By Watmore Makokoba
Jonah Chimusoro’s decision to return home from the United States and apply his innovative skills to improve livelihoods has not been in vain.
A qualified Zimbabwean automobile engineer, Chimusoro left the comfort of the US and turned his family’s medium sized plot into a 100 percent integrated conservation agriculture farm. Through his innovative skills, farm machinery such as tractors, automobiles and generators are being powered by biogas produced from pig waste.
Chimusoro, popularly known as Engineer Chimusoro in his neighbourhood, retired from his cherished mechanical engineering job abroad to do what he has always wanted to do in life – to apply his innovation skills in positively enriching livelihoods and contribute to community sustainable development.
The fresh air that welcomes one upon arrival at his farm in Beatrice, about 60 km south of the Zimbabwean capital Harare, does not in any way smell of piggery. In fact, pigsties have never been that clean.
As Chimusoro puts it: “here, nothing goes to waste.”
Waste from the pigsties generates power for the entire farm and fuels farm vehicles too!
With projections of global agricultural yields expected to decline by as much as 50% by 2050 due to disasters related to climate change and a country savaged by successive droughts, the engineer-cum farmer, cannot be faulted for trying.
His simple innovations and environmentally friendly organic farming initiatives have set precedence for climate change mitigation, food and nutritional sufficiency.
Chimusoro has developed a simple formula for separating highly corrosive hydrogen and sulphur components from biogas generated from two five- cubic metres giant bio-digesters. The bio-digesters produce clean gas that can safely and effectively power farm implements in the same way petrol works.
“When I came back from the USA … I discovered that one of the biggest challenges people are facing in Zimbabwean communities was fuel which is not only a top contributor to carbon emissions, but is also expensive.
“We looked at renewable energy and biogas for fuelling implements. Literally, the pigs are the main source of power on this farm, supplemented by solar energy which is also climate-smart and renewable.”
Says Chimusoro: “We have also modified the cars and tractor engines by simply modifying the carburettors so that the gas connector is attached at the point where fuel will have been turned into gas to start the engine.
“Fuel never runs engines in liquid form, it is firstly turned into gas hence, what needs to be done is to compress the gas so that it can take you far,” he said.
Although biogas has been widely used for domestic purposes, this initiative is perhaps one of the few in Africa where clean natural gas is compressed and processed to power domestic appliances such as cooling systems, tractors and vehicle engines substituting carbon emitting diesel and petrol.
“We have been told that we are among the few doing this in Africa,” said Chimusoro.
According to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, although biogas is currently one of the top clean energy initiatives, it is crucial to know some facts about how to handle the gas safely and effectively.
“Biogas is a mixture of about 60% methane (the part that burns), and 40% carbon dioxide that doesn’t burn. There will also be some trace gasses, especially hydrogen sulphide – the stuff that smells and is poisonous if trapped in small enclosed areas, and water vapour.
“If you burn the biogas in an internal combustion engine approximately 30% will be converted to shaft horsepower. If the engine was powering an AC generator, it produces 226 kWh in a 24- hour day. The rejected heat from the engine cooling water and exhaust can be recovered to heat the digester plus supply hot water for other uses,” reads a Penn State College statement.
Meanwhile, Chimusoro’s initiatives have also benefitted surrounding communities whose lives have been improved by following these simple climate smart innovations in their own households. To them Engineer Chimusoro is an inspiration and a source of hope.
Melody Machinei, a neighbour, said her eyes have been opened and her family is benefitting in a big way. She has since started the same initiative on a small scale.
“We have benefited a lot from this initiative. We buy organically grown healthy and tasty vegetables at an affordable price from this (Chimusoro’s) farm. We have since started our own small biogas project using cow dung,” she said.
Minister of Environment, Water and Climate, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, said such initiatives are key to sustainable development, poverty alleviation, and attainment of the United Nations Sustainable development Goals ( SDGs).
“Climate smart agriculture, production of clean sustainable energy are key pillars on which communities can build resilience against climate change and poverty, these initiatives go a long way in the attainment of most of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) …” says Muchinguri-Kashiri.
On this farm, nothing goes to waste. Even sunlight which is so often wasted in Zimbabwe, is the source of solar power that runs boreholes and home appliances on this farm.
Surely, if this integrated sustainable development model is followed, then fulfilling the United Nations Sustainable Goals should be achievable.