting the firewood, and besides that the gas does not produce smoke that is dangerous to the health and the eyes.”

Githumbe, who was born locally, has also seen the negative consequences for the environment of using fuel wood. He says the climate of the area today is different from when he was young.

The hills across from the school are treeless, cleared for firewood, farming, and construction by the growing population. This has allowed strong winds to destroy crops, while floods wash away the soil during heavy rains, according to Githumbe.

The school has been able to preserve four acres of its own woodland that without the biogas project would eventually have been felled for fuel. School officials say that the trees not only absorb carbon dioxide but help create a cooler microclimate around the school.

Gachoire is also growing vegetables on school land. There are plans to produce fertilizer from the by-products of the biogas production.

The project has excited the communities around the school. When it began, the school hung a banner at the gate, and local residents came to see how the bio-gas was being produced, according to Muraya.

Now they have started producing their own biogas at the household level, using animal dung.

“The whole world ... is talking about climate change,” Muraya said. “But many people are just giving lip service. I know in our small way we are helping to address the impact of climate change by saving the trees and using this clean energy source.”

Student Evelyn Mukami is now gathering youths from her church and the community to tell them how human waste can save the trees.

“I can tell the world that the waste we produce is really not a waste, but we can combine it to produce biogas,” she said.

Samuel Githumbe put it even more bluntly.

“I urge every person here to start using biogas so that we can save our environment,” he said.

• Pius Sawa is a freelance science journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

This article originally appeared at Alertnet, a humanitarian news site operated by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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