Come On, Bovine, Light My Fire: UNDP Biogas Systems Turn Manure into Cheap, Clean Power

Malem Dawood, a father of 21, is enjoying a better life with biogas. He can save up to US$ 30 [a month] and doesn't have to buy mountain bushes anymore. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan / Farhad Zalmai / 2016.

21 September 2016, Dara-e-Noor, Jalalabad – For most rural Afghans, having a cup of tea, or a bath, or a warm house means you have to cut down some trees. With mains power covering only 35% of the countryside, wood remains the primary source of heat and fuel.

In Dara-e-Noor District of Nangarhar, families can use up to three tonnes of wood a year, and with over 3,000 families in the area, it’s not hard to see why this beautiful and peaceful valley is at risk of losing the few trees it has left – another area turning barren in a country that has already lost half of its forest cover over the last 30 years.


  • Afghanistan has lost 50% of its tree cover in the last 30 years.
  • By using biogas, people don’t need to cut down trees for heating and cooking.
  • UNDP has installed 44 biogas systems in rural areas across Afghanistan.

“There are fewer trees and bushes now than in past years,” says local resident, Malem Dawood. “People cut them down for firewood or to sell in the market.”  

To reverse this trend, UNDP has introduced 44 biogas plants across Afghanistan, including four in Dara-e-Noor funded by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme.

They are a hit with the local people. “I can save up to US$30 [a month],” says Dawood, a father of 21 children, who needs the money. “I don’t have to buy mountain bushes anymore.”

To make the project sustainable, UNDP has trained 35 local engineers and community members on biogas technology and held community meetings with thousands more to spread the word about this cheap, clean fuel. Two more plants will be installed by the end of the year, but Dawood’s neighbours, impressed with the results so far, are already investing their own resources in biogas facilities and looking to UNDP just for maintenance and advice.

A family with around six cows and some spare land can install a medium-sized biogas system. Leftover food, animal dung and other organic material can be fed into the system for fermentation and then kept in special storage tanks. As well as clean gas, the plants also produce high-quality fertilizer and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

They make life easier and healthier, too. People don’t have to cut and gather wood and their houses are no longer full of smoke. The net result is more tress, fewer coughs and a cleaner environment.

UNDP and the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme has awarded 46 grants in Afghanistan for projects on biodiversity, climate change mitigation, the prevention of land degradation and sustainable forest management. Of these, 22 completed projects have already improved the environment for nearly 55,000 households around the country.

Other UNDP environment projects are helping people adapt and find jobs in the face of climate change, bringing clean power to rural areas, preparing for natural disasters, establishing and protecting national parks, and conserving biodiversity for future generations.

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