Emerging biogas technology in rural India

CEC member Jasmine Biba reports on a WWF-India project to meet people's needs for energy while reducing pressure on fuelwood from forests and conflict with wildlife.

Woman with biogas plant. A quarter of India’s population of over one billion collect forest products almost daily for household tasks such as cooking, heating and feeding their livestock.

Increasing human population growth and persistent poverty in developing countries continue to influence ecological degradation, especially of forest around the world. In developing countries, wood is traditionally the main source of fuel for rural people who live adjacent to forest areas. About 2.5 billion people, mostly in Asia, use of firewood or other biomass collected from forest for energy.

Excessive extraction of bioenergy (e.g., fuelwood) has resulted in ecosystems degradation, leading to biodiversity loss and deterioration of other ecosystem services. If the intensity of deforestation in India and other countries in Asia increases in near future, the implementation of biogas plants in rural areas could certainly save enormous amounts of forest trees and biodiversity. India’s state forest departments should implement the subsidized biogas plants in forest areas managed by the community and government under the joint forest management program.

The significance and the heightened need of setting up biogas plants in the villages falling in the Bailparao-Kotabagh  Corridor, Ramnagar, Nainital district, Uttarakhand, that supports high wildlife movement were realized by World Wide Fund for Nature-India. The project is the result of some fateful and grave incidences that struck the fuelwood collectors who go into the forest to placate their basic need of fuelwood.

The project in collaboration with Grass Roots, which provides the technical assistance, has been established primarily to offer respite to people like Indrani Devi, 38, resident of Mankanthpur Village in Bailparao-Kotabagh Corridor, part of major Kosi-Baur Corridor.

  • One day Indrani Devi went alone inside the forest to gather firewood, as she probably had done for most of her life, and was attacked by a tiger/tigress, and suffered major injuries and high damage to her right arm. When people are killed by wild animals often the understandable reaction is to take revenge by shooting or indiscriminately poisoning the offending animals, and an anti-conservation sentiment can build up. The corridor experiences high wildlife movement thus followed by high wildlife conflict. So it is undeniable that urgent action needs to be taken.

The project’s ultimate goal is to reduce the wood collection of villagers living around the periphery of protected area, in order to reign the damage being done to the valuable ecosystems of the forests, and as a by-product, help to reduce human-animal conflict arising from people regularly entering wildlife habitat.

WWF- India undertook the task to widen the application of biogas in a rural set up in Terai Arc landscape, while keeping in mind several challenges like the lack of infrastructure, easy maintenance, and so on. The team from WWF-India fine tuned biogas plant technology and introduced a spherical type fixed dome biogas plant to ensure that not an iota of energy is wasted and to provide fuel for cooking purpose, organic manure to rural households and to mitigate drudgery of rural women, reduce pressure on forests and accentuate social benefits.

WWF’s biogas plant has demonstrated how apt and ideal this technology is for rural India which is based on renewable energy. Other alternatives provided are the smokeless chullah and LPG cylinders by the organization to the conflict hit people and to those who are extensively dependent on the fuelwood from forest.
Therefore, the requirement is to endorse efficient ways to meet these people’s needs to reduce pressures on natural forest ecology. And offer an alternative renewable energy source, which has the potential to significantly reduce the pressure on the forest.

Ms  Jasmine BIBA is a Post-Graduate in Biodiversity and Conservation from the Guru Gobind singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. She is presently working with Delhi Pollution Control Committee, Department of Environment, Govt. of NCT of Delhi. She is also a Research Associate at the North Eastern Centre for Environmental Education and Research, Imphal, Manipur. Email: bibajasmine@gmail.com

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