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Poo Power: How dung biodigester is supercharging farming in Kenya

There, in a brick tank, dung from Josphat’s 10 dairy cows is quietly transformed into a rich, organic fertiliser that supercharges his soil

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Poo Power: How dung biodigester is supercharging farming in Kenya
Kenyan farmer Josphat Muchiri looks at his flourishing coffee trees at his coffee plantation in Kiambu county on August 2, 2019, where he uses biogas domestically to cook while slurry running off his fixed-dome 'digester' is applied as rich manure to his crops. - In Kenya, the leading biogas producer in Africa, the 'poo power' is being used to power everything from cooking stoves to farm equipment, phone chargers and shower heaters. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

In 35 years working the land, Kenyan farmer Josphat Muchiri Njonge has never seen his coffee shrubs burst with so much fruit on his verdant hillside plot outside bustling Nairobi.

Same too goes for the banana and avocado trees swaying on his two-acre (0.8 hectares) family farm in Kiambu. The plot is also lush with kale, spinach, maize and the cereal amaranth.

His secret weapon lies underground.

There, in a brick tank, dung from his 10 dairy cows is quietly transformed into a rich, organic fertiliser that he says has supercharged the soil and harvests.

READ: Ethiopia’s “Green Legacy Initiative” goes big on tree planting

It isn’t the only benefit Njonge, and tens of thousands of other smallholder farmers across Africa derive from “biodigesters.”

These tanks, either made of masonry or modern plastics, act like a magical mechanical stomach.

Poo Power: How dung biodigester is supercharging farming in Kenya
A farmer puts cow dung into a fixed-dome biogas ‘digester’ at the Kenyan farmer Josphat Muchiri’s farm in Kiambu county on August 2, 2019. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

In the darkness, natural micro-organisms break down manure in the absence of oxygen to create compost and biogas, a clean, renewable energy source.

Kenya boasts more biodigesters than anywhere else in Africa — a “poo power” that is being used to run everything from cooking stoves to farm equipment, phone chargers and shower heaters.

It is a smart use of land, something that the UN’s top scientific panel for climate change says will be crucial for keeping global temperatures at safer levels while feeding a growing population.

In a special report this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) detailed how intensive farming has degraded the environment — a crisis that requires a major rethink about how food is produced and land used wisely.

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Agriculture and deforestation produces almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, with methane from livestock a major contributor to a warming planet.

Biogas is essentially carbon neutral, and helps reduce fossil fuel emissions by replacing the firewood and charcoal traditionally burned in kitchens in Africa.

Enormous demand for these cheap sources of wood has ravaged Kenya’s forests and degraded its soils. 

Their fumes also kill, with 15,000 deaths a year from indoor air pollution, according to government figures.

“It’s very convenient for me. I’ve been using firewood, charcoal, but I don’t anymore,” said Anne Mburu, a farmer in Kiambu, who used to spend Ksh2,000 a month on firewood before installing a modern, prefabricated digester alongside her cowshed.

Poo Power: How dung biodigester is supercharging farming in Kenya
Anne Mburu stirs the slurry that runs off the adjacent flexibag biogas digester installed at her farm in Kiambu county for her domestic, in Kiambu on August 2, 2019. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

Future energy –

Biogas is filling a gap in East Africa, where developing economies are fast-growing but power is costly, unreliable or non-existent.

The technology has been around in Kenya since the 1950s but was neglected until the Kenya Biogas Program (KBP) began promoting efforts to scale-up and commercialise the sector around 2009.

Since then, more than 100,000 people have gained access to biogas in their homes, more than anywhere else on the continent, says KBP.

Poo Power: How dung biodigester is supercharging farming in Kenya
Anne Mburu cooks thank to the help of her biogas burner on August 2, 2019 at her farm house in Kiambu county, where she installed a flexibag biogas ‘digester’ for her domestic use. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

Ethiopia rivals Kenya in biogas production while initiatives in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda are also gaining pace.

Tim Mungai, a business development manager at KBP, said there were “huge opportunities” for growth in the Kenyan market alone, where two million farmers keep cattle at home.

“Biogas will be part of the energy mix for the future to come,” he told reporters.

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Local and foreign companies — including Dutch outfit SimGas, Mexican firm Sistema, and HomeBiogas, an Israeli manufacturer — are rolling out new technologies in East Africa.

Simpler “plug and play” models, often made from recycled plastic instead of traditional brick and mortar, can be installed in hours and generating gas within a day.

Manufacturers are testing new types of feedstock, diversifying from ordinary cow manure, which is mixed with a little water to prevent the system from becoming clogged.

Some educational facilities in Kenya are firing their kitchens on human excrement, and waste from slum latrines in Nairobi is also being transformed into green energy.

Others mulch food scraps and slaughterhouse waste while some greenhouses along Lake Naivasha, where Kenya’s world-famous roses blossom, have also been producing energy from flower offcuts.

Need to adapt –

Farmers across Africa are learning to make do with less as arable land is swallowed by the continent’s fast-growing cities. Desertification, deforestation and degraded soils are also heaping further strain on land and farmer.

In the hilly breadbasket of Kiambu, coffee and concrete vie for space.

Agricultural land has rapidly dwindled as Nairobi has pushed ever outwards, housing projects abutting plantations where harvesters hand-pick crops to feed Kenya’s mushrooming population.

“Farmers need to adapt on the issue of climate-smart agriculture,” said Mungai.

The compost left behind in the biogas production process is an added bonus, but important for land regeneration.

The “bioslurry” can be used in animal feed, to rear earthworms, replace chemical pesticides and restore humus to over-farmed soils.

Poo Power: How dung biodigester is supercharging farming in Kenya
Kenyan farmer, Josphat Muchiri lights his biogas burner at his coffee plantation in Kiambu county, on August 2. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

Njonge, a 67-year-old veteran coffee farmer, swears by it.

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The nutrient-dense plant food has doubled his coffee production in under three years, and improved the quality of his beans.

Apart from higher returns, and saving cash on fertilisers and firewood, he also gives some of the bounty to one of his sons living on an adjacent plot — he pipes the biogas to his home nearby.

And all of it, thanks to his cows. 

“It’s just like a miracle. Something which we never thought we would make use of, in that way, becomes something very amazing,” he chuckled.

WATCH: Kenyan farmers turn cow dung into renewable energy

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African development

“Nigeria Wouldn’t Have Gone Into Recession If Okonjo-Iweala Was Still Finance Minister” – Tunji Andrews

Dr. Ngozi would likely push for a lot of trade that would spur job creation and development in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world as well as create some sort of liberation for some of the poorest countries.

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The first woman and first African to become the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation has a track record of taking on seemingly intractable problems. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said that she can be a ‘clear set of eyes’ for the global trade body.

Asides from reforming trade rules and counter protectionism heightened by COVID-19, her new responsibility would have her broker international trade talks in the face of persistent U.S.-China conflict. Financial expert and founder of Awabah, Tunji Andrews joined us on Breakfast Central to discuss Dr. Ngozi’s work experience in relation to her new position.

Andrews pointed out that jobs that have to do with linking communities or societies are more about the pedigree of the person holding the office. “She comes from a very long pedigree line and has a vast reach, therefore the position cannot be too difficult since she has experts under her. Her main job is bringing these superpowers together.”

“When she was the Co-ordinating Minister of the economy, she did so well that her exit left a vacuum. If she was there, it is unlikely that Nigeria would have fallen into a recession”, he added.

The financial expert also thinks Dr. Ngozi, being a big mackerel person, would push for a lot of trade that would spur job creation and development in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world as well as create some sort of liberation for some of the poorest countries. In his words, “it is one thing to say that Nigeria is suffering and another thing to know exactly what Nigeria needs to get out of hardship. It is important to have someone who has a unique understanding of the pinpoints of the people.”

In establishing the approach to her job delivery, Tunji Andrews suggested that the first point of call would be trying to help the EU and UK smoothen their trade conversations with BREXIT. Also, her job is to try to smoothen the relationship between China and the US. Around Africa, she has a hard nut to crack as regards free trade.

In conclusion, Andrews indicated trust in Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s ability to do the job of WTO DG excellently. “Relationship is most important when it comes to world conversations and I believe this is what she’s bringing to the table, it’s just unfortunate that Nigeria did not observe it about her in good time.”

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Culture and Tourism

Icons on Nigeria’s ₦10 Note Inspired Oscar Nominated Movie, ‘Milkmaid’ – Ovbiagele

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It may no longer be news that Nigerian movie, ‘Milkmaid’, is in contention for an award in the 2021 Oscars International Films Category, what is news is the revelation that the film was inspired by a denomination of the Nigerian currency.

“The screenplay was inspired by the two iconic figures at the back of the 10 Naira note, those are the Fulani milkmaids who were carrying their calabashes.

Desmond Ovbiagele, who produced Milkmaid, said his film was inspired by two iconic figures on the ₦10 note. The movie, itself, tells the story of two sisters who were abducted from their village during an insurgency in Northeast Nigeria.

“So I sought to imagine what would happen if the two characters were caught up in an insurgency situation. How would their lives play out and how would they adjust to the new way of life that would be imposed on them.

On the choice of language used in the movie, Ovbiagele said “one could have chosen the easier decision to shoot the film in English language, but because we were striving for authenticity, we didn’t think it would be authentic enough for people in that rural area setting to speak `Queens English’.

The former Investment Banker turned movie producer said he was overwhelmed by the nomination of the movie for the Oscars adding that it was an accolade to reward the efforts of the cast and crew.

“… to fly the Nigerian flag at the Oscars, a Nation of 200 million people, the most prolific film making industry in the world by volume is a tremendous honour,” he said.

The film has already won five Africa Movie Academy Awards, including Best Film.

Oscars organisers, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, will announce nominations for the Academy Awards on March 15 in Los Angeles, U.S.A.

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Business News

RwandAir Suspends Flights to Southern Africa for Fear of Covid-19 Variant

According to a statement released on Monday by the airline, February 8, the suspended routes include Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, Lusaka in Zambia, and Harare in Zimbabwe.

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Rwanda’s national carrier, RwandAir, has suspended its flight to three southern Africa routes with immediate effect owing to the emerging global concerns of the Covid-19 variants prevalent in the region.

According to a statement released on Monday by the airline, February 8, the suspended routes include Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, Lusaka in Zambia, and Harare in Zimbabwe.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the airline said: “Scheduled flights will resume as soon as there is more clarity on the situation.”

Part of the statement also reads: “Affected customers can rebook and fly at a later date at no additional cost or request for a fund.”

Reports indicate that South Africa was among the countries which detected new variants of Covid-19, a few weeks ago, alongside other countries include Brazil, Britain among others.

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However, with the variants spreading rapidly across the Southern Africa region, experts say that this will arguably make the fight against Covid-19 more difficult.

The South African government has already stalled its roll-out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after a study showed “disappointing” results against its new Covid-19 variant.

South Africa received one million doses of the AstraZeneca jab and was due to start vaccinating.

Scientists say the virus strain accounts for 90% of new Covid-19 cases in South Africa.

After months of lockdown last year, RwandAir resumed commercial flights in August 2020 across its global network, including most of its routes on the continent, as well as some long-haul destinations such as London Heathrow, Brussels and Dubai.

The airline recently launched its twice-weekly flights to Central Africa Republic’s capital Bangui as part of its recovery strategy from the devastating economic impact of Covid-19 pandemic.

All passengers arriving in Rwanda are required to present a negative Covid-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test taken within 72 hours of boarding their flights.

Upon arrival, they are required to self-quarantine for seven days and take a free of charge PCR test at the end of this period.

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