Fred Otema, 35, is a resident of Punena parish in Bungatira sub-county, Gulu district, but spent half of his life in Cope Camp as an internally displaced person (IDP), during the Lord’s Resistance Army conflict.
The experience influenced his determination to ensure he had a good life for himself and his family after the conflict. Today, he is on the way to achieving that goal, thanks to biogas. The father of four, three of whom are in school, has two Friesian cows that supply him over 20 litres of milk daily. The family also has goats and chicken.
However, he treasures his cows most because they have changed family’s life — Otema’s family uses the cows’ dung and urine to produce enough biogas energy to meet their energy needs.
“I no longer have to struggle with paraffin and firewood because I use a gas cooker and I also have light everyday in the village,” he says.
The dung is mixed in a bio-digestor to produce methane, which the family uses for cooking and lighting. After producing methane, the dried dung is then extracted from the bio-digestor and used as a fertilizer — Otema is engaged in mixed farming.
“My crops are doing well due to the organic fertilizers, and they generate enough money for me to take care of my family,” he adds.
He says he started using biogas this year after receiving training from Heifer International. Otema explains that apart from being clean, bio gas energy is effective and reliable. However, he hopes to raise more working capital to engage in large scale agriculture, since the few cattle he has can only produce a small volume of fertilizers for agriculture, and low capacity of the biogas energy.
“I need at least three more Friesian cows and also I need to expand my agricultural work, but all of these means that I need working capital, which would take me a long time to accumulate,” he says.
Otema invested Shs 800,000 into the biogas project, while Heifer International raised the Shs 800,000 he needed to construct the bio-digestor. He says the cost is insignificant in comparison to the cost of firewood and fuel, which he would be using instead — and he expects his plant to last more than 30 years, with proper maintenance.
The former IDP says the greatest impact the project has had on his family has been the shift from absolute poverty.
“This project has really helped to fight poverty in my family, because I can sell the extra milk, onions, maize, okra and eggplant that I reap from agriculture,” he says.
His wife, Florence, says they have used the money they earn to pay school fees for all their three children, and have bought a bicycle and furniture for their home. Michael Komakech, a livestock specialist with Heifer International, says he would like to see more farmers embracing biogas.
“Biogas doesn’t produce smoke, which could result into respiratory infection, and it has also helped in promoting peace in the families, as both men and woman now want to cook using the gas cooker,” Komakech says.
He estimates that at least 100 former IDPs are now using biogas to sustain their families, with support from Heifer international, the Dutch Development Organisation and the Humanist Institute for International Development Cooperation. Komakech explains that the goal of the programme is to improve livelihoods of rural and peri-urban farmers in northern Uganda through biogas.
However, the biogas proponents face a major hurdle in passing it on to other farmers, as there are too few masons to construct the bio-digestors needed to make biogas possible.
“We only have about five masons in northern Uganda and this means some of our projects cannot proceed on time, as many of the masons have sought greener pastures in the central region, where other biogas projects exist,” Komakech says, adding, though, that there is hope that more will be trained.