(AFP) – In northern India, a biomass plant converts manure and cow dung into energy, as part of a pilot project that aims to reduce air pollution and benefit farmers in the region.
Households in rural communities in India have always used manure and manure as fuel, drying them in the sun into patties.
This polluting practice has continued despite government efforts to phase it out and replace it with subsidized gas cylinders.
Villages on the outskirts of Madhya Pradesh state capital Indore can now benefit from their manure thanks to a pilot project for a biomass plant that will use it to power the city.
“We have very good quality manure and we keep it clean to make sure it gets the best price,” farmer Suresh Sisodia told AFP.
– “Manure money” –
His operation is one of the many beneficiaries of the so-called “Gobardhan” project, “manure money” in Hindi, born with the biomass plant nearby.
It was inaugurated in person last February by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The 46-year-old farmer earns 218 euros per truckload of fresh manure destined for the plant, which is more than the average monthly income of a farmer’s household in India.
Mr. Sisodia’s farm has 50 head of cattle. He occasionally offsets his costs by selling manure as fertilizer, but now he hopes for a more sustainable source of income.
“Farmers pick it once every six or twelve months, and not in some seasons. But the factory could provide us with a steady income,” he says, adding that his farm produces enough fertilizer to fill a truck every three weeks.
His livestock’ excrement is transported to the power plant, which mixes it with household waste to produce flammable methane and an organic residue that can be returned to farms as fertilizer.
Ultimately, the plant is expected to process 500 tons of waste per day, including at least 25 tons of cattle manure, which would be enough to supply Indore’s public transport system with a significant surplus.
– “Payment guarantees” –
“Half of that will deliver buses to Indore and the other half will be sold to industrial customers,” factory chief Nitesh Kumar Tripathi told AFP.
The “Gobardhan” project has encountered many obstacles, such as the poor condition of the roads in this rural area, making it difficult for trucks to access the farms where the natural fuel can be collected.
The farmers were suspicious at first, fearing it was an enrichment plan on their backs. They then demanded “quick and regular payment guarantees” before committing, said Ankit Choudhary, who is responsible for potential suppliers he is looking for in the villages.
Mr Modi’s government has high hopes for this initiative and has committed to installing a further 75 biomass plants over the next two years.
Exploitation of alternative energy sources is an urgent need for the country that relies on coal to meet nearly three quarters of the energy needs of 1.4 billion inhabitants.
Indian cities are among the most polluted urban centers in the world. Air pollution is responsible for more than a million deaths a year in India.
– Wandering of the Sacred Cows –
“Gobardhan” fails to seduce the Hindu nationalists, Mr Modi’s main electorate, and anyone to whom cows are sacred.
Under their leadership, “cow guards” have decimated livestock slaughterhouses commonly owned by Muslims and lynched anyone suspected of contributing to their slaughter.
But this livestock-centric religious policy has led to the abandonment of cows that are no longer producing milk and are now roaming across the country.
Government supporters such as Malini Laxmansingh Gaur, former mayor of Indore, hope these biomass plants will encourage farmers to keep their cows.
“These additional income will make it possible to both clear the villages and fight against the roaming of livestock,” she told AFP.
(Photo credits: Gagan NAYAR/AFP)