Socio-Cultural Aspects of Biogas Projects
The basic principle of any planning should be to involve those concerned in the planning
process as early as possible. This principle applies even more if the pre-feasibility studies
have revealed a considerable amount of problems. In any case it is better to discuss these
quite openly with those concerned and seek mutual solutions rather than to rely on the
method "it will all work out in the end".
The point in time when participation is started is decisive. It is too early to expect full
participation before the technology has reached a certain technical maturity and the
conditions for it’s dissemination are fully explored. It is, on the other hand, just as wrong to
confront people with ’final solutions’. In this case there is the risk of obtaining verbal
agreement without effective consequence. The ideal time for introducing concept and
technology is during the last phase of the investigation, when preliminary results can be
shown to those concerned as a basis for discussion. These discussions serve as a first test
of the preliminary results. Furthermore, the structures of leadership and decision making can
be observed clearly in such situations.
That does not mean that each of the proposals by the community should be accepted blindly.
The fact that biogas technology requires a specific technical and economical organization
should be stressed. A breakdown of planning would be preferable to unfeasible
compromises. In view of this it is often advisable to invite the local technician to take part in
these negotiations. His technically based arguments tend to be well accepted in situations of
Religious and social taboos
Taboos, as a rule, are always of an overall social character. Violation of taboos is sanctioned
(penalized), the extent and form of penalty being determined socially. Sanctions can vary
from a direct ’punishment’ to social disrespect. In many cases an immediate punishment
(corporal punishment, exile from the village etc.) is no longer possible nowadays as state
legislation claims a monopoly for punishment. This does not simplify the problem but makes
it even more difficult. Instead of an official, foreseeable punishment, social exclusion occurs
now in many cases and can be just as serious for those concerned but becomes practically
inaccessible for a project or for authorities. As ’social punishment’ is forbidden the ’sanctions’
are not spoken about, especially when they target a program desired and aided by the state.
An exclusion of participants by the community with all its negative consequences is not
declared as such by the community and therefore rarely directly accessible.
On the other hand, from these ’sanctions’ arises the opportunity to overcome resentments. In
general, sanctions are governed by a ’ruling instance’ or ’authority’ who watches over these
taboos and proclaims the punishment when they are violated. But this authority also
determines possible exceptions. A general misconception is that taboos basically ’cannot be
broken’. No society is inflexible to the extent that regulations do not allow for changes and
modifications. In any case, exceptions have to be agreed upon by a recognized instance.
Authorities can be:
• for religious taboos: priests or members with a religious function, for instance the
elders of the community.
• for social taboos: social leaders, e.g. the elders, traditionally or modern politically
leading groups or personalities etc. Often older women play a more important role
than the outside observer would see.
• or general: especially recognized members (key persons), either in the sense of
traditional structures of leadership or people of certain professions like teachers or
local bank managers.