Although the conversion of agriculture waste – cattle dung and crop residues – to biogas and digested slurry is an established and well-proven technology in India, it has been under-used, probably because until recently, firewood was easily available and chemical fertilizer was relatively affordable to most of the farmers in India.
The National Biogas and Manure Management Programme (NBMMP) was put in place to lower the environmental degradation and prevent greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere. However, this objective of the program is less likely to motivate the farmers and their families to install biogas plants.
This program rolled out by Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (now Ministry of New and Renewable Energy), New Delhi, with heavy subsidies for family-type biogas plants to increase adoption, was successful with lakhs of biogas plants being installed across the country till now.
It was realised that due to poor dissemination of information and unsatisfactory communication about the plant operation & application of the digested biogas slurry, and unable to perceive the return in terms of value resulted in discontinuation of lakhs of biogas plants across the country.
The entire biogas technology marketing efforts failed to highlight major advantage – an increased revenue from agriculture with the use of high quality and a low-cost homegrown digested biogas slurry as fertiliser. Another advantage was to help farmers’ understand that their land quality and output per acre will increase over the years by the use of digested biogas slurry which has been degraded from the rampant use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides.
Challenges to be addressed
The farmer’s communities today are required to made to understand that their revenue from agriculture is decreasing year on year due to increasing deforestation, degradation of land quality, rampant use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides, lack of farm cattle, injudicious use of water for irrigation, and use heavy vehicles for ploughing.
These ill-advised decisions have made the farmers poorer, impacted the health of their families and the rural environment of villages. The years ahead are crucial if this trend is not reversed.
Unending benefits of biogas technology
Most of the rural and semi-urban areas have a poor perception of the Anaerobic Digestion (or biogas or biomethanation) technology. This technology offers benefits to all spheres of society but have a particular emphasis on the needs of the farmers in rural areas.
Farmers with dairy animals generally have free access to animal waste (dung), which provide input feed for the biogas digesters. Normally, these farmers stock-pile the dung obtained from their cattle as a plant fertilizer, but this has lower nitrogen content than the digested biogas slurry created by the biogas digestion process, which is odorless and makes a better fertilizer to substitute chemical fertilizers. They can use the gas for cooking or heating, for running power generators. The biogas technology helps farmers reduce their burden to buy LPG and harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
In short, biogas technology is an integrated solution for sustainable agriculture, improving health and lowering environment degradation.
The promise of biogas technology
Biogas technology can help in the following manner:
- Enhance bio-security for dairy animals – being fully fermented, bio-slurry is odorless and does not attract flies, repels termites and pests that are attracted to raw dung.
- Provides high quality and low-cost homegrown fertiliser for sustainable agriculture.
- Reduce energy poverty and ensure energy security.
- Digested biogas slurry is an excellent soil conditioner with humic acid.
- Save time for women for education and livelihood activities.
- Increase forest cover as less firewood would be needed on a daily basis.
- Reduce weed growth
Importance of Government Efforts
The agriculture sector is playing a major role in India economy and it comprises a huge vote bank. Our government has launched various initiatives like GOBAR-DHAN (Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan), Sustainable Alternative towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT), and New National Biogas and Organic Manure Programme (NNBOMP) in attempt to revive interest in biogas technology for farmers and entrepreneurs.
These initiatives are aimed at developmental efforts that would benefit the farmers, vehicle-users, and entrepreneurs. These initiatives also hold a great promise for efficient solid waste management and tackling problems of indoor air pollution caused by use of firewood, deforestation and methane gas release in the atmosphere due to open piling of cattle dung.
These initiatives aren’t marketing the value which solves a major challenge – degradation of agriculture land for farming in rural India. The initiative and efforts are majorly focused on waste management, environment and towards behavioral change. These changes are of global importance and can be managed effortlessly by generating tangible results for farmers.
India has an aspiring young workforce which is moving to urban settlements in hope for better opportunities, therefore, productivity and revenue from agriculture needs to grow. The biogas sector in India can restore agriculture productivity and strengthen revenue to make it attractive.