ARCOS at the forefront of combating unhealthy and environmentally destructive cooking energy sources in Rwanda’s rural areas

It is estimated that 5,680 deaths a year occur in Rwanda in relation to Household Air Pollution (HAP) and over 94% of these live losses are children. This makes HAP deadlier than HIV/AIDS in Rwanda!  This unsettling silent tragedy is being caused by heavy reliance of households, especially in rural areas, on unclean biomass cooking energy. A sustainable alternative to biomass cooking energy is needed in Rwanda and biogas offer such an alternative. Despite the many hurdles that the promotion of biogas in Rwanda has encountered, a light at the end of the tunnel is starting to emerge. ARCOS is leading the effort to place Rwandan rural households on the path towards sustainable access to modern cooking energy starting with communities around Mukura natural forest in Western Rwanda.

In Rwanda, biomass comprises 97% of household cooking energy (firewood 86%; charcoal 11%; crop waste 2%; and other fuels 1%) (MININFRA 2011). Electric stoves and microwaves are used only in urban areas and to a limited extent by commercial establishments and wealthy households and a small increase is currently observed in the use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) by middle-class households especially in urban areas. 

The high dependence on biomass for household cooking energy results into a huge biomass deficit of over 4 million m3 per year and this makes it difficult for Rwanda to achieve its Forest Landscape Restoration commitments since more trees are needed to satisfy the wood-hungry cooking stoves than planted.

Studies conducted under the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative concluded pelletized biomass (e.g. briquettes) and biogas were the two most promising alternative sources of cooking energy in Rwanda. Among these two options identified, biogas has the biggest potential for growth and upscale if hurdles in its supply-chain are well addressed. These problems include the biogas digester technology that needs to be improved in order to improve reliability, the affordability issue, and the challenge of ensuring households have enough inputs to feed the digesters (current digester models all rely on cow dung while other types of inputs can and should be explored).

A notable success has been achieved by institutional biogas systems where in schools and prisons they have reduced firewood consumption by close to 60% and 40% respectively, along with significantly improved hygienic conditions and cost savings 

This success of institutional biogas systems resulted from the fact that their size allows their owning institutions to sink their construction and maintenance costs easily through the economy of scale. If such a model can be replicated for rural households where large collective digesters are used instead of disparate small household systems, then there is no doubt that a similar success rate can be registered as well.

As part of a project funded by the Rwanda’s green fund (FONERWA), ARCOS has been laying the foundations for the introduction of collective biogas digestors at community level through the Nature-Based Village (NBV) initiative.

The concept is built around giving cows to community groups called NBCEs (Nature-Based Community Enterprises) where these cows are kept in one collective cowshed. A big biogas digester is then built beside this cowshed to produce biogas which will be distributed to households through the use of portable biogas plastic bags.

Currently, the communities are still increasing the number of cows that has been offered to them and improving management arrangements that will allow this innovative model to work including establishment and operationalisation of sustainable financing mechanisms called Nature-Based Community Funds (NBCF).

ARCOS is highly confident regarding the feasibility of this idea and eagerly looking forward for the successful implementation of this model and its upscale in other rural areas across the country.

We call upon partners to join in this effort to make Rwanda’s household cooking energy clean, affordable, and sustainable.

For more details find a copy of the case study here.