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Empowering Women in Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani District with Biogas Energy Initiative

By Practical Action On 05.02.2024 EnergyIWD-2024Blog

Women in the villages of Chimanimani District in eastern Zimbabwe are celebrating the successful implementation of an improved biogas energy initiative introduced by Practical Action.

This project aims to provide rural women with alternative clean cooking energy options, promoting tree conservation while safeguarding their health from smoke inhalation.

The production of biogas energy from biodigesters has revolutionized access to clean cooking energy, helping to mitigate the global issue of indoor air pollution, which claims the lives of 3.8 million people annually, majority women and children. The burden on women and children, who were previously responsible for sourcing firewood for cooking and lighting, has significantly reduced through the use of biogas for cooking, lighting, and powering gadgets such as refrigerators.

Chimanimani District has long been vulnerable to the detrimental effects of flooding, including tragic incidents such as the death of over 300 people and the destruction of property caused by Cyclone Idai in 2019. Subsequent cyclones have further ravaged the district. A study conducted by Practical Action revealed that deforestation plays a significant role in increasing the community’s vulnerability to flooding, as it reduces the soil’s water-holding capacity.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Energy and Power Development through the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), Practical Action piloted four demonstration biogas digester sites in Chimanimani District. The biogas energy produced from cow dung can power household stoves, refrigerators, and lighting, reducing reliance on firewood and combating deforestation.

A participant in the biogas project, Maidei Musukutwa, expressed her relief as a woman who used to walk long distances in search of firewood due to the depletion of trees in the area.

“This biogas initiative has brought relief to me and many other women. Collecting firewood was a taxing and risky errand that we would return home at sunset. We faced arrest from the environmental management agency but now I just pick dung from the kraal and generate adequate energy for cooking,” said Musukutwa.

Another participant, Evidence Mutitsve, highlighted that the transition to biogas has significantly reduce cases gender-based violence against women and girls in the community, as collecting firewood often exposed them to harassment and violence.

To ensure sustainability, Practical Action and REA trained 25 local builders selected by community leaders to construct biodigesters at the demonstration sites. Livestock farmers interested in constructing their own biodigesters will be able to purchase the necessary materials and contract these trained builders. This model not only ensures the continuation of biogas construction and growth of the project but also provides income opportunities for the trained builders.

 

Evidence Mutitsve, one of the three women who received training as builders, expressed her commitment to the enterprise.

“As a woman, I am excited to have been trained as a technician. A few thought I would make it. I have recently secured employment with a private sector company contracted to build 250 biogas digesters. This is important for my income and empowerment in a male dominated sector,” said Evidence.

The biogas energy project is implemented by Practical Action through the Flood Resilience Programme, which receives funding from the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance. This initiative marks a significant step towards empowering women, promoting sustainable energy alternatives, and safeguarding the environment in Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani District.