Seed Grant Programs

Building Effective Partnerships for Safe and Effective Biodigesters

Principal Investigators:

Laura (Layla) H. Kwong, Assistant Professor, UC Berkeley
Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health
Kirk R. Smith Global Environmental Health Scholar

Lia C.H. Fernald, Professor, UC Berkeley
Community Health Sciences, School of Public Health
Brian and Jennifer Maxwell Endowed Chair in Public Health

Research Team: 

Amod Kumar Pokhrel, Lecturer, UC Berkeley
On-campus/Online MPH program, School of Public Health
Senior Research Fellow, Society for Legal and Environmental Analysis and Development Research, Nepal

Amy Pickering, Assistant Professor, UC Berkeley
Department Civil and Environmental Engineering & Blum Center for Developing Economies
Blum Center Distinguished Chair in Global Poverty and Practice

Dirgha J. Ghimire, Research Associate Professor, University of Michigan
Population Studies Center
Adjunct Professor, Agriculture and Forestry University, Chitwan, Nepal
Director and Founding Chair, Institute of Social and Environmental Research – Nepal

Heather K. Amato, PhD Candidate, UC Berkeley
Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health

Caitlin Hemlock, PhD Candidate, UC Berkeley
Epidemiology, School of Public Health


Research Summary

Innovative self-sustaining agri-food systems have enormous potential to transform food systems in rural, low-resource communities by promoting sustainable, healthy food access and building community-level economic security. Biodigester systems, which range from household-level to large-scale systems at food animal production facilities in the US and elsewhere, are designed to compost human and livestock waste and provide organic fertilizer for crops. 

In the past 20 years, 432,000 biodigesters have been installed in subsistence farming communities in rural Nepal to promote sustainable food production and combat climate change through methane capture and reuse for clean cooking fuel. Recent work revealed issues with biodigesters, including broken parts, lack of maintenance, unsafe usage practices (e.g. handling and application of hazardous fertilizer), and unintended health outcomes (e.g. child diarrhea). As an additional 200,000 biodigesters are funded to be constructed in Nepal over the next three years, it is imperative that we understand the barriers to safe and effective use and develop community-driven solutions.

We will form an interdisciplinary team, including local partners to engage communities in preliminary work to understand barriers to safe and sustainable use of these systems. We will bolster the team at UC Berkeley, meet with new partners and stakeholders in Nepal, and gather preliminary data. With the partnerships built through this project, our future research will be able to transform long-term impacts of biodigester systems on low-resource farming communities in Nepal and worldwide.

Funding level: $10,000