A biogas system provided by Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) International in the Phong Binh commune of rural Vietnam has made lives there much easier.
More than 70 percent of Vietnam’s people live in rural areas, earning a livelihood from agriculture, animal husbandry, and fishing. Most rely on wood, charcoal, agricultural residue, and dried animal dung for their energy needs.
Gathering the traditional fuels also devours precious daylight hours that children and women in particular might otherwise spend at school, or in income-generating or social activities.
Development organisations like Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and SNV, a Dutch development organisation are now promoting the use of biogas from manure in the region.
NCA has provided 82 biogas plants along with energy-efficient stoves in Phong Binh commune, which is a low-lying coastal area in the Phong Dien district, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) northwest of the city of Hue.
The commune has 1,717 households, with over 8,000 people living across 10 villages with around 91 percent of the area in rice production and livestock, while fishing being the secondary source of work during the non-rice-sowing season.
An NCA clean energy expert Hoang Thi Thanh Mai said the change is reducing pressure on mangroves and other forests in the area and allowing farmers to use the nutrient-rich slurry left over from the biogas digesters as a crop fertilizer.
With a lifespan of 15 years, one biogas plant costs an estimated $500, which is a substantial investment for a farming family with moderate income, but clean energy experts say the advantages make it worth the investment for many families.
SNV’s biogas adviser in Vietnam Bastiaan Tenue said apart from the household benefits, the use of biogas can also protect forests, fuel new businesses and improve air quality.
Reports by international and national non-governmental organisations in Vietnam suggest more than 300,000 jobs have been created in biogas energy since 2003, including many for village people trained in biogas plant construction.
Nguyen Thi Huong, 35, who is a paddy rice farmer in central Vietnam’s Phong Binh commune, said she enjoys cooking now in her smoke-free and pollution-free kitchen.
Previously, cooking was an uneasy and hazardous job as her kitchen would become smoky with black soot from the burning fuel wood. This would cause her to cough all day and her eyes sore.
For Huong, a mother of two children, collecting fuel wood daily from the nearby mangroves forest was a no less tedious task, particularly when she was already busy rearing pigs, looking after children, and doing house chores.
The clean biogas fire “has got rid of my cough and eye infections, and given me a sense of cleanliness,” she said – not least because her village now also has a solution to its former animal manure problem.