Reflecting on the prospect of biogas in Nepal

Shaky fossil fuel price have at times posed threat to the core of every country’s economy. The recent nosedive of the oil price, for instance, has left the oil-based nations grappling with the fear of irrecoverable economic damage. While affluent overseas have been scrambling to offset the vicissitudes produced largely by the wobbly oil prices through the development of more sustainable energy source, progress has been at a snail’s pace. Developing countries, on the other hand, are holding firm to non-renewable source of energy, natural gas and oil, to meet the energy need and are in no situation to let go of these resources just for the sake of “climate change hoax”: skeptic’s word to smear the scientific evidence of global temperature rise caused partly by human-induced greenhouse gases.

In this scenario, the need of the hour is to pursue renewable sources of energy that could supplant the fossil fuel requirement as well as firewood demand. As the financially well-off countries are advancing toward producing alternative energy through redoubtable nuclear-plants and solar technologies, one of the alternatives to forest trees and natural gases such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), for the countries at bay, is biogas plant. Biogas refers to methane that is produced by the decomposition of agricultural waste and manure in a biogas plant which can be utilized as a source of energy. And it is as effective in countering the need of non-renewable sources as are any other technologies. There are justifiable evidences to vindicate the potential of biogas plant to reduce the consumption of non-renewable resources that contribute to greenhouse gases.

Over the past years, the biogas boom in Nepal has substantially reduced the demand of firewood as well as natural gas-imported entirely from India. The recent report by Alternative Energy Promotion Center (AEPC) suggests that the number of biogas plants in Nepal by 2014 was more than 320,000. And around six per cent of the country´s total clean energy is contributed by biogas. And there is this proven fact, according to a study by Biogas Sector Programme (BSP), that one biogas plant saves 1.25 trees a year.

This notion implies that Nepal is currently saving more than 400,000 trees every year. Similarly, a separate study by BSN suggests that the need of 800,000 litres of kerosene every year is compensated by biogas plant. Besides eschewing the emission of tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, biogas plant installation helps save a part of income otherwise spent on hefty fossil fuels.

Despite such positive side, the spurring biogas industry has suffered a severe blow in recent years largely due to lag in government’s incentives to lure urbanites to pursue it as the energy source. In the face of rapid transformation of suburbs into urban cities and the influx of rural population into urban community, the forests have been wiped out to exact the area required for the growing population and has left the installed plants in the rural areas in abject state. The trend of fossil fuel use among the rural poor is rising due to ever decreasing forest as well as subsidiary cut from government to install the biogas plants.

While the lofty ideals to deploy nuclear plants and carpet solar technologies across the country might someday serve the developed countries, the chances of it catering to the energy demand of least developed countries (LDCs) is fairly poor. Moreover, rather than expecting radical untested methods to stoke energy revolution-as envisioned by Bill gates with his “energy miracle” proposal-countries are better off embracing and reinforcing the renewable energy source that already proves to be realistic to rein in the prolific need of fossil fuels.

In order for countries like ours to tackle manifolds of burgeoning problems unleashed in the wake of fossil fuel use, investment in biogas plants can serve the purpose.  The donor organizations and the government should, therefore, focus on funding projects that seek to revamp the biogas plants in the rural community as well as introduce the technology among the urban dwellers in large scale.


Made in Nepal

India has expressed its dissatisfaction over the new constitution by imposing an undeclared embargo. This kind of blatant show of control over a landlocked country is not entirely out of the blue. India has always been an intruder. In 1978, for instance, India refused to recognise Nepal as a zone of peace. As for us, every time India devises any stratagem to thwart the progress of our country, we start panicking like it was totally unanticipated. History is repeating itself, and instead of learning from the past, we opt for the same old technique to express our anger: Lashing the Indian authorities on social media.

While slamming India may placate our anger for a short term, it won’t help sustain our lives in the long run. For now, we can blame India to conceal our shortcomings, but we must learn to be self-sufficient. Potential sources of food and energy within the country remain untapped. We search for donations instead of searching for ways to utilise our own resources. We have become so indolent that we pay hefty sums for rice instead of settling with our millet. We opt for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) instead of repairing the biogas plant in our backyard. Moreover, we like to pay transport fare instead of walking to our destination even if we have enough time. It is not India that is making our life miserable. It’s us.
I remember my grandfather saying, “Why entertain yourself by exploiting the products made by others? Learn to live with what is yours.” Of course, I used to get annoyed at him then. But when I recall his words now, I find them to be completely relevant. We have water resources to generate thousands of megawatts of electricity. Biogas plants that can replace LPG have not been properly utilised. We have varied geography and climates that can help us combat food insecurity. The biodiversity that exists across the country is an equally valuable asset. We can utilise these gifts of nature to make our country a better place for the people.
We can start cultivating the barren lands of Mustang if necessary, can’t we? We don’t have to eat rice if we don’t earn it. We can live with millet or maize that is grown in our fields. We can surely tame our profligacy. We can walk or switch to riding bicycles for short journeys.
I am not urging anyone to become a Gandhi or something, I just want my country to be self-reliant. I don’t want to see my country begging for everything. Though the embargo is unlikely to continue forever, we can’t expect India not to interfere in our internal affairs again. We need to start on our own at some point at any cost, and the time is now. Yes, it is easier said than done, but if we don’t realise our status now, then we better get ready to surrender to this dominating force.

An Educational tour to Meghauli

Clad in warm winter jackets in a foggy winter morning, me along with all my classmates waited anxiously for the bus that was supposed to haul us from Rampur college to several educational spots. It was 21st of December, 2015, the day that our respected teacher Mr. Ananta Prakash Subedi had suggested for us to visit a few medicinal plant nurseries and yoga centres as a part of practical of our academic curriculum: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants.  It was 6 past 30 when the bus arrived in front of the campus gate. Our teacher climbed down from the bus and laid out the details of the destination and all the propriety that we were supposed to follow during the tour. Firstly, we would go to Meghauli to visit a MAPs nursery and head back to Tadi to visit District Ayurveda Health Centre and finally culminate the tour at Radha Sarbeshwor Bhajanashram at Devghat.

After imbibing all the information from the teacher we hopped in the bus from the college gate and headed toward our first destination – Meghauli. On reaching meghauli we were guided by an erudite old man named Dunda pani kafle who had profound knowledge of Ayurveda and was well versed in plants that are medicinally important. No sooner had we descended from the bus he goaded us for jogging. And so we did. He, too, jogged with us. While jogging he informed us about the benefits of it. After enough of frantic jogging, he stopped us and lectured us about alolam bilolam, kapal bhati and several other yoga techniques that baba Ramdev recommends. He was a follower of baba Ramdev himself. He wanted us to start practicing yoga to remain healthy spiritually as well as physically.

After taking some photos with this wise old man, we headed toward Bishnu Ayurveda Herbal Production Farm, of which he was the founder. An entrepreneur of a sort he had started a commercial medicinal plant nursery to fill the void of medicinal nurseries in the area. The motivation that drove him for this profession was not an ordinary one. The knowledge of healing techniques through the use of MAPs was bequeathed to him by his ancestors. That he was relishing this profession was manifested in his beaming smile he possessed while dealing with the students. He greeted us in his farm with hot tea with lemon grass flavor.

Then he was onto exuding all the knowledge he had about his cherished nursery plants. He showed us many different species of medicinal plants, ranging from the tree of Tej patta to tulsi plant, plucking out the leaves of some herbs while pinching the buds of some other. He taught us the medicinal properties of manifolds of plants that were new to us as well as informed us about the medicinal values of those commonplace plants that we portrait as weeds.

He portrayed ocimum plant as a panacea. He had a predilection toward this plant because of its ability to heal illness from common cold to cancer. His knowledge about the benefits of this plant did in fact dovetailed with the scientific evidences. During the course of his explanation.

In retrospect: what I learned in District Health Ayurveda Centre

Almost all of my peers along with Mr. Ananta prakash subedi-an assistant professor of AFU who had envisioned a short tour to District Ayurveda Health Centre (DAHC), Ratnanagar-1, Chitwan as a part of practical of our academic curriculum: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs)-reached our destination before mid-day. We had been quite fortunate to have learned the properties of some medicinally important herbs in the morning already from an erudite old man Mr. Dunda pani kafle. It was made possible by the relentless effort of our respected teacher to make sure we gained some insights of these important herbs that are losing ground in the existential fight against synthetic drugs.

The aim of the tour was quite lucid; we were there to learn how the government perceived the Ayurveda system of treatment and what efforts it deployed to fan out the importance of it at the district level. The traditional system of medicine that utilizes the knowledge of medicinal property of plants to relieve pain, treat illness, or heal diseases is well rehearsed in our country. However, effort from government to promote the plants in international level is bleak. Paradoxically, the concerned officials seem to crackdown on some illegal traders at times in the border, the legitimate effort to unleash the prospect of these plants in high-paying markets is at snail’s pace.

To say that the government is indifferent toward this sector would be quite an exaggeration, since there are handful of Ayurveda centers around the country that are aimed at fielding the concerns of those opting for MAPs cultivation and trade and raising awareness among the people around their vicinity. And one of them was District Ayurveda Health Centre located in Chitwan.

The official building of DAHC was surrounded by myriads of medicinally important plants which seemed to be a representative of manifolds of plants that form the core of Ayurveda. There were highly coveted plants like Pterocarpus santalinus (rakta chandan in local language) that could earn gold in the international market for their potential to cure several diseases and their use in cosmetics, perfumery and confectionary, among others. There were plants so rare that we could never have seen in our lifetime if only we had missed the opportunity to visit the site. Plants like termenalia chebula, termenalia bellirica, santalum album, mesua ferrea to name a few.

While asked about the sundried fruits of termenalia chebula and termenalia bellirica to one of the staffs of DAHC, he replied that “the fruits are just a slice of the product we once used to sell in the local market”.  “The demand of the fruit is high in the pharmaceuticals because of its cholesterol-reducing and antioxidant effect along with its role in cancer therapy” he added. Sadly, the production is in decreasing trend in our country due to the lack of proper attention from the government. Plenty of other plants have met a similar fate in the face of government’s ignorance to recognize them as a potential source of rural income.

The diamond shaped seed of pterocarpus santalinus was too mystifying to go unnoticed, which also reminded me of its monetary worth as that of the diamond itself.

Never run out of gas

Fluctuating oil prices have rattled global economics, and for countries like Nepal which depend entirely on imports for their fuel supply, the turmoil in the global markets is a big concern. The point I am trying to make here is that there is not much we can do about the unpredictable oil prices, but there are certainly a number of pre-emptive measures that we can take to avoid the undesirable impact of price changes in essential kitchen fuel like liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Turning to renewable sources of energy like biogas plants can negate the effects of LPG shortages or its skyrocketing prices. The gas produced by the decomposition of agricultural waste and manure in a biogas plant can be lighted to produce heat and illumination. And the plus point here is that a lot has been done in this sector and there has been much success.

The government of Nepal has promoted low interest loan schemes to promote the installation of biogas plants. In order to encourage the poor to avail themselves of this technology, a special programme was launched under which half the cost of installation and equipment was granted as a subsidy and the other half as a loan if the biogas plant was a community venture.

As of the fiscal year 2012-13, a total of 294,011 biogas plants have been installed in the country, and around 11,000 persons have received direct or indirect employment since the inception of the concept. A study done in 2003 estimated that around 1.49 million potential biogas plants could be established in Nepal. The survey also found out that there was a vast supply of animal dung that could be used as raw material to produce biogas.

There are a number of benefits of using biogas energy for cooking and lighting in the home. Not only will it help ease the financial problems of rural households, it will also help them to manage their waste products well. And it goes without saying that using biogas will help to maintain an eco-friendly environment. Burning biogas for cooking produces no smoke, and waste materials that would otherwise be thrown away resulting in cleanliness problems is being put to good use. Biogas fits the much hyped “sustainability” approach of energy use. In the case of Nepal, biogas is the most suitable alternative source of energy.

Unfortunately, the attraction for using cylinder gas for cooking in Nepali households is rising. To add to the woes, migration of people from rural to urban areas has contributed to the rising use of LPG and left already installed biogas plants in the villages in a useless state. In order to protect ourselves from the imminent negative impact of depleting non-renewable energy sources, the government of Nepal must come up with a well planned programme to promote the use of biogas energy throughout the country before it’s too late.

In search of happiness

“It’s a girl”, a woman hollered from inside the room which shattered Mr. Ishan for it was the only thing in the whole world he didn’t want to hear. He was walking back and forth anxiously along the corridor just outside the room where his wife, Mina, was giving birth to a child. He already had two daughters aged 6 and 2, Nisha and preety, now there were three. He expected a son this time, but it seemed like his fate was testing him one more time. He didn’t even enter into the room where Mina was expecting him. After hearing the news that poured water into his expectation he walked towards the front door hastily, stepped outside and shut it close with a loud bang and left the house. He showed up later in the evening, drunk.
In the days that followed, Ishan begin to act as a complete stranger to his own family. He left home early in the morning; returned later at the evening, long past his usual time. Every time when Mina tried to approach him he would put on a sullen face. At evenings when he came early, the two daughters would scamper towards him with a hope to get scooped and lifted up in the air and then fall into his safe arms, like in the old days. But to their dismay, he would turn a blind eye on them and make his own way towards the door. To comfort the broken little hearts Mina standing beside them with her brimming eyes used to say “come here my darlings, I will do it for you; your father is tired today”. The daughters couldn’t comprehend the reason behind the apathy of his father towards them in the recent days. In the course of time, Ishan rarefied his visit to the house. But when he did, he would be inebriated and would beat her wife until he felt a pang in his hand. The children could always sense the violence in the next room, it wouldn’t let them sleep. Nisha used to hold her sister tight until she stopped shivering and wouldn’t let her focus towards the wailing of her mother and her little sister. As Nisha grew older, she reckoned the reason for her mother’s suffering. She knew that it was because her father wanted a son. She used to ask her mother “what is in a boy that our father wants one so much”. She used to assure her mother that someday she would make her father proud more than a son could and prove that she is no less than a son and their bad days would be over.
Mina got inured to the behavior of her husband, so did the children. She made her living after a sewing job and was growing to become an independent woman. She never exposed her anguish to the children never did she foul-mouthed Ishan despite of his gruesome treatment to her. Later in the evening one day, when Nisha was about to climb to her bed after helping her mother with her daily chores, she saw through the window two persons standing outside their gate. Though she couldn’t exactly figure out what was happening, she could clearly reckon her father who was trying to persuade a woman-who was unfamiliar to her. She could hear her father say “wait for me at the station; I will be there at six tomorrow morning”. They hugged each other before biding farewell. After a while when the woman left, her father entered into the house and went to his bed without a fuss with her mother. Baffled by the father’s strange sequence of behavior that night-secret rendezvous with a strange woman and sober inside the house-she too laid on the bed alongside her sister hoping for a better tomorrow.
Early in the morning next day, she could hear her mother’s wailing from inside the kitchen. She went towards the sound in a hurry. Her father was fierce at her mother, he was vehemently scolding her mother “it’s all your fault, you don’t want to see me happy, you never wanted to give me a son, now live by yourself”. Her mother was anguishing at the corner of the kitchen; her father with a suitcase in his hand started towards the door. She ran after her father yelling “father where are you going? When will you return?” but without looking at her he shoved her off and left the house.

Not long after that day, Ishan got married to another woman, whom Nisha had seen the other night. After almost a year of their marriage, Ishan became a father of a son. He was frolicking that very day when he knew it was a baby boy. It was all he wanted after all since his first marriage. Life was not easy though, for the new family. Ishan’s menial job at a shoe store could hardly pay for his spendthrift wife. Besides, they had to think for the future of the baby. He was in desperate need of a job that could provide a fair salary. The only way men of his skill could pay for his wife’s extravagant bill was by flying into some Arab country and put strenuous effort to make some extra bucks. And so he did. His son had just turned 2 when Ishan left for Iraq.
There he found a job at a gas station. He never spared free time for himself. He managed to do overtime at the weekend. After getting his stipend at the end of each month he would call home to speak to his son. Even after sending home a good sum of money each month, his wife used to pester him demanding even more. One day during the telephone conversation she said “I will leave you if it is all that you can offer us”. One early morning, she called him and said “It’s time to send our son to a boarding school, you have to send all your savings for his admission”. Ishan did as demanded; he gladly sent all his savings through remittance. As days passed by, he began to feel more secluded from his wife. After few weeks, much to his shock, he got no reply after ringing the phone several times a day.
Late at midnight one day, he tried to call her. It was only when he started to lose his hope again to get answered that somebody on the other side was in the line. It was a voice of a man on the other side. The man with a coarse voice yelled at him “you’d better not call this phone again” and hung up the phone. Suddenly, it went all dark for Ishan. His senses left him. It was as if the time stood still for a moment. He wished it was a nightmare, but alas, everything was real. He fumbled towards the bathroom less to take a shower than to assure him that it was all happening outside his imaginary world. There he began to recall where he possibly went wrong. He could find no loophole in his effort to satiate her hunger for a profligate life.
He spent his night in there sobbing, cursing himself for his naivety. Waves of memories of his three daughters, her faithful first wife swarmed in. He remembered how indifferent he had been towards those innocent children of his. Surely, they deserved as much love from their father as the other kids did from their father. Had it not for the desire of a son, he wouldn’t have to see this day. He thought about his misdeeds to her wife who was always servile to him. She was always there when he needed her yet he abused her and left her on her own with those tender lives. He realized that it was satisfaction all one needs to become happy. He repented over his deeds the whole night.
Few days after that tormenting night, he managed to get on to the plane for home for he thought it was not worth earning any money now. When he landed at the airport, he couldn’t comprehend his destination. The first person he could think of was his old wife but he dared not call her as he thought she might have settled with another man. But he wanted to acknowledge about his daughters’ whereabouts. He wanted to apologize once and for all to those kids for his apathy towards them. Gathering some courage, he got on a bus towards home. Reaching there he saw his three daughters playing in the yard and his wife busy with her sewing. Nothing had changed ever since he had left. Nisha scampered towards her father when she saw him, he cupped her in his hands lifted her up and held her tight kissing her forehead.

Can’t buy me love

In these past couple of days, I have come to realise that it’s money that people are after, and just how materialistic the world has become. This startling truth struck me when I was passing by a nursery where two men and three women in their 40s were planting tomato saplings. I heard one of them growling, “Only if we were doing this same thing abroad, we would be getting paid over Rs 50,000.” I started to ponder how simply this man had reckoned that figure without giving any thought to other unfathomable costs that he would have to make to get that sum, other incalculable prices ranging from the time shared with loved ones to the mental satisfaction of being lucky to serve one’s own country. These are things on which you cannot place a monetary value and which you will be missing when you live abroad.

As for me, I have been dying to spend a few days together with my father since he has been busy serving in a neighbouring country as a serviceman for as long as I can remember. People these days seem to have forgotten the real meaning of happiness, and that’s why they are out there searching for the money required to buy it. Somebody needs to please tell them that it’s not money that can buy happiness, it’s love, as simple as that.

Only yesterday, I was having a discussion with an uncle who is in his mid-20s. He has been working in Korea after struggling hard to get the EPS result on his side to get there. In his numb voice, he lamented being there. He just started to recall his days back home, he couldn’t help but tell me how much he missed his folks and how much he missed his parents, his brother with whom he had grown up playing, his village and his lover too. This last was someone he had never admitted to having before. His words that day were like that of a saint. He shared the fact how he could have used the university degree that he had to get a nice little job, and how easier and happier life would have been. He couldn’t help but loathe himself for being such naive, and for not settling down for what he could offer his country with the degree he had in his hand.

The same is the case with every person today; everybody wants to get their hands on a bigger pile, nobody likes to imagine spending their future in their own country. Nobody wants to take pride in serving their own land. We are not only running away from the country, we are running away from happiness itself. It’s high time we thought long and hard and looked deeper into ourselves. We need to ask ourselves, “Is it our happiness that matters the most or is it money?”

A spade and a mobile

Among a number of tangential sectors that need the government’s attention for the development of the country’s farm sector, information and communication technology (ICT) is the most important one. A well developed strategy to unravel the potential of ICT in the agricultural market can provide a significant impetus to Nepali agriculture. ICT plays more than the role of an extensionist when it comes to agriculture. The good thing about ICT is its rising access to the public even in the far-flung regions of the country. But sadly, the ICT sector has never received considerable attention from the concerned line ministry. Meanwhile, other agro-based countries have increased their pace of development of the agricultural sector by promoting ICT. India, for instance, has tasted success through the ICT culture in agriculture in recent years.

In Nepal, brain drain has turned into a landslide with around 1,500 youngsters leaving the country each day. This has led to low human resources availability. Amid this situation, promoting ICT could help farmers left in the country to carry out agricultural operations in a very effective way. According to a recent report of the Nepal Telecommunications Authority, the number of subscribers to data/internet services has reached 9,459,600 which represents a 35.7 percent penetration rate. Against this backdrop, wise use of ICT could help produce significant benefits in boosting the agricultural GDP.

The agricultural market these days has become a safe haven for middlemen who have been operating a lucrative business depriving both the farmers and the consumers of a fair price. Efforts should be made to curb the unhealthy involvement of these middlemen in order to achieve a clean marketing policy in agriculture which will yield better results in the agricultural market chain. Investing in ICT can help to end the negative impact of racketeers in the agricultural market by acting as a bridge between the government, farmers and consumers.

It’s a well known fact that farmers mostly rely on the weather forecasts in the media to plan any agricultural activity. Why don’t we extend this custom? Why not use messaging services to disseminate agricultural news at the right time to the subscribers? Why not start a new television channel broadcasting agricultural news 24/7 or publish a couple of separate pages on agriculture in the newspapers? A hotline number service for farmers like that of the telecom service could be effective. As suggested by Indian Prime Minister Modi during his recent visit to Nepal, why not operate a separate radio station to broadcast agricultural information all the time? Only if farmers are provided the right information at the right time can we expect to remove the existing obstacles in agriculture. And the solution lies in the effective use of ICT to consolidate the bond between researchers, innovators and farmers by transferring innovation from the lab to the field. This is what Nepal needs to do to bring real change in the farm sector.