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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Geography


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. In contrast, fossil fuels need to be transported in bulk from the site of extraction, processed and distributed to the point of use. Using energy gardens, poor 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. So, for example, irrigation pumps could be powered by locally produced biofuels, thereby providing important inputs into the agricultural cycle at a time when farmers are often financially constrained.

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, there by 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. Firstly, food growth is enhanced by improving energy inputs into the farms. Secondly, no land is lost as the energy plants can be grown in field bunds or as shade. Thirdly, by using a range of local plant species, biodiversity of the farming system is enhanced, the value of local species enhanced, and finally, by choosing the right conversion approaches, energy can be generated minimising environmental and health impacts to local communities. 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 project will distil the findings into the form of display materials that will be made available to botanic gardens worldwide for promotion of the energy garden concept.

Planned Impact

The project aims to find a solution to the controversies surrounding use of biomass and biofuels for energy production by utilising indigenous plant species within the setting of small-scale poor farmers and communities in Nepal using 'Energy Gardens'. This will enhance energy access for poor farmers and communities in Nepal.

Key beneficiaries are:

Poor farmers who will have enhanced energy access and potential for sale of bioenergy crops through use of indigenous species in their farming systems for biomass and biofuel production.

Communities where the poor farmers live through communal processing of bioenergy, using new technologies, derived from biomass grown in both individual farmers and community lands for community use.

The following beneficiaries have been identified:

South-South cooperation with the Hassan Biofuels Project in India that pioneered the energy garden approach and which has had a major influence on both State and National biofuel policies through its innovative solutions to sustainable biofuel energy access for poor farmers. Both the Hassan Biofuels Project and visitors from Nepal will benefit through exchange of information and knowledge which will be used to develop the energy garden concept and so benefit farmers and communities in Nepal. The exchange of information will take place during visits by the Nepali partner team to the Hassan Biofuels Project. The visit will take place during the early stages of the project.

In Nepal, project partners include the NGOs Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources (ANSAB) and Practical Action, both of which are strongly engaged in practical implementation of poverty alleviation projects and can upscale the energy garden concept within Nepal, and in the case of Practical Action, internationally. Both NGOs will be immediate beneficiaries of the project results. Through their implementation projects the poor farmers and communities in Nepal will benefit; and through the international nature of Practical Action the energy garden concept could be upscaled to other countries.

An innovative communication pathway is through the partnership with Botanic Gardens International (BGCI). BGCI represents an international network of botanic gardens with over 700 members in 118 countries. The 700 members will be immediate beneficiaries of the project by direct information exchange. The project will produce a special edition of the Journal of Botanic Gardens Conservation International on 'Energy Gardens' using insights from the project presented in an accessible format and language. The BG journal is distributed to the BGCI membership and beyond. BGCI will also produce materials for distribution it is membership that can be used for setting up displays on bioenergy and the 'power of plants'. Botanic gardens represent an excellent way of disseminating information to the general public. The displays will combine all three aspects of sustainability: social, economic and environmental, which are associated with appropriate application of bioenergy. If the botanic gardens network use the display materials then the general public will benefit from the project results in a wide range of countries.
Description The Nepal Energy Garden proposal addresses the Development Frontiers Research programme aim of engagement of a range of disciplinary perspectives including new links across disciplines that do not usually work together and across non-traditional partnerships by integrating research on the institutional economics of energy and technology transfer with the knowledge of botanists and engineers. The objectives of the project are fourfold:

1. To investigate the institutional economics of energy biomass and biofuel production from local to national and global scales.
2. To undertake a technical assessment of resources and conversion routes.
3. To combine the institutional and technical analyses to devise socio-economic incentives and structures for community cooperation and building long-enduring institutions around energy production and technology uptake.
4. Dissemination and knowledge transfer. The nature of the project partnership ensures both north-south and south-south cooperation.

Project fieldwork took place in three Village Development Committees (VDC): Lakuri Danda (Dolakha), Khudi (Lamjung) and Hamsapur (Gorkha) in the mid-hills region of central and western Nepal. All three case study villages were connected to the electricity grid. Altogether 300 households were surveyed from three VDCs. A stratified random sampling method was used and the sampling framework was designed to capture local socio-economic and demographic variation. Samples were drawn on proportional basis from different income groups, castes, gender and household sizes to make sample representative for statistical analysis. Fifteen semi-structured key informant interviews were conducted, with five interviews from each of the three case study villages. Participants of the key informant interviews were drawn from different categories to reflect the socio-economic heterogeneity of the community and included local leaders, businessmen, community members and local development experts. Fifteen focus group discussions with five from each of the three VDCs were held at different locations within the selected VDCs. The participants of the focus group discussions also represented existing socio-economic heterogeneities in the villages, with participation from different landholding categories, castes, gender and local development experts to obtain views of different section of the community. The majority of the analysis is completed, contributing towards Objective 1, and this in turn will lead to completion of Objective 3. A comprehensive list of plant species with potential for biofuel/energy production has been compiled contributing towards Objective 2. We are in the process of obtaining biomass samples of plant species suitable for energy production in order to undertake a technical assessment of conversion routes to be carried out by a PhD student in the Bioenergy Doctoral Training Centre at Leeds, and a review of suitable technologies has been completed, contributing to Objective 2. The project has been active in fulfilling Objective 4 on dissemination through a series of meetings in Nepal; the creation of 'Energy Garden Ambassadors' in Nepal; establishing links with the Biofuel Park in Hassan, India; and international dissemination through Botanic Gardens Conservation International.
Exploitation Route Community. Energy Garden Ambassadors: Senior students from Budhanilkantha School (Kathmandu), Kanjirowa National High School (Kathmandu) and Shree Shailaputri Higher Secondary School (Lamjung) have been nominated and trained as Energy Garden Ambassadors. Results of the fieldwork were presented at the Nepal Energy Garden Ambassadors' Workshop, inaugurated by Rt. Hon. Radha Kumari Gyawali, Minister for Energy, Government of Nepal on 10th October 2014 held in Kathmandu, Nepal. Altogether more than 170 dignitaries from more than 20 districts attended.

Implementation. World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF): ICRAF has a global programme on biofuels aiming to improve livelihood and bioenergy provision for the rural communities and is implementing a four-year Programme for the Development of Alternative Biofuel Crops funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). ICRAF attended the October 2014 project workshop and expressed strong interest in implementing the project results. A meeting in Kathmandu planned for June 2015 has been postponed to November 2015 due to the series of earthquakes to hit Nepal in April and May.

Research. Bioenergy Centre for Doctoral Training (CTD): A PhD student at the Leeds Bioenergy CTD is conducting research on novel bioenergy technologies suitable for developing countries. In March 2016 a visitor from Nepal will be coming to Leeds for two weeks to collaborate in the analysis of material collected during the project field work in Nepal.
Sectors Energy,Environment

Description Securing the participation of multiple stakeholders enabled the project to start discussions to formulate relevant policies and programmes that would help achieve its goals of reducing rural poverty and providing opportunities for diversification of livelihoods. Through forging a long-term research collaboration with local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the project team worked closely with the government of Nepal. Dr Bishnu Pariyar, the project post-doctoral researcher, met with the Minister for Agriculture, Hari Prasad Parajuli, and briefed him on the project. He also presented a special edition of the Journal of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, which featured an article on the Nepal Energy Gardens project. His Excellency Andrew Sparkes, the then British Ambassador to Nepal, spoke at the project's launch and shared the UK government's support for renewable energy interventions, emphasising that the 'investment in and promotion of renewable energy is an important key to Nepal's development'. In April 2015, the devasting Nepal earthquake required the government to change its priorities. In the same year, government attention was also focused on a blockade of fuel imports across the border with India, which resulted in a national fuel shortage. The project team collaborated with the World Agroforestry Centre in a high-level multi-stakeholder meeting in Kathmandu in November 2015 and developed a concept note on Strategies and Options for Nepal's Bioenergy Potential. This work provided the background to the formulation of the Nepal Biomass Energy Strategy 2017. Following completion of the Nepal project, the team transferred the idea to Africa and received funding of £1.2 million from the Royal Society-DFID Africa Capacity Building Initiative to continue their investigation and build capacity for renewable research and stakeholder engagement in Uganda, Tanzania and Congo-Brazzaville. Further grants - of £1.3 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's Global Challenges Research Fund (EPSRC-GCRF) for research on electricity mini-grids, and £1.7 million from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council's Global Challenges Research Fund (BBSRC-GCRF) for research on bioenergy from the invasive water hyacinth plant - have enabled the project team to build South-South links with Indonesia and India. In June 2019, the team held an international conference in the UK on Plant Power to showcase the ongoing research and demonstrate the potential of bioenergy. Four years on, there is continued interest in and renewed funding for Energy Gardens as an alternative to fossil fuels. As the global community strives to address the climate crisis, enabling poor rural communities to generate their own energy, close to home, could prove central to efforts to find alternatives to fossil fuels.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Education,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Description Strategies and Options for Nepal's Bioenergy Potential. World Agroforestry Centre. 
Organisation World Agroforestry Centre
Country Kenya 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The research team attended a high level meeting in Nepal in November 2015 to agree a concept note for implementation of the project findings. Our team member Krishna Strestha organised the participants and other local logistical details.The meeting was attended by the Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister of Nepal, amongst other senior delegates. The concept note was based on the project findings. The abstract of the concept note is below in the outputs section. The indicative budget for pilot implementation is US$2.5 million. The concept note specifically mentions the contribution of the project: The multistakeholder consultation discussed national experiences on modern bioenergy development, including the work carried out in Phase 1 of the project "Energy gardens for small-scale farmers in Nepal: institutions, species and technology (2013-2014), Grant Reference: ES/K011812/1," which was a collaboration between the University of Leeds, Ethnobotanical Society of Nepal, Hassan Biofuel Park and other partners. This project was supported by ESRC-DFID.
Collaborator Contribution The World Agroforestry centre funded the venue of meeting and drafted the concept note text.
Impact Here is the abstract of the concept briefing note: Strategies and Options for Nepal's Bioenergy Potential Phase I: Diagnostic Analysis and Demonstration Pilot Project This Draft Concept Note is being prepared by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and partners who contributed to the Multistakeholder Consultation on Scaling up Modern Bioenergy Production and Use through Sustainable Agroforestry Systems in Nepal, which took place on 16-17 November 2015 in Kathmandu. The views expressed here are those of the team, and reflect the outcomes of the Consultation. The event was organized by ICRAF, in collaboration with the Ethnobotanical Society of Nepal (ESON) and the University of Leeds. It attracted active participation from the Government of Nepal (National Planning Commission, Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Health & Population, AEPC, NAST), civil society (WWF, FEDO, NAF, Helvetas, Heifer International, ANSAB), academia (Kathmandu University, Tribhuvan University, Nepal Agriculture & Forestry University, University of Agricultural Sciences of Bangalore), private sector (Wind Power Nepal, FNCCI), international organizations (ICIMOD, IASS) and donor organization (Swiss Development Cooperation), among others. Focal points: Prof. Krishna K. Shrestha (, Dr.Navin Sharma (, Prof. Jon Lovett (
Start Year 2015