The biogas concept must be promoted at national, regional and communal levels. The basic prerequisite for successful, comprehensive introduction of biogas technology is the effective motivation and mobilization of potential target groups. Motivation and mobilization are the two main pillars of the actual development process. The subsequent factual existence of biogas systems is merely the logical result of that process.
Thus, implementation campaigns can only be advanced and materialized in a decentralized manner by those concerned. Information campaigns, in contrast, can be planned and controlled in a centralized manner and carried out with lower participation levels on the part of the target group.
A successful PR campaign builds on experience in implementation, on direct contact with the target groups and on the confidence of having developed a sound and appropriate technology. Information transmitted in such a campaign must react to the doubts, limitations, fears of the potential users as they are encountered in the field. Typically, a fully fledged PR campaign starts at the end of a pilot phase and runs throughout the implementation phase of a biogas program.
Information Material and PR Channels
Magazines, newspapers, films, radio programs, posters, leaflets and manuals are suitable vehicles for the dissemination of information on biogas. It is not always possible to arrive at a clear distinction between information and advertising.
The best publicity effect is achieved by providing a steady stream of information:
- on the technology per se
- on the economic effects for the household
- on the impacts on life quality
- on the overall economic and ecological impact
Of major importance in that context is the effective use of information vehicles such as local agricultural fairs, roadside billboards, market-square posters and, of course, the ubiquitous "grapevine". It must be regarded as unfortunate that no internationally recognizable biogas symbol or "logo" has been introduced to date; therefore, the development of national symbols is the more important.
Somewhat simplified, the target groups for information campaigns could be stratified on three levels: The national level, the regional or district level and the local or village level. In supporting or accepting biogas, all these levels play a role but must be approached in different ways.
The language of information should always be close to the language of the respective target groups. Those who read the printed information are more likely to be the top-echelon multipliers, not the semi-literate - or illiterate - ultimate consumers. The type of information and the complexity of information will vary from level to level, so does the presentation of information.
PR work targets government (various ministries), national and international development agencies and companies with commercial interest in biogas. Vehicles for information flow would be high-level meetings like conferences and invitations to project area visits. Articles in the national press, radio programs and TV programs also contribute to create awareness on this level.
Regional or District Level
The campaign targets government authorities on this level, churches and grass-root organizations working in development, environment and appropriate technologies. Suitable approaches are workshops, contribution to agricultural fairs and integration of the program into agricultural and development committees. The media (press, radio, TV) also have an impact on this level. On this level, agricultural colleges and high schools are approached as well. Demonstration plants for communal and industrial use are conceivable.
Local and Village Level
On this level, the end-users of biogas technology are directly approached through demonstration- or pilot plants, public meetings, billboards, leaflets and other means of mass-communication. On the village level, TV and print media are of lesser importance. Radio programs, in contrast target mainly the village level.
Costs of Campaigning
Information campaigns are expensive. While the spread of general information is usually dependent on the availability of public or project funds, the private industry can often be persuaded to promote biogas plants or accessories in their commercial advertising. The media are often committed to developmentally relevant themes. Editorial contributions are not expensive but require a great deal of work. As a rule, the concept for a radio program portraying biogas farmers, for example, must be worked out by the biogas program.
The production of posters, leaflets or videos will have to be fully covered by the PR budget of the project. The most efficient, but also the most expensive and time consuming PR activity for biogas is the building of demonstration plants and organizing farmers to visit these plants. As much as possible, demonstration plants should be 'normal' biogas plants operating on a farm to save on building and operation costs. The farmer operating a demonstration plant cannot be expected to be the 'tour guide' for frequent visitors. Some kind of arrangement, e.g. free maintenance and repair, must be offered.
No potential biogas user can be expected to blindly trust in biogas technology, if none of the more respected members of the society has taken that risk before and succeeded. But demonstration plants are risky: any malfunction in a demonstration plant will have negative consequences for the entire program. Thus, demonstration plants are also a last test for the maturity of the technology. Since some demonstration plants serve no other purpose than that of a showpiece, the maintenance aspect is often in danger of being given insufficient attention, an eventual malfunction is practically inevitable. It is therefore highly recommended that several demonstration plants are installed at the same time in different locations, preferably on farms which have a keen interest in operating the plant. Organized maintenance services should be guaranteed for a period of at least the first three years. The cost of personnel, equipment and transportation must be included in the cost calculation for the demonstration plant, and it must ensured that the required funds are actually provided when needed. Past experience has shown that system malfunctions are frequently the result of minor deficiencies requiring no extensive repair work. Consequently, the housewives (and only subsequently their husbands) must from the very start be put in a position to perform minor repairs themselves, whereby the requisite knowledge base can be provided by the maintenance personnel.
As a rule, the more prosperous farmers need little prodding to install a biogas system, as long as they are provided with adequate information and guaranteed support in case of arising problems. The group that was targeted in early, poverty-oriented biogas programs, namely the less prosperous small farmers, are inherently reluctant in their commitment, because they cannot afford the cost of investment and are afraid that they may not be able to keep up the payments on a loan. In addition, few of them own enough livestock for generating the required amount of substrate. Rich farmers do not act as a model for small-holders, they are known to have connections and funds that a small farmer will never be able to acquire. Experience of the last decade of rural biogas dissemination has closed this gap between the rich model farmer and the poor 'target-farmer'. First, model farmers are selected from the more successful farmers among the potential users. They should be outstanding to some extent, but other farmers should be still able to accept them as a role model. Second, the target group of recent rural biogas programs has shifted upwards. Biogas technology is no longer regarded as a means to alleviate poverty.