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Network of Biodigesters Users in Chiapas

Otros Mundos A.C. has always sought fair, decentralized energy alternatives, with critical thinking on how to obtain, store and distribute energy; contrary to the clean or renewable energies proposed by the capitalist model, based on occupying extensions of territories, violating human rights, promoting mining extraction, which Otros Mundos A.C. proclaims as projects of death. This organization is totally against mining companies and megaprojects that accelerate the destruction of biological and cultural diversity in the country and the world. Instead, its philosophy as an association is to support towns, communities and organizations that seek energy alternatives, such as local experiences with solar panels, energy-saving stoves, micro hydroelectric experiences, biodigesters, among others.

With this in mind, in 2020, 32 indigenous and farming families, with the support of the association Otros Mundos A.C., assembled and installed biodigesters on their plots of land to produce biogas and organic fertilizers. In this way, they have been able to confront the respiratory diseases caused by cooking on wood stoves, the high costs of agrochemicals and the deterioration of the soil due to their use. Thus, the Network of Biodigester Users in Chiapas was consolidated, whose families have seen how the biodigesters generate enough biogas to cook and heat water daily, and avoid the purchase of fertilizers produced from fossil fuels.

In this experience, biodigesters have been a device that, when installed in indigenous communities, is easy to use, adapts to the context and its benefits can be seen immediately, since animal manure is used to produce biogas and biofertilizers for crops. In this way, peasant production is ensured, while energy is obtained for cooking food.

Technical characteristics of the proposal

The network of users in Chiapas has been growing and currently there are 32 families with biodigestion equipment installed in two economic regions, V: Tsotsil-Tseltal Highlands and VX: Comiteco-Tojolabal Plateau in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Each unit produces 3 hours of biogas and 100L of biofertilizers daily. The material used for these units is HDPE geomembrane 1 mm thick with a useful life of approximately 20 years.

The maintenance that is given is to add to the biodigester 20L of fresh manure daily that is diluted with 60 to 80L of water, which with this is treating up to a maximum of 40L of manure to produce 2.4m3 of biogas equivalent to 3 hours of burning stove and 100L of biofertilizer that goes directly to the cornfield and other crops or fruit trees, vegetables. 

The tools used in the installations are basic and indispensable: a vehicle or truck to transport materials, geomembrane, high-density polyethylene hoses, geotextile for protection and at least three people who work in the installations. Tools include: two cordless drills, jigsaws, screwdrivers, 1-inch pipe cutters for polyducts, hammer, PVC glue, butane gas cans for blowtorch, drill bits of different sizes. As far as hardware is concerned, they are mainly omega clamps, steel nails, pins of different sizes, and anchors. The technical team at Otros Mundos A.C. has specialized devices for extrusion and thermofusion, which will be required for repairs, cracks or any damage to the geomembrane materials. 

An important commitment assumed by the families when forming part of the Biodigester Network is to commit to actively participate in training for the handling of the equipment, to carry out civil works for the biodigester and, if necessary, to build a trench or a wall in the form of a cistern to place the geomembrane material. The installation takes five hours if the space and civil works are in optimal conditions, otherwise it can delay the work up to three to four hours more. Being a biodigester installed daily, it takes fifteen days after the biodigester is installed to wait for the system to be activated to start taking advantage of the biogas and biofertilizer.

Productive, community, environmental, or economic processes or activities that were positively impacted by the implementation of the community experience of TEJ.

This network has benefited mainly housewives, children, young people, adults, men and senior citizens by obtaining biogas and biofertilizers. The benefits are reflected in the reduced workload of women and minors in collecting firewood in the forests, which means that they have more time for other activities such as education, agriculture or the care of backyard animals. When the biodigester systems start to produce, families begin to use only biogas for cooking, often expressing the joy they have to obtain and produce their own energy for cooking, heating water and / or productive activities such as small productions such as cheese, jams and other complementary activities to food and economy.

Beneficiaries of the experience

60 women, 50 men, 20 adolescents and young people (between 12 and 18 years of age), 40 children (between 0 and 12 years of age)

  1. The economic savings are important for the families, although it is true that the producers have an economic contribution for the implementation of the systems, the costs are reduced in the short term, i.e. in less than 6 months, this is evident because they stop buying LP gas and chemical fertilizers, which translates into economic savings by having enough biogas for cooking, heating water and/or fertilizing the cornfield, vegetables or fruit trees. The users have stated that once they had biogas they no longer bought liquefied petroleum gas or used firewood, and they have seen much improvement in their crops.
  2. The participation of women in the training process has been very important, and they are also in charge of maintaining, managing and distributing the energy produced by the biodigester. However, it is not limited to a single gender or age because there is interest and participation of girls, boys, young people, adults, old men and women, also, young university students from different backgrounds and schools have participated to see the process of the installations and operation of the systems, as well as the experiences of the producers.
  3. Each biodigester system produces 2.4 m3 of biogas (CH4) daily, equivalent to 3 hours of stove burning for cooking food, which means that each system helps to capture 12 tons of CO2, so the user families actively help in the care of the planet while improving their health, economy and strengthen the community organization.
  1. There are several difficulties that Otros Mundos A.C. and Red de Usuarios de Biodigestores en Chiapas have as a technical team, the first of which is to continue acquiring prefabricated biodigesters from, which is currently the leading company in the manufacture of high quality geomembrane biodigesters model 2.0. In this way, they are always looking for financial support to reach more families, although it is clear the interest of the population for its multiple benefits that can be seen in the short term, small producers often would not be able to cover the entire cost of the equipment.
  2. The second difficulty that Otros Mundos A.C. has as a team is not having its own vehicle or truck to transport the equipment; they are always looking to rent a vehicle to transport materials and personnel to the facilities.
  3. The other difficulty they have encountered is that, being a very small civil association, they still do not have all the machinery, equipment and infrastructure to start producing their own biodigester model and thus lower costs, so that more and more families can have access to the technology. In this case, these are small systems with a low to medium production of energy required by the families, for which the energy needs of the families must be supplemented with LP gas or firewood.
Women’s participation in the TEJ community experience

In the training workshops there are generally more women than men, so in the end, they are the ones in charge of maintaining the systems. Proof of this is a sentence written by engineer Anne Marie Schpoming: “At the beginning of February we held our first meeting of the Network of Biodigester Users in Chiapas. All the families in which we have established a system so far were invited. We were especially pleased with the presence of so many women, girls and boys. In fact, there are as many women as men who work with the systems on a daily basis”(Report by Anne Marie Schpomig, environmental protection and renewable energy technician and engineer, and volunteer at Otros Mundos A. C.). In this way, the Network of Biodigester Users in Chiapas (REDUB) highlights the participation of mostly women and children in the whole process, from the political and environmental awareness workshops, to a lot of participation in the installations. For the highlands region of Chiapas they have worked with indigenous Tsotsil and Tseltal women of different ages, i.e., girls, young women, adults and elderly women who have now improved their quality of life in an unexpected way with the use of biodigesters by obtaining energy that reduces the workload of getting firewood and/or the economic pressure of buying L.P. gas cylinders month after month.