The Implementation of Biogas-Technology in a Developing Country as a Grass-Roots Initiative:

A Practitioners Report about 5 Years of Independent Dissemination of Sustainable Technology in Lesotho

Mantopi Lebofa and Harald von Waldow

Keywords: biogas, developing country, adapted technology, decentralized energy production, waste-management, ecological sanitation

The small Maseru based NGO “Technologies for Economic Development” (TED) was established in 2002 with the main focus to disseminate fixed-dome biogas digesters. By now, TED has built more than 70 digesters, which all are in operation. They are mainly domestic-size installations in the peri-urban vicinity of Maseru, but also larger-size constructions to serve up to 30 people have been build. The scalable digester design has been developed for over 20 years. It is adapted not only to the typically encountered technical and cultural conditions of operation, but to also to the locally available materials and skills.

The biogas is used for cooking and eliminates the health hazard and environmental impact associated with the use of firewood which it substitutes. The digestate is used for irrigation and fertilization of the vegetable garden and dramatically increases the yield of domestic food production. The digester also serves as on-site sanitation solution and replaces usually malfunctioning septic tanks, which discharge untreated wastewater into the environment and are associated with comparatively high costs of operation.

TED's construction activities are completely demand driven and not subsidized. This ensures that only technology which can stand its ground in the market place is actually implemented. We regard this principle as a mandatory check to ensure that our technology is sustainably adopted by the customers and has the potential to become a self-propelled business which will create employment opportunities in Lesotho and generally will have a positive impact on Lesotho's economy. This has worked out well so far, the demand for the digesters currently exceeds TED's capacities.

While this has been mainly a success story, TED now has hit barriers to growth which are caused by lack of infrastructure, brain-drain and lack of skilled workforce, particularly in the area of business-management. Persons and organizations from countries of the North have sporadically provided help to remedy acute problems and improve specific aspects of TED's operation, but they have largely failed to help overcome structural problems which prevent TED from expanding its activities to the next level. The principles of self-sufficiency and demand-driven activity, which we think are responsible for our success so far, are possibly also the reason for our inability to harness effective support from development-agencies. TED is neither a typical development-aid dependent NGO, which can implement whatever fits the current agenda of the donor-agency as long as everything is paid for, nor can TED muster the professional resources of established profit-oriented businesses, which are necessary to take part in public-private-partnership programmes.