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Girls’ youth organisation helps transform human waste to biogas in Cameroon

An initiative by youth organisations in Cameroon to turn human waste into biogas is reducing pollution and providing renewable energy to the university towns of Buea and Bamenda.

Bioenergy-Cameroon, a non-governmental organisation run by young people, installs equipment that converts waste from septic tanks and pit latrines into biogas, which can be used for cooking or heating and can power small generators to run household electrical appliances.

The organisation says its efforts are spurring the use of clean energy in homes and secondary schools where grid electrical power is non-existent or unreliable and alternative sources of energy such as gas cylinders are expensive.

“Many have come to discover the cheap energy in their backyard and are not only embracing the technology but are also learning the transformation process,” Cedrick Kemajou, Bioenergy’s coordinator, told Reuters.

As it expands, the project is bringing local councils and other youth groups on board.

“With exponential growth of the university town of Buea, we had problems handling human waste. That is why we are glad that this waste can be used to produce energy that will help the residents not only fill the energy gap but also tackle human waste and sewage management problems,” said Patrick Ekema, mayor of Buea.

Ekema said that with easier access to energy, the council can better tackle other development problems such as providing clean water.

Girls go green

Students in schools where the infrastructure is installed are trained in the biogas transformation process and are shown how to build, install, and maintain the biodigester and generators at the school.

“We give practical training to girls in colleges on how energy is generated from the sun, water, and human waste,” said Monique Ntumngia, coordinator of Green Girls, a Cameroonian NGO that trains young women in technology.

“We target female students especially to break barriers and get them into innovative technology,” Ntumngia explained.

Green Girls has trained 600 girls in schools in towns such as Bafut, Nkwen, and Mankon, she said.

Cost savings

An additional 3,000 households in Buea and Bamenda have received domestic biodigesters through the project, and demand is growing fast, project organisers say.

According to data from the World Bank, only 53% of Cameroon’s population of 23 million have access to electricity, and bottled cooking gas can be difficult to afford, especially for Cameroon’s poorest.

A 12kg cylinder of liquefied petroleum gas costs 6,000 Central African francs (FCFA), or nearly €10, according to the Ministry of Trade.

Families benefiting from the cheap biogas say they are using the money they save for other essential items such as schooling and medical care.

“Biogas has spared me the trouble of paying monthly electricity bills and buying bottled gas that is regularly out of stock. This has saved me some money to support my children’s education,” said Mercy Kum, a trader in Buea.

Having a biodigester installed and receiving training to use and maintain it costs 500,000-700,000 FCFA, a sum paid by the institution or households that request the service. A group of homes can use a common biodigester to share the expense.