Social Problems Affecting the Propagation of Biogas Technology
Many religions have very strict laws with regard to cleanliness, especially in connection with
human and, to a lesser extent, animal excrement. The suppression or bypassing of such
laws is always a mistake. Every new case of illness would invariably be ascribed to the
transgression of religious laws. It would be of little importance how much such an illness may
actually have to do with the production of biogas.
Implementation strategies should be based on cooperation with appropriate domestic
institutions that are looked upon as benign and "clean". The positions and attitudes of such
institutions must always be clarified in advance, since it is not their general posture that is of
decisive importance, but rather their attitudes with respect to the transgression of religious
doctrine. For example: the socio-cultural expectation is that illness will result from the
handling of human or animal excrement. Since, however, hospitals are generally accepted as
the absolute "experts" in matters of health (or lack of it), it could have a beneficial model
effect on the popularization of biogas technology to see that their local hospital or dispensary
is operating a biogas system.
On the other hand, hospitals are also regarded as secular institutions; one accepts their
services as a ’necessary evil’ without affording them a social rank. Seen in that light, religious
taboos cannot be overcome by way of the hospital’s example. At best, the reaction would
amount to: "They can get away with it. They have special defense powers. But we don’t!".
Many socio-cultural taboos, though rooted in ancient religious beliefs, have gradually
become altered by way of missionary activities and the extenuation of religious interests to
"generally applicable" taboos, which are frequently more difficult to handle than "pure"
religious taboos, since no priest or minister is able to exert any influence. The only way to
overcome taboos is by way of example. Highly respected members of the community,
approved educational institutions, etc. may be able to make inroads in a model function.
Here, too, a preliminary study of the envisioned mediator is imperative. The question of
individual acceptance must be clarified in advance. It is by no means a foregone conclusion
that someone who is considered highly acceptable in a certain field or function, e.g. politics,
will enjoy the same high standing in a different context, e.g. hygiene.
Of equal importance is the effective investigation of existing interrelations between, and
relative influence of, the various taboos. For example, the socio-cultural cross-linkage
between social behavior and illness must be expected to appear illogical to a Western
implementer. Such associations must be heeded if the strategy being applied is to meet with
success in generating acceptance for biogas and in instigating a (partial) breach of taboos.
Often enough, the breakthrough may be easier to achieve indirectly (by way of the cross-
links) than directly. In the Pacific region, for example, human feces were traditionally
"disposed of" by pigs. This was a matter of general practice and no one considered it
repulsive. The potential solution: a "three-in-one" system in which the human excrement
"pass through" the pigs, so to speak, by being routed underneath the pigpen on their way to
the digester. No one "sees" what actually takes place, or more precisely, what does not take
Defense mechanisms against the use of human excrements as fertilizer
In practical terms, this subject could be viewed as a subgroup of the socio-cultural taboos,
the main distinction being that the use of night-soil for the production of biogas is regarded as
acceptable, but the use of the digested sludge as fertilizer is not. This stance is particularly
well-entrenched in regions where the use of fertilizers is relatively new, and mineral fertilizers
have been introduced as a "clean" product, i.e. in regions where shifting cultivation is