Women enjoy better health by recycling farm – Experience of Gram Vikas

Pradeep Kumar Mohapatra

Gram Vikas, a leading NGO in the State of Orissa, has been working for the upliftment of the poor and marginalized communities. Majority of the communities with whom Gram Vikas works belong to the adivasi (tribal) community. These adivasis who were traditionally practicing slash and burn systems have now shifted to settled agriculture.

The tribal population is highly dependant on the forests, particularly for their fuel needs. In the initial years of their work, Gram Vikas realised that the demand for firewood was leading to deforestation. Lot of vegetation which was around the villages was getting depleted. The only alternative was to use kerosene supplied by the government, as fuel. But kerosene was expensive for the tribals to afford, and was not available in time. Hence they had to depend on the forests for firewood.

As the tribals lives were very much linked to the forests, Gram Vikas planned to promote an alternative – an alternative that conserved the natural resources like forests and also enabled recycling of cow dung, which was otherwise being scattered and wasted. Biogas was therefore seen as a substitute for firewood. The National Biogas Extension Programme of the Government gave an opportunity for Gram Vikas to work with the tribals and the government in promoting biogas in ten districts in Orissa.

When Gram Vikas started propagating bio-gas in Ganjam district of Orissa, people did not believe that cow dung mixed with water and enclosed in an aerobic condition would produce an inflammable gas.  They wondered as to how any gas which could burn could be produced without a machine. Initially, it was the big farmers who came forward – that too, very few in numbers and with much hesitation to construct biogas plants.

On the other hand, with consistent efforts from the NGO, people became more aware and conscious of environmental issues and the advantages of social forestry, irrespective of their willingness to install the biogas unit.  The awareness camps and meetings helped to remind the people of the importance of trees of biomass and the benefits of maintaining an ecological balance.  Though traditionally farmers are aware of the value of vegetation, the struggle for survival and the piecemeal introduction of modern farming techniques had eroded people’s knowledge.  Confidence in their own traditions and practices was restored.  They were motivated to start community forestry projects and common property management programmes.

It took another three to four years for the small and marginal farmers to accept this technology.  For them installing a biogas unit meant higher investment coupled with greater risk.  These farmers were helped through subsidies provided by the government. However, the most important issue was to provide the required raw material to the Unit on a continuous basis.

To address the problem of raw material, i.e., cow dung, attention was directed to those families who owned sufficient heads of cattle.  Some farmers especially the marginal farmers, tribals and scheduled castes owning about 6-8 head of cattle were motivated to go for biogas.  The most suitable size of the plant was either 2 cu. m or 3 cu. m ones depending on feeding and dung collection.  It was estimated that one animal which grazes in the field during the day has an output of 5 kgs of dung per night.  20 kgs of dung is required to feed a 1 cu. m plant.  Therefore, a family owning a minimum of 4 heads of cattle could go in for a plant of size 1 cu .m.  Though the dung produced was not enough to meet all the cooking fuel needs of a family, it reduced the pressure on fuel wood.

Gradually, people started asking whether it was wise to use cowdung for generating biogas while it had better use of being an organic source for enriching the soil. Farmers were made aware as to how the biogas slurry generated from the unit could be used as an organic fertilizer. Initially, farmers refused to believe in the value of bio-slurry as a fertilizer.  It took time and numerous field demonstrations to prove the power of biogas slurry as a fertilizer.


The cow dung once burned or littered all over the village or around the hut is now collected and converted to biogas. The households started enjoying a cleaner and healthier environment as the kitchen was no longer filled with soot and smoke.

Use of bio-slurry generated interest among farmers in using organic fertilizers.  They learnt the techniques of composting from Gram Vikas. With enriched soil fertility yields have improved.  The texture and capacity of the soil has enhanced. Farmers also started using slurry as fish meal.

Those families who did not own cattle also benefited indirectly from the programme.  The demand for fuel wood from the forest reduced giving them more access to the fuel. Further because of the reduction of smoke in the general environment, they too enjoyed a cleaner atmosphere.

The process of recycling animal dung and wastes has had a great impact on women.  Two of the most important benefits the women perceive are the time saved and the ease of cooking. Women no longer need to make long trips into the forest. Cooking is faster.  The kitchen is free of smoke, the pots do not require much scrubbing and last longer and children suffer from fewer respiratory ailments.  There is a decrease in the incidence of burns especially to children.  Food is clean and well cooked.  Women are in a comfortable position while cooking.  Leisure has given them time for more relaxed social exchange.  They are able to discuss on issues like health, education, hygiene and sanitation.

Today, bio-gas is an accepted alternative technology. The programme on recycling wastes for fuel and fertilizer has benefited both men and women – as a technology input for men and as a means of social change for women.

Pradeep Kumar Mohapatra, Teacher, Trainer/Social Activist, Bhimapur, Padmanabhapur,

Ganjam – 761 007, Orissa.


Recently Published Articles

Women-led farm initiatives

Women-led farm initiatives

By using organic farming methods, developing connections with markets, generating income, and enhancing their own...


Call for articles

Share your valuable experience too

Share This