Archive for June, 2012

A Small Step Towards Sustainable Living – First Floating Dome FRP Biogas Unit built by Women Masons of Aurangabad

Marathwada is one of the most backward regions of India where the majority of the people live in villages. The rural folk are dependent on the sparsely irrigated small patches of lands for their livelihoods. To add to their woes, the rainfall pattern and the ground water is on the decreasing trend.
It is against this background that Institute for Integrated Rural Development (IIRD) has worked with the farmers (mainly women farmers) to identify alternative sources of rural livelihoods that lead to sustainable living. To supplement their meagre incomes from farms, they were trained on various skills that improves their livelihoods while also conserving the biodiversity and the environment. These skills include dairy, plant nursery development, production of biodynamic and organic manures, and water management. The organization also empowers and facilitates them to establish green enterprises – plant nurseries, vermicompost units, biodynamic manure production, and development of the “matka” fridge. The low cost “matka” fridge (costs only Rs 300 or 6 US$) is a fridge made of earthen pots that helps farmers preserve their vegetables for a much longer duration (increases the shelf life by 2-4 times). This improves livelihood opportunities for the village potters and the farmers are able to preserve their vegetable produce for home consumption and sale. The non-farm skills imparted include tailoring, domestic wiring, and masonry. The farmers trained on these skills started the related enterprises and thus improved their livelihoods.
With support from a German development organization, DESWOS ( http://www.deswos.de ), many rural women from the district were trained on masonry skills. They now take construction contracts in the villages for their livelihoods – repair of school buildings, house constructions, etc. Being small farmers themselves, they are well aware of the challenges facing the rural communities and farmers in particular. They, along with members of IIRD and the development animators in the villages, wanted to find a way to use their masonry skills to bring better life in the villages. Farmers face a dire fuel and energy crisis – the electricity is unavailable for more than 8-12 hours a day, the kerosene is hard to get, and the collection of firewood is tedious besides aiding desertification. Firewood and dried cowdung are the main fuels in the villages particularly for cooking. Women spend a lot of time and efforts to collect the dung and firewood. Government agencies and some private farmers have experimented with biogas in the past but have not been very successful. IIRD staff and the development animators held several meetings to identify the causes for the failure of biogas units. The biogas units so far installed in the district is unsuitable to the soils (black cotton soil) and therefore some structural damages happen in due course of time. Besides, there is not much knowledge on the maintenance of the biogas units. The cost of the biogas unit itself is expensive for a small farmer. The challenge is to bring down the cost and make a biogas unit particularly suited to the soil and climatic conditions of the district. The IIRD staff and some development animators visited other biogas units in Maharashtra and in neighbouring districts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat. The designs were discussed for their suitability and skills required. Based on several factors, it was agreed that the FRP Floating Dome model with a Ferrocement Digestor is the most appropriate model – needs less skills, quick to build, easy to maintain, withstands stresses, and produces more gas.
After a detailed study of the design and with technical support from experts, the first such FRP Floating Dome Biogas unit was built by the women masons – Ashabai and her technical team – Dwarakabi and Kantabai. All of them are trained masons earlier involved mostly in house construction. (the photo below shows the team at work)
Women masons installing the floating dome FRP Biogas unit
 Soon, the biogas will be produced (normally, 15 days after the installation) which will be sufficient fuel to cook food for a family of 5 members. This will save their time and efforts to collect other fuel (firewood and dried cowdung) besides giving out a cowdung slurry that will be an useful farm input as a fertilizer.
What remains now?
  •  Equip a workshop to build the FRP floating dome and the metal mould for the ferrocement digestor.
  • Build capacity of more women masons to install such biogas units
  • Establish a mixture of grants and soft credit to enable farmers to afford these biogas units
  • Raise awareness among communities for use of biogas for cooking and the slurry as an important organic fertilizer.
  • Organize exposure visits to similar family biogas units and also community based biogas units.
Presently, IIRD is looking for resources to carry forward the envisaged plans. IIRD believes in the philosophy of “small is beautiful” as introduced by British economist and Philosopher – E. F. Schumacher. The aim is to generate local livelihoods or rural workplaces that can improve their incomes and also sustain their environment. This project envisages employment opportunities for at least twenty women masons and 3 other skilled persons in fabrication FRP making while making about 100 units in the first 18 months.
– Joy Daniel, IIRD – http://www.iird.org.in , Aurangabad, Maharashtra, INDIA
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