We’ve interviewed Romain Joya, agricultural engineer at GERES, who presented the results of a study on biomass energy in Cambodia at the Green Forum

Where does the idea come from to study more in-depth biomass energy consumption in Cambodia?

Romain: It’s GERES that realized there is a severe lack of information on this Cambodian sector.

To strengthen its advocacy activities and to improve its strategy, GERES undertook the study one year ago to gather all the necessary data to be analyzed.

How did you manage to gather all those data?

Romain: It was difficult at first because we began working from scratch and without sufficient data, we didn’t know where to look.

We employed a two-step method.

We began with a preliminary step. Indeed, we were beginning from scratch, nothing had been done until that time that could help in one way or another. We asked experts, we explored national statistics, the economic census, etc. (for instance, regarding the last, we had to list all the Khmer words related to the sector, and then to change them into roman characters to use them as search queries according to the different uses of the words that can be different for one meaning (E.g. Coal).

Then, we studied and analyzed additional data gathered thanks to the thorough investigation.

Some investigations lasted 2 hours on a few number of institutions to get in-depth knowledge on their organization (economic model, wood consumption and other type of energy sources, stakeholders and industry analysis, socioeconomics and environmental impacts…)

Then, we conducted 20 minute phone surveys on a representative number of institutions in each sector to get an overall snapshot of the sector, and thus to get representative data at the national level.

Also, GERES had been working for 20 years in the sector and we took the opportunity to capitalize knowledge on tests carried out by the G-BEL laboratory (GERES) and especially on the Water Boiling Test (testing stove efficiency) and the Kitchen Performance Test (measuring in situ the consumption by the households according to the fuel and devices used).

Could you base your work on existing databases?

Romain: Yes, we had access to the Cambodian Communes Database (2011), to the Economic Census of Cambodia (2011), and to the National Census file (2008) among others. Even if it required complex data processing to extract qualitative information and in the Khmer language (not supported by database management software), those files allowed us to construct the overall picture of the different sectors by region in particular and to contact relevant people according to our needs.

BIOMASS

Biomass energy, a great unknown in Cambodia?

Romain: Not exactly. During GERES’ 20 years of work in the sector, they adapted their projects to the context in order to succeed. Today, ICS designed by GERES represents 29% of all the devices used by Cambodian households. The NGO has changed the market and today you can find a lot of copycat devices in Cambodia which means that these devices are successful.

So, until now, we didn’t take the lead (especially for financial reasons) to invest in a global study on the sector. It will allow us and all the stakeholders in the sector to get a more accurate vision and implement more relevant projects.

You state that 70% of the total demand for cooking energy is biomass energy, how do you explain these figures?

Romain: First of all, let’s look at the context. In Cambodia, people mainly cook with wood. Some say that it is useful, cheap, affordable, some others say the food tastes different, and others that the smoke repels mosquitoes, etc.

Also, a big number of Cambodian households use electric rice cookers but it’s not their main cooking solution because the use is limited. Not easy to stir fry squash with it…

Having said that, the share of people using wood is decreasing and people often use different energy sources for their different needs.

In urban areas, for example, people use wood, then charcoal, then gas and finally, electricity.

You can read the continuation of this interview next week…

On next Thursday: energy efficiency, some comparisons between charcoal, wood and gas, the different uses and habits for cooking in Cambodia, etc.

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