ImpactAlpha Podcast Network | February 5, 2016

The New Flame: How Sistema Biobolsa Helps Farmers Turn Waste Into Energy (Podcast)

Isaac Silk
ImpactAlpha Editor

Isaac Silk

Tech innovation is not enough.

Sistema Biobolsa, a social enterprise working in Mexico and Latin America, developed biodigester technology that helps farmers turn animal manure into cooking fuel and high-quality fertilizer. That reduces smoke from open fires, increases farm yields, keeps waste out of water sources and reduces greenhouse gases.

podcasct-cover_v2-3aBut those benefits were not enough to bring along small farmers in the Yucatan, who had no history of using animal waste and were used to cooking with firewood.

“We’re having to introduce people to the concept of converting organic waste into energy,” founder Alex Eaton explains in a new Returns on Investment podcast from ImpactAlpha. “It’s not intuitive technology.”

Listen to Alex Eaton discuss Sistema Biobolsa on the new Returns on Investment podcast.

With their local partners, Sistema Biobolsa updated a local legend to introduce “the new flame.” With puppet shows and art projects in the Mayan language, the company introduced a Blue Dragon that consumes animal waste and produces a clean, bright blue flame, giving a rest to the Red Dragon that had been eating the region’s forests.

“We’ve seen a massive uptake in the technology in that region,” Eaton says. “It really helped a relatively complex technology make sense to people.”

Biobolsa was launched as a nonprofit 10 years ago. Eaton quickly realized that the biodigesters were “a really good investment for small farmers, so it actually had a viable business model.” A partnership with Kiva helps farmers get interest-free loans to pay over six months, meaning the system pays for itself during the repayment period.

The company is expanding to new regions, partnering with local organizations “that can help integrate this technology, and this story, and this ethos of not having waste, of being efficient, of turning waste into resources.”

Listen to Alex Eaton discuss Sistema Biobolsa on the new Returns on Investment podcast.

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