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Help changing volcanic soil into fertile Chamba's

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photo: Sven Torfinn

Fertile Chamba's

Helena Mucharo (55) lives at 1,680 meter altitude on the edge of the Mount Kilimanjaro forest in Tanzania. This forest is part of Mount Kilimanjaro’s national park where no settlements are allowed. Helena’s farm is the highest one on the mountain. The view is amazing, but the volcanic soil makes it difficult to succeed as a farmer. 

Helena and her husband Joshua (63) live on the farm with their six daughters and two boys, whose ages range between 6 and 16 years old. Helena manages the farm and the household, while Joshua is the headmaster of a primary school 1km further down the mountain. 

Something had to change
In 2012 Helena and Joshua made a decision that changed their lives. Helena’s health was deteriorating as a result of breathing in the poisonous smoke from cooking on firewood. She had always cooked this way for her large family. Day in day out, at least three times a day. On top of Helena’s health problems, came the warning that they were no longer permitted to fetch firewood, according to the strict rules of Mount Kilimanjaro National Park. Most of the family’s income was spent on charcoal and LPG. They could not go on this way; something had to change. They needed access to another fuel source that was not only cleaner and less unhealthy for Helena, but also one that was cheaper.

At the local church, Helena and Joshua heard staff of ELC Tanzania, biogas implementing partner of Hivos, speak of using cow dung as an energy source for cooking and electricity. It sounded amazing, as they learned more about biogas, Helena and Joshua’s enthusiasm grew. Yet, it also created a dilemma for the couple. Should they invest in such a modern appliance, which nobody in their village was using yet? What if their investment was in vain? Every shilling they would spend on biogas could not be spent on their eight children. It took them a few weeks of fierce debating to come to a joint decision: yes, they would invest in a biogas digester. Helena: ‘The opportunity came from trustworthy people who explained what the benefits would be for our farm and our family. We took their word for it.’

Effortlessly creating biogas
Hivos provided a grant of 800.000 Tanzanian Shilling to cover the labour costs of a mason, the gas burner and the supervision of the project. Helena’s own, personal investment matched that amount; her money was used to buy building materials such as stone, wood and cement. The digester was installed closely to their barn that houses two cows and one calf. That makes the daily procedure of creating biogas easy – and almost effortless – for Helena. All she needs to do in the mornings is to mix 2 to 3 buckets of cow dung with water and let it run into the digester. The mixture provides them with enough biogas to cook on for the whole day. They can even use a biogas lamp in the evening, which provides enough light for the kids to do their homework and for the older members of the family to relax.  

Volcanic soil
Now years later, Helena looks back at their important decision with satisfaction. She is glad they took the plunge. At the time, what convinced them to invest in a biogas digester had to do with their need and wish to improve their daily health conditions and financial situation: the biogas digester offered the perspective of cooking without breathing in the hazardous smoke, and to save significantly on fuel costs. Who could have known that the biogas digester would give this family even more than that?

Bio-slurry, the remains after the biogas is extracted from the cow dung, has proven to be manure that significantly improves soil fertility. Since Helena started to apply the slurry on her chamba (vegetable garden), she can collect 25 to 30 bags (weighing 100 kilos!) of vegetables per year, instead of the 5 to 6 bags she used to produce on the volcanic soil. ‘Even my neighbours cannot believe that my chamba can produce this much’, says Helena proudly. ‘Plus, I do not spend anything on pesticides and fertilizer any more, which saves me a lot of money’. Because Helena is able to harvest such a large quantity of vegetables, she sells the surplus on the local market, thus generating extra income. Helena is not only producing more vegetables, but her vegetables are more nutritious now. She is able to plant more variety in her chamba so her children have a more diverse and nutritious diet. The investment in the biogas digester has not only improved their financial position but also their general wellbeing. Helena proudly explains: ‘So now I can sell more vegetables and earn more income. Our eight kids no longer go to bed hungry and the eldest even enrolled at university’. All this is plenty of proof for Helena that in choosing to invest in the biodigester, she and her husband made the best decision ever!

 

People around the world choose Hivos biogas to create healthy kitchens and green fields. Helena’s story is just one of the many stories of the empowering effect of Hivos biogas. If you compensate your CO2 emissions via Hivos biogas carbon credits, even more people can buy a biogas digester and improve their lives. Buy carbon credits or contact Hivos via mclaudelin@hivos.org to explore the options for a partnership.

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photo: Sven Torfinn