Plumber boy turns to construction to better his earnings

Sunday September 27 2020
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Ashraf Muyomba takes measurements of a biogas pit. On average, Muyomba earns Shs6m per job. PHOTOS | ISAAC SSEJJOMBWE

By Isaac Ssejjombwe

After qualifying as a plumber in 2017, from Buganda Royal Institute of Business and Technical Education-Mengo, Ashraf Muyomba got a job as a plumber at Namulondo Investments Ltd. 
Although he counted himself lucky to get a job immediately after university, Muyomba says his pay was too little, as it could not fully meet his bills in the city.
“My remuneration was Shs400,000 a month. Life in Kampala is not a walk in the park. My bills were way above what I was earning,” Muyomba says, adding that he survived on debt to make ends meet. As time went by, he started scouting for a side hustle to supplement his salary.

Tough journey 
When Muyomba started his venture in 2018, he had no idea that one day his firm would be the luminous centre around which innumerable destinies would revolve. 
Muyomba was raised in a humble home by a single mother, having lost his father while in elementary school. As a young man growing up, he says he faced the full force of poverty.
Things were so tough that at one point, despite doing very well in his Senior Four examinations, he had to cut short his studies due to a lack of school fees. His sister advised him to join a technical school instead of joining A-Level. 
It is that kind of background that inspired him to work extra hard and establish a business that would not only benefit him and his family, but also his community.
“Looking at my surroundings, I knew that I had to do something. I felt that I needed to fight the poverty, unemployment and malnutrition around,” Muyomba says. 

Starting 
His entry into the business did not happen overnight as he had to learn various elements of the trade and he needed to know where he would begin.
After several months of learning and researching, he finally decided to venture into the business.
He would put in extra work, using all his spare time and means to develop his latent resources. 
The high demand of people that were in need of cutting costs during cooking and the desire to preserve the environment encouraged him to start dealing in biogas, a business that changed his life.
“I visited a friend of mine who was doing the same business of biogas. He taught me how the system works and I gained a lot of knowledge. I started working with him and the would occasionally assign me sites to handle on my own,” he says.
After working at the workshop for one year, Muyomba had saved enough money and was ready to move out and begin his own outfit. He had also saved money from his previous employment. From the money, he bought tools.

Customers 
Over time, his product grew in popularity thanks to referrals. Soon enough, he was able to secure more financing from banks to see him transition into building livestock shelters for farmers.
“After securing more funds, we transitioned into construction. We construct shelters for cows, chicken and goats. After costs, on average we earn Shs5m per shelter. The business is very profitable,” says Muyomba. 
The business employs more than 15 people directly, and about 50 people indirectly, and is looking to employ up to 100 people along the value chain within the next five years.

Marketing 
His marketing mostly relies on social media and through referrals and word of mouth recommendation.  Constructing a complete biogas system ranges between Shs2m and Shs5m depending on the size, workmanship and time taken to work. In a good month he is able to get jobs totalling Shs50m.
He has registered his company under Homefarm and Green Energy. 

Dynamics 
A person who intends to install a small scale biogas system (6-32m3) has a number of considerations to make. This includes and not limited to: the design of the unit, its capacity, how much gas to expect from the plant, cost of the system, safety of the gas, management of the system and how to store excess gas.

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Design of biogas plant
A good biogas digester must resemble the stomach with an inlet, an outlet and the ability to stir the materials as it grinds them. There are three major designs of biogas plants, namely, the fixed dome, floating drum and flexible bag. The fixed dome and the floating drum plants have all the qualities mentioned above. This makes them more sustainable than the flexible bag designs. However, the fixed dome plant design has the ease of the day to day operation, low maintenance cost and its ability to produce gas constantly on a daily and annual basis despite the climatic variations.

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The youthful entreprenuer fixing the outlet hole on the biogas digester.


A fixed dome biogas unit constructed by a qualified technician can last for as long as 50 years. It is therefore recommended that one install a fixed dome biogas unit. If another unit has to be installed, ensure it has an inlet, outlet, self-stirring mechanism, is protected from climatic variations and is made from a sustainable material. 

Capacity
The formula for calculating the size of plant is: Cow dung/cow/day multiplied by number of cows multiplied by two multiplied by 60, then divide all by 1,000.
The figure two indicates the dilution rate as cow dung is mixed with water at a ratio of 1:1 weight: volume before it is fed into a digester, while 60 refers to retention time which is the number of days that the waste is supposed to stay in the digester before all the energy is extracted from it.
The figure 1000 is for purpose of converting the volume in litres to cubic metres which will be used to construct the unit.
For example, if a farmer has four cows with each producing 15 kilogrammes of waste per day, the size of his digester will be: 15 x 4 x 2x60)/1,000 = 7.2m3. To give an allowance in case of extra waste, this farmer can construct an 8m3 plant. Recent studies however, have shown that 75 per cent of the waste is digested within 25-30 days. A biogas-powered cooker in use. A good fixed dome biogas unit constructed by a qualified technician can last for as long as 50 years. This means that the retention time can be reduced by half and still get a good amount of gas. The farmer with four animals can thus construct a 4m3 unit instead of the 8m3 one. This will reduce the construction cost by half.
It can also be less or higher depending on the experience of the technician.

Amount of gas to expect
About 0.5m3 of gas can be generated from the 15 kilogrammes of dung that one cow produces per day, thus a farmer can estimate the amount of gas in cubic metres per day by multiplying the number of adult cows by 0.5.

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A biogas-powered cooker in use. A good fixed dome biogas unit constructed by a qualified technician can last for as long as 50 years.

An efficient biogas burner utilises about 0.5 m3 of gas per hour. This means that a farmer with four cows and an efficient burner can have four hours of continuous cooking from a single burner. Management of the system and how to store excess gas
Regular feeding of the digester is recommended for a continuous supply of gas. The feeding frequency could be daily, weekly or twice a week.
If plant is not fed daily, all the waste has to be collected daily and covered with a non-porous material. Canning biogas in a similar way to natural gas is uneconomical due to the high cost of cans and the pumping system.
Extra storage facilities are not required in the fixed dome biogas system because it has its own storage device known as the displacement mechanism. However, if one has excess gas, you can pipe it to other users and charge them.

Employment
The business employs more than 15 people directly, and about 50 people indirectly, and is looking to employ up to 100 people along the value chain within the next five years.

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