China’s rapid economic growth has provided a rapid rise in living standards for much of its population. It has also produced a rapid rise in deforestation, soil erosion and pollution as wood and coal are burnt to fuel the growth. In Shaanxi province in the west of the country, the government has restricted tree-felling and encouraged farmers to plant trees and keep pigs. And it is the pigs that are delivering the bacon.
Or to be more precise, the slurry that is converted in to biogas for the stoves in many homes across the province. The idea is not new of course, but it needed promotion and an infrastructure of installation and support. Shaanxi Mothers’ Environmental Protection Volunteer Association, China provided that network. Set up in 1997 as an NGO to raise money to plant trees they are another example of how solutions to problems evolve.
With pig manure widely available and biogas plants already manufactured in China, the Shaanxi Mothers seized their opportunity, training technicians and villagers in installation and use. Funded by government, the Shaanxi Mothers and their partners and the users themselves, success was rapid. By 2010, nearly 2,300 biogas plants had been installed in 41 villages, resulting in total CO2 saving of about 14,000 tonnes a year. Plants cost on average about US$500 but savings on fuel and the production of fertiliser as a by-product of the biogas enables families to repay costs in about a year.
Benefits can be measured in human as well as financial terms – less smoke from cooking, improved hygiene, more time to pursue other activities, proving again that sustainability can benefit people at the same time as supporting the planet.