Energy gardens for small-scale farmers in Nepal: Institutions, species and technology

The greatest potential for deriving energy from plants is the fact that appropriate local species can be grown in different environments all round the world. So it is possible to grow 'Energy Gardens' using a range of plant species to produce different forms of energy. Using energy gardens, farming communities, perhaps living in remote areas, can grow their own fuel. Traditionally this has been wood fuel, but new technologies and innovative ideas are opening the possibility to grow and process biofuels, or combine sanitation with energy production.  

Plants capture energy from the sun through photosynthesis and store it in in the form of vegetative growth. This growth takes a wide variety of forms from woody to soft tissues, and can be quite complex chemically including sugars, oils and other products. Plants are thus ideal sources of renewable energy. This energy is released through burning wood and other forms of biomass, but more recently, plant products such as vegetable oils and sugars have been used to create biofuels for running internal combustion engines. Indeed the first diesel engine, built by Dr Rudolf Diesel in 1885, included peanut oil in its fuel.

The energy garden project will focus on the social science of creating new links across disciplines and exploring how novel technologies can be transferred to communities for energy production. The second major advantage of deriving power from plants is that the energy is renewable. Concern over greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has given rise to calls for replacement of non-renewable fossil fuels by biofuels, thereby conforming with a basic principle of sustainability in that the use of fuels from renewable sources meets the 'needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. However, the greatly increased use of biofuels that resulted from national and international policies encouraging their use coupled with a sharp rise in the costs of fossil fuels, gave rise to considerable public concern. Biofuels have been implicated in 'food for fuel' controversies, food price increases, loss of access to land through 'land grabbing' and loss of biodiversity through conversion of natural ecosystems to biofuel plantations such as for palm oil. By using local plant species for energy production integrated into food growing these criticisms can be overcome.  

This approach was pioneered by the Hassan Biofuels Park in southern India, and their success has had a major impact on Indian national and state biofuel policy and legislation. Through the partnership, the project will explore the possibilities of transferring the knowledge and approach developed in Hassan to Nepal and other countries. Dissemination of the outputs is a critical component of the project activities. The innovative approach adopted by the project is to use the international network of botanical gardens that form Botanic Gardens Conservation International.

The role of Dohori songs

Dohori (duet songs) are folkloric popular music genre in Nepal, which play a significant role in the lives of many villagers in rural Nepal to express themselves on various personal and social issues. Energy Gardens team performed Dohori in mountainous Hamsapur villlage of Gurkha district in Nepal to highlight the potential of Energy Gardens project for improving access to locally available clean energy amongst rural communities in Nepal.