China’s agriculture faces major environmental challenges. The intensification of agriculture was characterized by a shift to higher-valued crops, many of which are more nutrient-demanding and susceptible to pests than traditional crops. This resulted in an increase in use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizer.
The rapid expansion of livestock production generates rural income and employment, but livestock wastes also cause pollution and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
Rural households traditionally gathered firewood for fuel and increasingly substituted coal for wood in recent years. Intensified use of both firewood and coal has serious environmental consequence such as deforestation and air pollution. It also causes severe indoor air pollution, with resultant health effects such as upper respiratory infections and eye problems.
The Government of China saw biogas utilization as a means of improving the lives of rural households and addressing environmental degradation. A large National Rural Biogas Program was launched in 2001. However, the sustainability of the biogas investments was hindered by inadequate support systems, especially at the post-installation stage such as technical support for sustainable operation and maintenance of the systems. Systematic and quantifiable monitoring and evaluation indicators were also required to be developed to assess the economic, social and environmental benefits of the multi-billion dollar government-led biogas development program.
The Eco-Farming Project was designed to assist the government in developing and testing approaches that would enhance biogas impacts and the methods to monitor them at the local level. Technical innovations would include demonstrations of how to better integrate biogas into on-farm production systems, and the establishment of systematic monitoring and evaluation processes at local level. A pioneer program to use carbon finance for household-level biogas development was to be piloted in parallel to the main project.
The project applied a comprehensive approach to fully integrate biogas development into farm production systems, including biogas technology solutions and biogas-related on-farm investments; institutional strengthening of biogas service and extension systems at provincial, county, township and village levels; technician, farmer and household training programs in integrated biogas and farming practices; and improved monitoring and evaluation systems.
Project design and preparation were carried out in a full participatory process. Wide coverage surveys and various awareness raising campaigns were organized. Project activities were decided based on results of such surveys and campaigns. Community development activities were selected through a participatory planning process to ensure that household and community priorities were reflected in activity selection.
- 470,141 households benefited from new bio-digesters and improved kitchen, toilets and pig sheds (“1+3” systems”), which significantly improved their health and quality of life as demonstrated by reduced kitchen smoke and cleaner house-yards and surrounding environment.
- Use of biogas as alternative fuel reduced firewood and coal use and saved cooking time. Households’ disposable income increased as fuel costs, gathering time, cooking time and quantity of chemical fertilizer and pesticides used were reduced. Use of coal and wood was reduced by 325 and 768 kilograms a year respectively. Part of chemical fertilizer and pesticides, which used to cost about 15 percent of households’ cash revenues, was replaced by biogas residue.
- New water connections were installed in 155,560 households, and 1771 kilometers of village roads were built, as part of the community development program.
- A 5-level technical extension service involving provinces, cities or prefectures, countries, townships and villages was established in all five project provinces. A comprehensive training program was organized for technicians and farmers in biogas systems and farm management.
- A household-based Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) biogas digester program, the first of its kind in China, was piloted in Enshi Prefecture of Hubei Province. The program developed new methodology to quantify the generated emission reduction and paved the way for replication in similar CDM projects. It also demonstrated as a role model of successful CDM transaction by delivering a total of 213,940 tCO2e CERs (Certified Emission Reductions) from February 2009 to December 2012. The program was awarded several national and ministerial prizes including “1st Prize: China Agricultural Sci-technology Advancement” and “2nd Prize: State Sci-technology Advancement”.
- A monitoring and evaluation system with a large number of systematic and quantifiable indicators was designed to assess the project’s economic, social and environmental impact and identify best practices for dissemination. This was the first project to introduce the results-based monitoring and evaluation system to the government’s National Rural Biogas Program in China.