Biogas in Kapchorwa

Obama and Museveni

KAPCHORWA, UGANDA—Rich in cows and poor in firewood makes Kapchorwa ideal for biogas systems that turn cow dung into biogas for cooking. I visited Kapchorwa through contacts at Heifer International and GVEP. Heifer is leading the Uganda Domestic Biogas Program and now has around 1,000 systems installed, with around 10 of those constructed in Kapchorwa in just the last month.

So the story goes, Willie and Bruno of Kapchorwa chased down the Heifer truck when they saw that it read “Biogas” on the side. As part of the farmer and conservation organization for their village, they knew using biogas for cooking could be an opportunity for their people to cut their dependency on firewood gathered from the neighboring national park. As you can see below, there is a clear line between the national park boundary on the left and the farm fields on the right. People in Kapchorwa are allowed to collect dead wood lying on the ground in the park on two days each week for 3,000 USH (1.30 USD) each time, as there is no longer any trees for firewood left in the village. This adds up to 25,000 USH per month. The villagers fear that the national park might soon deny them from collecting wood altogether. How would they cook their meals then? Such was the desperation when the men chased down the Heifer truck.


In the mid-’90s a group of organizations attempted to start a domestic biogas program. The program subsidized the cost of biogas systems nearly 100% but the project did not last long and few of those digesters are functioning today.

Heifer International with SNV (Dutch Development Organization) as a technical partner and Hivos as a financial partner has started a new biogas program called Uganda Domestic Biogas Program with domestic meaning that these are small scale system meant for farms with 1 to 10 cows. They aim to construct 12,000 biogas plants in Uganda from 2009 to 2013. Similar programs are in place in Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya. After a year and a half, around 1,000 biogas digesters have been built. They have a long way to go to meet their goal and have had to make several interventions to encourage uptake and capacity building.

We first visited Mbala, the big town near Kapchorwa, for a two-day business training session. I tagged along with Bryan at GVEP (Global Village Energy Partnership) who was there to train the biogas-masons to become biogas-entrepreneurs. Currently all of the masons were paid a wage by Heifer for building the digesters. But, as Heifer wanted the program to be sustainable and knew that they could not subsidize the biogas plants forever, they wanted the masons to become their own bosses.

But there were many challenges with this. The masons were very used to receiving a salary from Heifer and did not seem to understand that Heifer would not always be there for them. Heifer also had monthly quotas for biogas construction and some of the best masons who were on track to meet their quotas were not able to attend the business training classes. Many of these masons were in Kapchorwa which is why Bryan decided to visit.

In Kapchorwa we were greeted by 50 children who should have been in school. They ran after me but seemed frightened of being captured on camera.

Kapchorwa was an inspiring story because so much of the Uganda Domestic Biogas Program was going wrong. Masons did not have enough work, farmers were reluctant to pay and material shortages were common. But here, already there were soon to be 13 biogas plants completed, only a month after the community leaders chased down the Heifer biogas truck. Work here was efficient. For the biogas program to work, biogas construction companies need to be efficient and profitable. And inorder for that to happen they need to find many more Kapchorwas—places where the farmers will pay any price to end their dependence on firewood.

Out of the Digester

The Uganda Domestic Biogas Program only uses the Modified Camartec design and only in three sizes: 6 m3, 9 m3 and 12 m3. Here I am standing with my lower half in the digester and my upper half in the expansion chamber. The biogas comes out of the blue pipe behind my head. The masons said that could finish a digester in 5 to 10 days depending on the size. They worked 7 days a week to as late as 10 pm at night. They were hosted in the house of the farmer whom they were working for, which seemed to be an effective arrangement.

Electricity on a Mountain

Even though Kapchorwa is off the electric grid, the masons still listened to the radio.

Mason on a cell

And they still were able to use their cell phones. This mason said he charged at a store with a solar panel down the road for 0.25 USD per charge.

Bricks and Mud

The building materials of the digesters contrasted with those of the local houses which were made out of mud and sticks. Some people at Heifer said it was hard to convince a farmer living in a mud house to buy bricks and cement to house cow dung; he would much rather spend the money on building a better house. But here, all farmers lived in mud houses and building a digester seemed not to be a problem.


Kapchorwa is beautiful, built on the top of cliffs that suddenly rise out of the plains to the north.

Milk Tea

The people where very kind and spoke excellent english. (I was told this was uncommon for such a rural area.) Every farmer’s wife insisted that we drink milk tea (delicious!) until I had to make a short call really badly.

coffee husks

On the way down the cliffs I noticed many piles of coffee husks left to rot. Does anyone know of the best way to turn coffee husks into energy? Gasifying maybe, but that is a little too high tech for a village. Charcoal briquettes, maybe?

The BIG Picture After talking to Heifer in Kampala about the difficulties they had in persuading farmers to invest in a biogas digester, I was concerned about the longevity of the Uganda Domestic Biogas Program. But after seeing the success in Kapchorwa I now have hope. We just need to find the next Kapchorwa. And the next one after that. Bryan, myself and another friend I met in Uganda will submit  to a business plan competition tomorrow. Our business model will focus on the Kapchorwas of Uganda to be financially sustainable. More on this later.

About Kyle David

Thinking about distribution in developing countries
This entry was posted in Anaerobic Digester, Uganda and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Biogas in Kapchorwa

  1. tumwijuke says:

    Interesting. Very. Every small effort counts …

  2. lschutter says:

    It must be frustrating to see that people are only willing to give up on firewood when the situation becomes dire. But also good to know that people are willing to try something new. And what a great community to meet up with!

  3. Peace Kansiime says:

    I had a chance to visit the group that followed the ‘biogas track’ and actually visited all the 13 households that had excavated the pits. This group is very exciting and very enterprising. As the writer puts it, the UDBP will certainly meet its target if it gets more of the Kapchorwa’s in Uganda.

  4. Bryan says:

    Thanks Kyle,
    This was great summary of a long adventure. we surely need to have more Kapchorwas found.

  5. Anthony Enyogu Oleja says:

    Oh, Kapchorwa! How blessed are you to have such. Please get to other districts as well

  6. Kajubi John Bosco says:

    Thanks fo the work youre doing for the country. Ive been trying to get people to teach me how biogas can be used and ifailed. As iwas reading Bukedde news paper, iread about Mr.William Ssendagire (UDBP) who taught people in Lweza. Ipicked intrest and looked for UDBP from internet and read what you have done in Kapchorwa and from what isaw in pictures while constructing left me asking my self.

    1.Ihave asmall plot(112*78) is it possible to costruct that system?
    2.Is it possible to use both lights and cooking?
    3.How much can it cost to complete the system?
    4Whom can i contact to advise me?

    Thank you very much
    Kajubi John Bosco
    Buloba(Mityana road-10miles)

    • uenergy says:

      Hi John, I hope I have responded to you. Sorry for taking so long. Thanks for your interest!

      1. you need 2-3 cows minimum so as long as you have that you should be fine. the digesters are mostly underground so do not take up much space.
      2. you can use both lights and stove.
      3. cost depends on the size and local materials. i would estimate on the low side of 1million to 2million shillings on the high side.
      4. You can talk to Heifer International based in Kampala, Mbale and Mbarara.

  7. ogulo james Emmanuel says:

    It is great to get such opportunity to train with you on how to make bio gas digesters.
    How could my people from Kumi-Uganda also get this golden chance as most of the peole this way have at least 4 to 15 cows per home stead yet now have no way of getting firewood.
    I do have a construction company with masons whom i think if given this opportunity
    for training would help save the many miserable lives out there.
    Glad to hear from you.
    Mobile: +256-772824247.

    • uenergy says:

      Great to hear your interest. I think we covered everything in our emails, but for anyone else who is interested. Contact heifer international which is based in Kampala, Mbarara and Mbale. If you ask 10 boda boda drivers for heifer at least one of them will know where to take you.

  8. Bob Wright says:

    Dear Friend,
    We are in Nakapiripirit district- neighbors to those of Kapchorwa. I found your site after looking at Jeroen Bluys’s digester at his farm in Mbale. We are going to construct a digester here- perhaps several on our farm project. We are working with the Karamojong who have much animal waste. My contact here is 0772-925565.

    Al the best,
    Bob Wright
    Loduk Development Initiative
    Nakaale, Nakapiripirit District

    • uenergy says:

      Hey Bob,

      Sounds like a great project! I hope Heifer can help you guys get going. The difficulty with the karamojong is that they dont practice zero grazing with their cattle, at least the people I met. but as long as the animals go back to a central location the dung can be collected fairly easily

  9. Kasim Sajjabi says:

    Interesting coverage by Kyle, bravo. Uganda indeed is in darkness with a very tiny population using electricty.My last check was less than a million people connectivity on the hydro electricity grid. So any effort counts as someone summed it up. The whole country is a Kapchorwa of sorts actually. Research by Sawlog ( a Bugolobi based NGO supporting tree planting) and others indicate Uganda is already in dire need of timber and wood fuel. Clashes between National Foresty Authority-indeed recent lynching of at least 3 NFA officials by self vindicate (read desperate encroachers)in various parts of the cvountry is testimony to the growing energy crisis. As I write I doubt that there are many rural households which will afford about a dollar for paraffin ( the most common lighting fuel used in wick lamps locally called taboba. Electricity iteslf for the few connected to the grid is a nightmare as an average home will get a monthly bill of 20 dollars. And this if you do not dare use an elctric cooker or let the secuty lights on till morning or ‘iron without care.’ The challenges to use of biogas are several but not insurmountable. There are severla cattle keeping communities eg Ateso, Kumam, Nyoli, Samia, Langi, West nilers and certainly the western cattle corridor. varrious stakeholders including Heifer Int, (bravo, bravo, and again bravo) , governement, donors and civil society can synergise and tap this resource. The opportunity costs can be weighed eg if a donor supports 20 or so digetsers in a clustered community, it is well worth the effort. I see a bigger opportunity in human waste especially poo poo. With proper sensitisation, we can get people to do a mind shift and utilise this bio matter lying idle in each and every homestead. If cooking is likely to meet resistance( assocation of food with fecaes), then lighting may be a good entry point. But hey I am sure all these ideas have been explored by various stakeholders. I certainly would love to venture in this.Bravo again Heifer Int and partners. Thanks Kyle for an enligtning article.
    Kasim Sajjabi +256 783811529

    • uenergy says:

      Kasim. Thanks for reading and thank you for the encouragement! You seem to know a lot about the potential markets for biogas in Uganda. I have just started a biogas company in Kenya and hope to make my way back to Uganda soon. The initial costs of the biogas system are high but the payback period is almost always less than 2 years (with the lifespan of the unit being around 30 years). The problem is that people live harvest-to-harvest and few have the ~500-1000 USD in cash. In Kenya it is pretty easy for anyone to get a loan now that Equity Bank has arrived on the scene. A farmer can get a loan for 24 months at 10% interest and the monthly payments will be less than the monthly cost for firewood and kerosene. This way we do not have to rely on donors and model can be expanded further. However, this strategy has run into the difficulty that people are not used to taking loans even if they will be saving money as soon as the biogas system is built. Farmers have to think about it for a while. Equity Bank is expanding to other countries in East Africa and already has 20+ branches in Uganda so I think working with Equity in Uganda might be a way for small scale biogas to be more accessible to small scale dairy farmers.

  10. HI
    Thanks for the information ,my interest is in producing it(bio-gas) on a large scale ,to provide enough energy to light at least 7 rooms and also to use it for cooking for 300 people,how many large animals(COWS) do i need to keep so as to produce enough dung that is required for this project .

    • uenergy says:

      It really depends on how big your cows are (bigger cows produce more waste) and whether they are zero-grazed or night stabled. Assuming the cows are large and zero-grazed and you will only use the gas for communal cooking (you cook your food together for 300 people 3 meals per day rather than on many individual stoves) and lighting, I would guess you need at least 20 cows. But you would need a biogas contractor to visit your site for specifics as it also depends on the ambient temperature. Let me know how it turns out!

  11. fred says:

    Hulo, thanks but much effort should be put in having each household with a biogas digester. You very much know that people cannot afford the initial costs for a biogas digester but can go on with the mantenance. Bwana keep it up with the construction of more digesters if possible.

  12. Rod says:

    i am interested in the Biogas enegry, where can i find ur team? i plan to put about 6 cows on zero grazing , and i would like to set up the biogas area straight away, the area in in mbarara but currently in Kampala. how much does it cost i have the bricks ready and cement.

  13. Kyamanywa Brian says:

    i have a rectangular pit 4m deep and 3*3 meters, cant i turn it into a biogas plant without modification

  14. mubiru geoffrey says:

    am a university scholar at kyambogo university doing research on non-conventional energy source, am so interested in biogas prodn since where i come from is an island where hydro power cant reach so please email me all practical procedures and requirements for a household digester construction and machines i need in the conversion biogas to electricity, thx

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