Thinkpiece 2014: Phimister et al
Thinkpiece summary: How can we ensure better use of organic waste materials for food, energy production and water use in Sub-Saharan Africa?
How could the scarce resources of wood and water plus waste products from humans, animals and crops be used to meet the competing demands for food, energy and water in sub-Saharan Africa?
The impact of organic resources has been widely researched with respect to the isolated requirements for energy, food or water, but the interaction between these conflicting demands and their impact on poverty alleviation is not well understood.
- In sub-Saharan Africa, about 90% of energy used in cooking is obtained from wood fuel or charcoal.
- Deforestation caused by collecting wood for fuel can make more land available for agricultural production, but conversely can also result in long term loss of soil fertility and reduction in local rainfall.
- Alternative energy sources for cooking include burning dried crop residues and faecal materials or using these materials in anaerobic digestion to provide biogas for cooking fuel.
The African Biogas Partnership Programme is currently promoting use of biogas digesters in sub-Saharan Africa, but there is a lack of detailed information on the physical suitability of different regions for biogas.
Even if a ‘best use’ option is found, there are often economic, social and cultural barriers to adoption.
- The purchase and use of a biogas digester could mean the household may need to borrow money and thus be exposed to risk.
- This could be off-set by reduced expenditure on fuel.
- Social and gender relations within households and communities can also be affected; adoption of new technologies changes labour requirements for water and wood collection and for livestock management, so affecting both the total amount of labour and its allocation across family members.
In this thinkpiece, we will
- Consider the economic, social and cultural barriers to implementation and adoption of sustainable organic waste practices, and how cultural factors and social norms reinforce or counter-act economic factors and market failures.
- Review current governance arrangements and what would be needed to implement change.
- Examine the impact of adoption on agricultural productivity, energy provision and water use in poor rural households of sub-Saharan Africa, and the interaction of the spatial distribution of resources with social and economic forces.
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