Villagers Find Fuels in Natural Energy Source

sdok village, Kandal province – Sreu San considers it part of his morning exercise. Every day, he mixes 12 kilograms of water buffalo dung and a little water in a concrete tank at the back of his home.

As Sreu San mixes, the smelly pudding spits out of the tank, sometimes hitting him. But the 59-year-old father of five said, he is used to it and doesn’t get disgusted anymore.

Besides, the benefits of the daily routine far outweigh its unsavory side, Sreu San said. The stool mixture is used to produce methane gas, which gives his family the energy to boil their water and cook their food.

“You see, we pay no money at all. When we have buffalo, it means we have gas,” Sreu San said.

For the farming families of Sdok village, alternative fuels are vital. After years of destroying the nearby forest, there is not enough wood to supply their kitchens, and the government has limited their foraging, said Tea Leang Huot, deputy director of Kandal’s agricultural department.

So buffalo stool is the main gas producer for Sreu San’s family. And the whole family helps out. Whenever they discover buffalo dung out in the fields, instead of stepping over it, they scoop it up and take it home, Sreu San said.

The large buffalo camp near his decades-old home is picked clean already.

Sreu San has reduced his wood consumption this way since 1995, when Swiss NGO Lutheran World Services built him the dung-fueled gas stove. Only a few families in the village have such a stove, so Sreu San says he considers himself one of the lucky ones.

Part of the reason is that the stoves, 3-square-meter concrete balls buried in the ground, normally cost $1,500, a LWS official said.

LWS gave Sreu San his stove for free as part of a pilot project, on the condition that he build it.

“The construction worker was me. The NGO officials hired me to build my own stove,” he said, smil­ing over a cup of tea boiled from his gas stove.

After the construction was com­­plete, more than two tons of dung went into the holding tank. It took more than a week for the gas to emerge, Sreu San said.

The gas, which compresses in the holding tank, can be released through a burner by way of a small pipe leading to Sreu San’s house. The gas is lighted by a match or lighter at the burner.

When the NGO first approach­ed him, Sreu San said he was skeptical.

“At the beginning, I absolutely did not believe in this project. I thought it did not make sense,” he said.

Many families are skeptical, especially when they read the price-tag of the project, LWS’s Lor Bunnath said. The NGO provides most of the materials, but families still must pay between $70 and $100, he said.

Nonetheless, the stove has help­­ed pay for itself, Sreu San said. He estimated that he saves $4 per month that he would ordinarily use to buy wood sticks. Plus, he saves on personal energy by not having to go out and salvage wood for a traditional fire.

“For me, I do not want to use the wood stick again because the gas is easier for cooking,” he said.

And besides, the contraption has given his family some notoriety in the village, Sreu San said. Other families who know about the stove help collect and give animal dung for the cause.

LWS hopes that the stove model will spread, because it is not only cost-effective, it is more environmentally friendly than clear cutting for lumber, Lor Bunnath said. But convincing people who have foraged for wood for generations is not easy, he said.

“The people’s problem is they are living in an environment, but they do not understand it well. They think a little bit about the issue,” Lor Bunnath said.

Tea Leang Huot said he sees improvements in the attitude of villagers toward the environment.

“Tree cutting for food is not as serious as in previous years. People reduce the use of woods by using small branches of trees, rice husks, and stool gas. I think in the future, people would like to use [stool gas], if they understand the NGO’s activities in the prov­ince. Then, cutting trees will not be a problem any more,” he said.

For Sreu San, there is no more convincing evidence of the dung stove’s utility than a glance at the old fashioned wood-burning stove where he has been boiling water for tea.

“The kettle,” he said, smiling, “needs more wood sticks. It is boiling very slowly.”



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