PUEBLA, Mexico — Of Mexico’s 25 million rural residents, more than 60 percent are living at or below the poverty line, which accounts for more than 15 million rural poor. Rural poverty is a problem that is rooted in a number of development determinants, including lack of access to basic services like education, health and sanitary housing and productive resources such as land, technology, knowledge and credit for rural farmers. These factors compound one another and result in a host of secondary problems—one of which is a waste management.
In rural Mexico and Central America, waste management is a persistent problem. Due to a lack of resources, rural farmers have not developed a culture of sustainable waste management. Rather than eliminating organic waste in a sustainable manner, small-scale farmers will regularly leave animal manure in cattle pens or pile it in close proximity to living spaces for up to a year, waiting for it to decompose into organic fertilizer. This poses a very real health risk, as waste can drain into shared irrigation systems and other water supplies.
It is precisely this problem which Sistema Biobolsa is helping to address.
Founded in 2010, Sistema Biobolsa is a “social and environmental impact business that that produces, distributes, installs, and maintains Sistema Biobolsa, an award winning, high quality biodigester system designed for small and medium farmers.”
Biodigester is an innovative waste management system which uses anaerobic bacteria to convert organic human and animal waste into soil amendment to help enrich soil with nutrients. A by-product of the conversion process is a methane-rich biogas which can be used to boil water or to replace wood burning stoves for cooking. This helps fight rural poverty in a number of ways.
By eliminating the need for wood burning stoves, rural farmers are improving air quality, directly impacting their health. By safely eliminating the harmful components of human and animal waste, farmers are also contributing to improved sanitization which improves health, quality and duration of lives.
Moreover, farmers can drastically reduce their expenditures of costly inputs, allowing them to reinvest that money to grow their business or invest in education. By creating soil amendment to enrich soil, farmers no longer need to spend as much on chemical fertilizers. While the natural gas by-product saves farmers, they need to purchase Liquid Petroleum gas.
The positive impacts of the biodigester technology can be seen in a case study.
In March of 2012, rural farmer Justiniano Olivos purchased the Sistema Biobolsa for the daily treatment of 75 liters of cow manure. In doing so, he was able to safely eliminate waste while producing three cubic meters of biogas, completely displacing the consumption and cost of Liquid Petroleum gas. Moreover, Justiniano was able to reduce his purchase of chemical fertilizer by 80 percent, replacing it with bio-fertilizing soil amendment.
Sistema Biobolsa’s innovative design and successful application of their biodigester technology has earned the company a place in this year’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) Accelerator program, held at Santa Clara University from August 14-22.
Each year, the GSBI Accelerator invites and mentors a group of well-established “social enterprises”—non-profit organizations or for-profit businesses which focus on addressing social and environmental issues—to help them address challenges in their business model before showcasing their businesses to potential investors.
With any luck, Sistema Biobolsa will continue to expand their business model and help farmers in Mexico and Central America to eliminate rural poverty.
– Pedram Afshar