The Women WASH Leaders of Ethiopia’s Biogas Café Cooperatives



IMG_4054 (2)When water and sanitation facilities aren’t available, women suffer the most. Unfortunately for many women in Ethiopia, proper facilities just aren’t available in their communities, which leads to adverse health effects for themselves and their families. It also creates uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous situations for them.

In Addis Ababa, women are not only taking control of their own livelihoods, but they are helping their community by providing solutions to water and sanitation issues in a super sustainable way.

How? With waste powered biogas cafés combined with WASH centres.

The centres includes latrines and showers that are separate for men and women, are available for all members of the community to use, and are accessible for those with disabilities. They then convert human, animal, and other organic waste in an underground, fixed dome biogas digester, which creates fuel to cook in the café. The biogas is safe to use and helps to increase sanitation practices and reduce waste in their communities.


Access and Opportunities


The system not only provides WASH services for a community that lacks it, but also an income generating opportunity for women, many who suffer from disabilities, live with HIV/AIDS or are single mothers. Genet, a mother of three, has used the extra income from the WASH facility to support her eldest daughter in college and improve her family life.

When I was working as a daily labourer, I was always tired. My hands were bruised and calloused. Now, I’m doing work fit for a mother like myself.


_DSC2569The indigenous Ethiopian NGO, Emmanuel Development Association (EDA), has helped to mobilize 7 women’s groups to open biofuel powered cafés. The locations were chosen based on the community’s lack of access to WASH facilities and through collaboration with the local government, who provided the land.

Many of the sites were previously slum areas and one was a former community latrine that lacked proper sanitation, which encouraged open defecation in fields and streets. This created a difficult situation for women, as they often waited until dark to relieve themselves, attempting to avoid any shame, but in turn increasing their risk of harm or abuse.

The cooperative business model helps to give the women experience in various aspects of the business such as service delivery, administration, finances, drafting business plans and more. They are also trained on practical skills such as management of the biofuel digester, safe food handling and sanitation and hygiene practices.

Currently there are 131 women working in the biofuel cafes. Many end up starting their own business after a few years, like a restaurant or hotel, thanks to the training and skills they gain. This opens the door for a new women’s group to take over the WASH café and get the experience and sense of ownership that comes along with it. Many say they work as hard as if it were their own business.

In one café in the Akaki area of Addis Ababa, 22 women have organized and opened ‘Shitaye, Tigist & Friends’. In this centre women can make up to 1,000 Birr per month, which is double what most of the women were used to making. Tigist, one of the leaders of the café, attributes her success to the training received.

“So many [cooperatives] have broken up because they weren’t properly trained. We would have too, if we hadn’t received training. The training we received was sufficient. That’s why we’ve been able to work together.”


The biogas system has five main elements: the waste inlet chamber, the biogas digester, the gas collector, the gas pipe and the slurry.  The system uses one part organic waste and one part water, which are mixed together in the inlet chamber before being channelled into the digester.

With the help of micro-organisms and regulated factors such as temperature, PH and carbon nitrogen gas, the biogas is produced and stored in the collector. Then the gas is transported through the pipe into the stove. The by-product of the process is then released into the slurry chamber by the pressure of the gas and the other inputs.

The first project in 2009 was supported by Comic Relief before receiving additional and ongoing support from  WaterAid. EDA has also partnered with Canadian Feed the Children and the Canadian Christian Children’s Fund to bring these WASH services to the communities.

Now in 2015, they are training 50 more women and constructing two more WASH cafés with biogas digesters to support even more community members.

For more information, visit the Emmanuel Development Association website.



Sarah Judd

Sarah Judd

Sarah works for Humber College and is currently on a work placement with the Emmanuel Development Association in Ethiopia.

One Comment:

  1. Dear Partner,

    Asset Africa Institute, (, is pleased to announce the following symposium set to take place in December 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya.

    Date: 9th -11th December 2015
    Venue: Nairobi, Kenya
    Cost: USD 625-(discounts for group registration applicable)
    Symposium theme: “More Resources, More Outreach”
    Symposium Discussions Moderator: Dr. Philip Wambua, Kenyatta University

    For more information regarding the symposium, Contact:
    Lillian Ateng’
    Training Coordinator
    Asset Africa Institute
    Trust Mansion Hse, Tubman Road off Koinange Street
    P.O. Box 12903 – 00100
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Phone: +254 722 469454/+254 720986965

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

two + 14 =