Turning dung into gold

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Abdoulaye Oularé, 30, shows the outlet basin of his Biodigester. © UNDP Guinea/Rene K. Ifondo

How biodigesters empower Guinean communities with sustainable energy

Naby Silla, 70, and Abdoulaye Oularé, 31, may be from different generations, regions and backgrounds, but they have many things in common.

Both men decided to return to their hometowns to become farmers at a turning point of their lives.

In 2000, Naby retired from a career working as an accountant at the agronomy centre of the coastal town Foulayah in the north-west of Guinea. He moved back inland to his hometown in Gbéreyakhori to set up his farm — five hectares of rice, half a hectare of vegetables, a banana grove and small cattle herd.

Abdoulaye used to work as a seasonal gold miner. Every dry season, this farmer’s son and other men from the village would leave everything behind to go look for gold — a dangerous and uncertain path. Through farming, he found stability and a new life, and now owns a coffee shop in his village of Dalafilanin.

Another thing Naby and Abdoulaye have in common is that they both live in remote and deprived areas facing numerous challenges, among which the lack of ambitious policies to support farmers, a decrease in soil fertility, and the impact of climate change that threaten livelihoods.

A new virtuous circle

In 2017 and 2020, two projects funded by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by UNDP helped the farmers adopt sustainable agricultural practices. The projects provided them with biodigesters — equipment through which animal dung is processed and turned into compost and biogas.

The biodigesters have been life-changing for both men and their local communities. It enabled Naby and Abdoulaye boost their agriculture production and food security while improving their families’ health and reducing local deforestation by replacing wood fuel with biogas for cooking and lighting.

“I used to have a meagre yield. I would only grow five to ten bags of chili, eggplants and gombos. The biodigester has helped improve soil and increase yield. Looking now at my thriving banana grove, I know I made the right choice — there is no better fertilizer out there,” Naby said.

Naby was also able to diversify his activities to include fish farming, with fish being fed from compost produced by biodigesters.

Abdoulaye would struggle to keep his coffee shop afloat. “I used to have to work very hard to be able to just buy two bags of charcoal, and this would be just about enough to maintain the level of my coffee production. I would make barely any profit. It was a vicious circle. Now that I can use the gas produced by the biodigester, I have more than doubled my profits. I don’t have to buy charcoal anymore, and I have more control over my coffee production. Even on rainy days, I can provide hot coffee to my customers, which has been good for my sales.”

Compost from his biodigester has also improved the yield of his rice fields, and he recently started growing fruit trees.

The biodigesters have improved living conditions for the families, who now rely on biogas for their domestic energy. This helps reduce local deforestation but also improves health and frees women and children’s time for other activities and education.

“We used to have to walk long distances to collect wood, and children would be late or have to skip school. Burning wood would create toxic smoke, and we would be worried about getting burnt or sick. Now, with the biogas we don’t need to do all this anymore. We even have decent lighting at night, which enables children to study and do their homework. It’s really been a huge change,” said Naby’s wife Sylla Bountouraby Camara.