To expand the methodology and develop a manual for the arts-based implementation of biogas projects in marginalised Latin American communities
EXCHANGE NEED AND OBJECTIVE(S)The goal of this exchange activity was to encourage the greater adoption and the long-term sustainability of biodigesters in rural communities in Mexico, ultimately improving the livelihoods of these communities. Its specific objective was to further test and expand an existing methodology that motivates and educates potential and existing biogas adopters. This innovative methodology uses art and drama as key elements of community engagement. The holistic approach was developed by two Mexican not-for-profit organisations, the International Renewable Resources Institute (IRRI) and the NGO ConcentrArte. It was originally developed for the purpose of engaging communities in rainwater harvesting, one of the core activities of IRRI. Inspired by the success of the model, IRRI wanted to expand this approach into the field of biodigesters in collaboration with the social enterprise Sistema Biobolsa, an IRRI incubator project. Sistema Biobolsa manufactures and supplies modular bag biodigesters to small and medium-scale farmers in Mexico. With a strong development focus, Sistema Biobolsa emphasises capacity-building and community engagement and the “Dragon of the New Flame” approach has proven very effective. The “Dragon of the New Flame” is the main character of the tale on which the educational programme hinges, entitled “The Legend of the New Flame”. This dragon is blue and spits out a blue flame, which is the colour of the flame produced when burning biogas. Its counterpart is the red dragon, who spits out the orange/red flame of wood and conventional fuels. The core elements of this methodology revolve around the colours, shapes and concepts of this story.
PARTICIPANTS & TARGET GROUP(S)The activities were targeted at three different groups: early adopters of biodigesters, prospective adopters and whole communities. The activities took place at times tailored to selected sub-groups, such as female biodigester users and children. Many of the activities targeted school children because of their role in future adoption and because they are known to act as envoys of knowledge, carrying messages across the community via their households.
ACTIVITIESThe many activities and events that took place in the participating communities over the course of the project had six main elements, which were combined in different ways depending on the audiences and context:
- Travelling theatre play: the partners wrote the “Legend of the New Flame” as a play and performed it at various locations to community audiences.
- Games: targeted mainly at children, these were tailored to the messages and needs of the programme and included a giant board game called “Red Flame, Blue Flame”.
- Art workshops, in which adults or children used colours and words and worked jointly or individually to express their knowledge of and feelings about biodigesters.
- Group activities combining a variety of methods, for example using photography for a targeted discussion on community needs with adults, or using relaxation/mind visualisation techniques with children to help in the understanding of biogas technology.
- Celebratory community gatherings, centred around open-air cinema and shared food.
RESULTS & IMPACTThe activity demonstrated that this holistic and participatory approach was effective in:
- Raising awareness on topics such as indoor air pollution, greenhouse gas reduction, deforestation and improved water and sanitation;
- Building emotional connections to the technology;
- Fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility among individuals and the community;
- Delivering messages about what biodigesters are and how they work, their benefits in terms of economic savings to the household, health improvements and environmental protection;
- Collecting feedback from existing and prospective users on their needs and experiences;
- Addressing concerns and creating an atmosphere of trust to prevent potential communication deadlocks;
- Identifying future potential biogas adopters and bringing them together with existing ones.
LESSONS LEARNEDWhen in the hands of expert practitioners, the linking of art and technology can drive sustainable energy solutions to the heart of communities. Some of the lessons learned include the need to have a strong understanding between the technology experts and the community engagement specialists, and to gradually build trust with the target communities. While the methodology was applied in communities that have had experience with Biobolsa digesters, the approach could be transferred to other small-scale biodigester projects and could be used to support any new energy technology in the early stages of its adoption. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvJA2xmnoR0
To customise biodigesters and solar dryers to meet cooking fuel demand and increase the quality and value of the cacao bean, as well as providing sustainable cacao cultivation training
To provide clean cooking fuel at village level while improving income opportunities and giving appropriate treatment to crop residues
To demonstrate that the improvement of lighting efficiency in universities / public buildings can lead to major electricity and cost savings