The biogas is being used to dramatically cut living and business costs for Pakistan farmers

Pakistan biogas project replaces diesel with faeces fuel

Biogas equipment is being sold to impoverished Pakistan farmers at a subsidised rate in order to boost farming output and lower living costs.

The pilot project, led by the Punjab provincial government, has been used by the likes of farmer Mujahid Abbasi, who has switched the power source for his irrigation pump from diesel to biogas, which has brought economic and health gains.

The 43-year-old from Fateh Jhang village, 42km from Pakistan's capital city Islamabad, uses dung from his 30 buffalo to produce nearly 40 cubic metres of gas per day, which powers his irrigation pump for six hours and his family's cooking stove.

The father of five says cutting out diesel has saved him around £7 daily over the past 13 months and he has used the money to plant seasonal vegetables on five additional hectares that had lain fallow for several years due to a lack of funds.

Abbasi has not bought diesel since he installed the biogas-run pump in March 2015. His previous groundwater pump used a 20-horse power engine that consumed around 13 litres of diesel every day.

"This is a brilliant saving," he said. "This means additional income of $1,150 (£800) for me annually. It has helped improve our family's economic well-being."

Close to 20 other farmers in his area have also taken advantage of the scheme to allow their irrigation pumps to run on biogas.

Vegetable farmer Naeem Raza Shah uses slurry left over from the biogas production process to fertilise his 19 hectares, cutting out chemical fertiliser which previously cost him around £600 per year.

"The organic fertiliser from the biogas plant is an economic blessing for me," he said

Abbasi and Raza are among nearly 17,000 beneficiaries of the £47m programme that aims to convert 100,000 irrigation pumps from diesel to biogas by the end of 2017 across Punjab province.

According to Punjab Agriculture Minister Farrukh Javed, the initiative aims to reduce dependence on diesel and boost farm productivity by improving access to irrigation water and promoting the use of bio-fertiliser, while fighting groundwater contamination from chemical inputs.

The government is paying half of the conversion cost for diesel-powered pumps, which ranges from 200,000 to 400,000 rupees (£1,332-$2,664) per tube well.

The subsidies are weighted in favour of farmers with less land, who usually have lower incomes and would struggle to afford the pump conversion without additional financial support.

The programme is expected to avoid the use of 288 million litres of diesel, worth 30 billion rupees each year.

It will help cut the diesel import bill and boost farmers' profits, while reducing environmental pollution. It is expected to shrink the sector's carbon footprint by more than five per cent.

"The government should encourage the private sector to join its efforts to capitalise on the untapped opportunity the biogas sector offers in view of the millions of tonnes of unused dung from 180 million head of cattle across the country," said Arif Allauddin, former head of Pakistan's Alternative Energy Development Board.

In November last year, the UK’s Department for International Development provided financial backing for a scheme that brings household solar systems to remote, rural areas of Tanzania to provide light and electricity.

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