On Monday the 2nd of April, a group of TED people started to have the Learning Journey in Southern Lesotho. The ten people counting group consisted of the main construction team, the project coordinator, the project supervisor, a volunteer, and the senior supervisor. For this journey two cars were fully loaded and packed with construction tools, building materials, and of course the TED team.
The first place that was visited on Monday was the Community Training Center in Matelile. TED constructed a biogas system there in 2009. The basic results of this visit were that the system seems to be well maintained and the owner takes care of it. This is also the reason for the well looking system, which means that the stove can be used regularly and the garden profits from the fertilising water from the PGF (planted gravel filter).
The next stop was a military camp in Mafeteng. For military camps there is always a maintenance problem of the biogas systems, because no one feels responsible for it and if there is one who is responsible then it happens that he is exchanged by his successor after a few years. The system in Mafeteng was also built in 2009, but our team found it in a much worse condition than the system in Matelile. One of the problems was that a lot of fat is in the ABR (anaerobic baffled reactor) that comes directly from the soldiers showers. Another one is that the whole system was blocked because of too many plastics. And last but not least the PGF was broken because of a blockage of the overflow. At least the gas was burning and ready for usage but the military camp does not use it. The first thing that the TED team could provide was an operation manual that should help that nobody throws in plastic materials anymore and also that they remove the fat from the system. The team could also unblock the overflow of the PGF and now the water is running properly through the PGF again.
The rest of the day had to be spent on the travel from Mafeteng to Qacha’s Nek in the very south of Lesotho. The team enjoyed a recreational dinner and then slept in the Letloepe Lodge, where TED has also built a system in 2003. Next morning this system was inspected. It was very nice to see this system, because it is very old but still running nicely without any problems or complaints from the owner. The only issue we found was that the stove seemed to be a bit antiquated, and that might be the reason why the lodge is not using the biogas regularly. We tried to solve this problem also by handing out the operation manual, cleaning the stove with the wire brush and telling the chefs in the kitchen that they have to use the biogas stove at least from time to time to guarantee that the system will continue to work nicely.
On the second day the team travelled with all the tools to the Sehlabathebe National park, where TED had constructed a system in 2008. This system was also found in good condition. The only problem is that the lodge manager has some horses on the compound and they seem to trample on the system. This could be the reason why the secondary PGF is broken and the water is running out of it uncontrolled. This is not such a big deal because our measurements indicated that the first PGF already achieves a good effluent quality (COD = 200 ± 10mg/L), but it needs to be fixed anyways. The manager also said that he is very satisfied with his system and he even recommended it to another lodge. The team handed over the operation manual as well and the owner was very interested and immediately found a place to put in on the wall.
The rest of this day had to be spent for the travel back to the Letloepe Lodge. From there we started on the next day to visit the Qacha’s Nek military base. This system had again the same usual problems for military camps.There is a high exchange rate of the staff so some people even do not know where their wastewater runs to, so they also do not maintain the system anyhow. This system was found surrounded by very high grass and bushes, which is an indicator that nobody has ever gone to the system after the construction in 2006. As a result the whole system was blocked. From the pipes and the manhole covers which were completely filled with wastewater, proceeding to the digester, where a lot of condoms and other plastics were found, and ending in the PGF at which the overflow was so massively blocked by plants and roots that it took the team a whole hour to unblock it. That was at least one thing that could be fixed. It already looked much better after this PGF fixing because the water was running through the whole system again, but if the military staff will not take care of it in the future, this will be blocked again.
On the same day the team went back to Maseru. In Quting a stop was made to refresh from the long journey but also to discuss all the results in a meeting. All in all the journey was very successful. The TED members who took part in this journey gained a lot of experience and saw what can lead to problems if the system is not built very carefully, and especially what happens if proper maintenance is lacking.
The main lesson learned was the enormous importance of the owner taking responsibility for his or her system. This is not such a big problem for private owners because they paid for it so they have a strong motivation to keep the system running. On the other hand, systems at institutions always run the risk that nobody takes care, and it consequently might get damaged in the course of time.