Lack of technical knowhow and financial implications are deterring farmers from constructing biogas plants

Gallay Wangchuk and his family of seven use only one LPG cylinder a year. Previously, they had to purchase a refilled cylinder almost every month.

The decrease in usage is a result of Gallay Wangchuk constructing a biogas plant in 2014. The plant produces enough energy to sustain his entire family.

Gallay Wangchuk who is the tshogpa of Chazam Pam chiwog, said the initiative to construct biogas plants came as a boon to many of the residents in the chiwog.

“Today almost all households in the chiwog have a running plant which helps reduce the cost of energy consumption,” said the tshogpa. “Biogas energy has complimented electricity usage in our houses.”

Gallay Wangchuk said that although the rural community in the area receives 100 units of free electricity, most of the households use biogas energy in their kitchens. He added that except for some minor challenges in winter, when the rate of decomposition inside the plant is reduced and energy output is decreased, there are no major problems associated with using the plants.

The focal person for biogas with the Department of Livestock in Trashigang, Kinga Dechen, said that although the use of biogas plants in the region has picked up among farmers, the rate of growth is not encouraging.

Biogas was introduced in the country in the late 1980s as a clean and renewable source of energy for cooking. However, most of the biogas technologies were abandoned due to poor technical designs and lack of spare parts and maintenance.

The idea was reintroduced in the east in 2010 under the small grant project of the United Nations Development Programme. Some 30 biogas plants were installed in Radhi in Trashigang and Chaskhar in Mongar. The machinery and raw materials were fully subsidised then.

A few interested individuals took up the idea but it didn’t see much growth. In 2014, the livestock department under the Bhutan Biogas Project (BBP) restarted the biogas programme. Interested farmers are today given a subsidy of Nu 11,700 for the plant along with a collateral-free loan of Nu 20,000 from the Bhutan Development Bank Ltd (BDBL) with 10 percent interest payable in three years.

Kinga Dechen said that despite all measures to encourage farmers to take up biogas, many were reluctant. Last year the department at a meeting decided to provide an additional 15 cement bags and 18 CGI sheets, which amounts to around Nu 19,751 to each farmer who wanted to take up the project for the construction of dairy sheds for better feed.

“After the proposal, we saw more farmers coming forward to build the plants. Almost 100 new plants came up within 2016-2017,” said Kinga Dechen. The project picked up in places like Khapti, Lumang, Thrimshing and Samkhar.

The department has targeted to install 452 biogas plants in the dzongkhag by the end of this year. As of March this year, a total of 413 biogas plants have been successfully completed. Of the 15 gewogs in Trashigang, Samkhar gewog has the highest (154) number of biogas plants followed by Radhi and Shongphu with 64 and 42 respectively.

Kinga Dechen said that although users of biogas plants are growing, the lack of exposure on technical knowhow and financial implications are deterring farmers to take up the project.

“People here get concerned when the plant slightly dysfunctions and come blaming us,” he said. “Unlike in the south where biogas is very popular, here in the east we need to work extra on educating the farmers on the benefits of biogas.”

He added that given the subsidies on electricity and LPG and also because of the easy availability of firewood, people do not take the opportunity to construct biogas plants. “I believe if the subsidy on the plant is further increased to Nu 15,000 people might take more interest in it.”

Meanwhile, the department has also set targets for the 12th Five Year Plan to add more biogas plants across the country. As per the target, Trashigang will have to construct an additional 500 biogas plants by the end of the 12th Plan. Thimphu, on the other hand has to construct the least number of plants with 50 in the Plan.

The target was set considering the cattle and pig populations in the respective dzongkhags. The number of households, population parameters, number of gewogs, prevalence of climatic conditions like altitude and the existing number of biogas plants installed were also considered.

Younten Tshedup | Trashigang