Sunday, May 08, 2011

Going green with biogas - Jakarta Post

Trisha Sertori, Contributor, Payangan, Bali | Tue, 05/03/2011 9:49 PM | Life
The green movement is taking hold around the globe. 


People are choosing to “go green” by taking their own shopping bags to supermarkets, others leave the car at home and bike to work, saving on emissions and getting healthy into the bargain.

Then there are the myriad of businesses who see having a green logo stamped on their products ups sales — green is a good business move.

But most of these actions are thought to take place amid the urban, the well informed and socially conscious; few guess that in villages going green at the grassroots is a way of life. And it is because of the grassroots nature of agricultural families that the disconnect between the earth and chemical fertilizer impact on the soil is so closely realized.

Since September 2010 people of one Bali village have been rolling up their sleeves and getting down and dirty in their return to organic farming with a side benefit of free methane gas supplying their homes.

“Here in Desa Kerta we wanted to go organic because we learned that people got sick from chemicals. In our past we didn’t use chemicals as fertilizer and people didn’t get sick, so our village is moving to being totally organic,” says Subak (irrigation managers) head Nyoman Suardana of the village of Penyabangan in Bali.

The village’s decision to go organic opened the door to the new technology of making their own biogas from the waste of pigs and cattle raised to produce organic fertilizer for their rice fields and gardens.

In the back yard of Suardana’s modest home, a dozen pigs of varying ages are busily making the methane gas that fuels the stove in his kitchen with unlimited free gas, that Suardana says is non-explosive.

They are also unwittingly creating the valuable fertilizer that this rice farmer believes will improve his rice yield within three years.

The system is simple, waste from the pigs is harvested, mixed with water to form a slurry that passes underground through a set of tanks.

The natural way: The pigs at the heart of the biogas operation offer organic fertilizer, methane gas for cooking and can be sold at a profit.The central tank collects the methane produced from the waste which is then piped into Suardana’s home. In the final septic tank the slurry overflows, is dried and returned to the soil, a closed system that now everyone in his village of 42 homes has invested in.

“I became interested in biogas because the LPG [liquefied petroleum gas] canisters can explode. We see that on TV a lot and that concerned us greatly. Also the price of LPG is going up all the time. We felt that with the LPG canisters you need to be always checking if they are in good condition, we always had to be aware and we were frightened, but with methane it does not explode — if pressure builds up it is released into the air and it’s natural so it does no damage,” says Suardana.

He points out implementing biogas systems and organic faming in his community faced no difficulty because, “our water is still clean, people are not allowed to throw rubbish and plastics into our rivers — we have a fine of Rp 100,000 — so the area is clean.

This comes down to our Subak and Awig Awig being strong and still very active,” says Suardana of the role Subak and Awig Awig [traditional laws] play in protecting the environment.

Up the road a kilometer is the home and organic garden of Ketut Suweno. His garden is laden with oranges, papaya, bananas and coconuts that earn him top dollar as organic produce.

A dozen healthy cattle supply all the fertilizer needed in this veritable garden of Eden, they also supply the 10 cubic meters of methane gas that feeds two families with free gas daily.

Wonders of nature : Literally up to his knees in it, this worker harvests slurry from cattle to fertilize organic gardens after the methane has been piped off to fuel the home’s stove.The positive impact on the lives of people since the introduction of biogas is witnessed in the reduced workload for people like Suweno’s 80-year-old grandmother Ni Wayan Bondol.

“In the past I was not brave enough to light the [LPG] gas stove. I was traumatized by gas because it explodes. Now with biogas I am happy to light the stove and cook. It’s safe and easy. In the past I only cooked on wood fires. Because I was afraid of the LPG exploding, I had to search each morning for firewood in the forest to cook the evening meal, then I had in the afternoon to again hunt for wood to cook the breakfast,” says this elderly woman who now has time to rest.

A local cooperative assists families with the loans of about Rp six million to build their own biogas systems, loans that Suardana says can be repaid from the savings on gas and chemical fertilizer purchases.

“When you look at the money side — you can’t see how much you save, but when you do the figures we see we have the money to reinvest into buying more pigs, these we sell and we don’t pay for gas and fertilizer, so once the loan to build the system is repaid we see we are better off financially,” says Suardana.

His Subak team, with six members trained under the HIVOS foundation (Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation) from Holland with its on the ground wing, the BIRU Foundation (Biogas Rumah Tangah) is now introducing biogas to other nearby villages.

“We are now looking at helping other villages, such as Puhu, to also have their own biogas and organic systems. But the skill share is coming from here [Penyabangan] as we have six people trained in this and certificated by HIVOS,” says Suardana of the quiet achievements being made in environmental protection at the very grassroots of society.

“We want to see this technology introduced Bali wide. This was a test project and it’s very successful. The Governor calls for Bali to be ‘Clean and Green’ — we farmers also want that very much.”

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