Fueling change in Rwanda

Biogas technology makes life safer and easier for women

September 26, 2023
woman pouring organic waste

Marie Jose pouring organic waste to be used for cooking, hot water, and small electrical generators.

Photo: UNDP Rwanda

For Marie Jose collecting firewood used to be a struggle. Every day, she devoted at least four hours to this arduous task, contending with physical exertion, the threat of sexual assault, and competition with others for firewood. Exhausted by this burden, Marie Jose had difficulties feeding her children.

Like her, many women and children are compelled to give up other essential activities to find wood, often spending up to six hours a day on this task. In Rwanda, three million households have no power for cooking, effectively trapping them in a cycle of poverty and despair.

In 2022, both firewood and charcoal made up 93.4 percent of the sources of cooking energy. Around 76.1 percent of Rwandan households depended on firewood and 17.3 percent used charcoal for cooking. The situation is even more alarming in rural areas, where that number soars to 93.3 percent. This overreliance on firewood poses several environmental threats such as deforestation, dependency on fossil fuels, and environmental degradation. It’s also a health hazard; indoor air pollution causes millions of deaths annually in the world. Thankfully, there are alternatives.

UNDP and the Israeli company HomeBiogas are working with Rwandan families to bring new technology to their households. Utilizing anaerobic digestion, HomeBiogas turns organic waste into sustainable cooking gas and bio-fertilizer, which can be used for cooking, hot water, and small electrical generators. The units are easy to maintain and require minimal care. HomeBiogas engineers provide each family with two months of training to install and maintain the system. This has fostered a community that can independently maintain its units and train others. 

Around 500 households in Rwamagana and Ngoma districts are seeing positive changes from the initiative. The possibility of manufacturing the movable anaerobic digesters and cooking stoves locally, which would both lower the cost and generate job opportunities, is being explored. UNDP is also looking into financing solutions, as the Homebiogas installation cost of US$1,000 can be difficult to afford. 

woman walking along side Biogas container

Marie Jose maintaining a HomeBiogas unit which requires minimal care.

Photo: UNDP Rwanda

The project is part of Rwanda’s Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy, which aims to scale up renewable energy in rural households with the help of the private sector and international development partners. As a sustainable energy source, biogas is expected a pivotal role in the effort to reduce emissions and it can help Rwanda meet its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. 

Biogas is not only an essential tool in the fight against climate change and deforestation, but it also plays an important role in the empowerment of rural communities and promoting women’s safety and economic security. The by-product is an organic fertilizer which can be used to grow cattle fodder, thus creating a self-supporting system. Money once allocated to firewood can now be directed to education and other fundamental needs. Also, biogas advances gender equality and reduces gender-based violence by promoting the education of women and cutting down the time they are forced to spend gathering firewood, as well as reducing the sexual harassment they often face as they do so.  

Marie Jose’s is one of the hundreds of families whose lives have substantially improved. She now has more time to devote to making money to support her family. With the fertilizer her crops are thriving and she can afford to educate to her children, thus taking one of the first steps to breaking the cycle of poverty. 

Now, I'm more independent and no longer struggle with cooking energy... My family eats on time, and I can contribute to protecting the environment by avoiding using firewood.
- Marie Jose