According to a 2013 agricultural census, Cambodian smallholder farmers owned 28 million chickens, 5 million ducks, 2.7 million cattle, 1.4 million pigs, 472,000 buffalo and a few thousand goats which produce significant amount of organic waste. Simultaneously, Cambodia has one of the lowest agricultural yields in the region, producing, for instance, half of the rice per hectare as Vietnam. ATEC Cambodia has seized on these facts to launch a growing social enterprise that brings affordable biodigesters to smallholder farmers who make up more than a third of the total population in Cambodia.
Biodigesters use naturally-occurring microorganisms to break down manure and generate biogas and digestate. The biogas can be used to fuel cooking stoves and to generate electricity or to power machinery. The digestate is rich in nutrients and is used as a fertilizer to restore soil fertility and to increase crop productivity. ATEC’s biodigester, which was the 2016 Google Impact Challenge winner in 2016, can generate enough gas for all of a family’s cooking needs while producing over 20 tons of organic fertilizer per year. With an investment of $650 the average family can experience $521 in annual savings for decades.
Since launching in 2016, ATEC has installed over 1,350 biodigesters. The company has the ambitious goal of expanding to five countries and selling one million units by 2030. To do this, ATEC is aiming to seek the success of home solar installation with the help of Beneficial Returns. In the developing world, the home solar market has exploded. Seven years ago there were fewer than one million household solar installations. Now, the latest figures peg the total at over 24 million. While falling costs for photovoltaic components has helped, the driving force behind this growth has been the Pay As You Go (or PAYGO) model which combines mobile money with smart meters. This model provides more people the opportunity to afford the technology by letting them pay in small increments over time.
After a successful pilot program with forty customers, ATEC is now rolling out their PAYGO program in full-scale. Working with Cambodian mobile and electronic payment company Wing and US-based PAYGO platform Angaza, ATEC is offering farmers a biodigester for a $60 down payment and monthly payments of around $30 over a two-year period. Beneficial Returns provided a loan to assist ATEC in its expansion of their PAYGO program, providing capital to build and install new biodigesters in Cambodia.