“Give us things that will help us run engines with local resources. Diesel and petrol prices are killing us farmers,” said Ram Karan. I sat listening intently to him at his farm on the very fringes of Ranthambore National Park. The majority of farmers here who do not have access to electricity spend anywhere between Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 1 lakh on diesel to run generators to irrigate their farm lands. Imagine that amount of money instead being put towards a decentralized renewable energy source to sustain their livelihoods. “Give us solar, we are willing to pay!” he said. “I know that there are even solar powered pumps out there.” Solar pumps have been questioned for their efficacy especially where ground water levels have dropped severely—and they have in this part of Rajasthan. I was doing a survey on the local biogas plant dissemination project by a local NGO, the Prakratik Society. Though a technology around since the 1970s and considering one of the most abundant decentralized resources available to rural India being livestock, it is unfortunate that not much more research and development has gone towards its advancement. My survey revealed more than just a drastic reduction in fuel-wood consumed by villagers owning the biogas plants (50-100% drop by 100% of the households surveyed): some of the villagers are fueling some of their ambitions in rather unique ways with this old technology.
On this morning, Ram Karan was running his tractor engine with a mix of diesel and the gas generated by his biogas plant. The two cylinder tractor engine used to run the pump usually consumes 2.5 liters of diesel in one hour, but with a mix of biogas, it consumes diesel at a rate of 1.5 to 1.75 liters an hour. The only draw back was the limited amount of gas generated by the 3 cubic meter biogas plant being sucked out more quickly by the hungry engine. Still, it reveals the scope of larger sized biogas plants in meeting additional needs of villagers beyond cooking. The problem with larger plants (those with greater width and depth) being the higher likelihood of cracks developing in the tank—which render plants completely useless. “If we could get enough gas to run an 8-10 horse power engine to pump water, and perhaps some for additional electricity generation, we would be all set!” He touted. Further down the road, a dhaba had been set up near the roadside. “I opened up this dhaba soon after getting my biogas plant,” stated Janki Lal. “Business has been good [as was visible during my short chai break] and it is so much easier to operate using gas as opposed to wood. But I want my lamp as well!” He was referring to the gas lamps the Prakratik Society used to disseminate with the plants earlier on which failed because of lack of proper infrastructure in place for replacement parts.
One of my final stops was at Ameen’s house. He had a large family and ambitions to match the size. “I want to have several biogas plants, or perhaps a few large ones. I will get nearly 10 artificially inseminated hybrid cows [scaling up from the 2 he had currently]. I am going to stop farming and start a dairy,” he stated confidently. His cattle will be stall fed by the fodder he will be planting instead. It will including the “sul babul” tree which grows quite well in this climate and grows rapidly. The native cows are artificially inseminated with the semen of high-milk yielding Jersey cows with help of Prakratik Society. With nearly 50% of the respondents (from 7 different villages surrounding the park) claiming they would be willing to take on bank loans to finance more biogas plants, perhaps its time the advancement of this technology take precedence to meet the ambitions of the people. “The jungle is disappearing, so you need to make these plants everywhere,” stated Ram Karan—revealing a true grasp of the human-wildlife conflict that is plaguing the country.