The Safi Sana team using CommCare on their handheld devices.

In our most recent guest post, Safi Sana’s Head of Business Development Soren Bech talks about how his organization is using CommCare. Safi Sana creates lasting opportunities in developing countries by making business-driven, replicable programmes which combine sanitation, waste treatment, energy and agriculture. Safisana’s model consists of the conversion of faecal and organic waste to fertiliser, treated waste water and production of electricity from biogas. The cyclical nature ensures high local, compound impact in low-income urban areas. You can find learn more about Safi Sana at www.safisana.org.

Data connects the dots
In our world, organic waste provides a starting point for making a sustainable dent in the growing sanitary problems, increasing lack of food security, unemployment and increasing demand for energy in peri-urban slums. A cyclical model enforces itself and provides strong incentives for participants to engage. However if one step in the flow is weak it could jeopardize the model continuum. Data monitoring along all the elements of the value chain allow us to step in, adjust and learn. It further enables us to support operations remotely and satisfy the demand from investors and stakeholders for on-going status updates.

Mapping toilets in Ashaiman

Mapping factory input
Our first full scale waste to energy factory is located in Ashaiman a peri-urban, low-income settlement at the outskirts of Accra, Ghana with approximately 280,000 inhabitants. The local Safi Sana team works with the market vendors to collect solid organic waste, with the abattoir to pick up organic left overs and with the public toilet operators to collect faecal sludge. At the inception of the project we used CommCare for ad-hoc surveys such as measurement of hygiene level and knowledge and mapping waste sources and contact names. This helped us to organise logistics and prepare hygiene training. Now, at the transition from project to operations, the team collects data daily reflecting volume and quality of incoming waste, and the correct working of equipment.

Output quality largely depends on Input quality

Organic waste which contains a lot of water, does not contain much energy and hence little bio-gas production. We add solid digestible waste from the markets and abattoir with a higher dry-matter content than faecal waste to up bio-gas production. The different organic waste streams (up to 25tons/day) are fed into a large 27x27m square anaerobic digester with a capacity of roughly 1800m3. Here the operations team take over and map daily measures related to optimal and safe production of biogas, irrigation water and fertiliser. These are for instance; PH values, oxygen levels, methane, temperature, solid content, and nitrate content. To help staff collect accurate data, we have set logical parameters in the CommCare app. For instance noting a pH of 50 is not valid and would warn the data collector to correct the input.

The inside of the CHP generating green electricity from bio-gas.

From waste to valuable end-products

The digester can be compared to a stomach of a cow; bacteria convert organic waste into methane gas through the process of anaerobic digestion. When the Methane content is high enough it is used to run a CHP – a Combined Heat and Power generator which can generate electricity and heat simultaneously. Safi Sana has a contract with the Electricity Company of Ghana to deliver green bio-gas produced electricity to the grid. Digestate, the material that remains after the anaerobic digestion, is pumped from the digester to adjacent drying beds. Our six drying beds are covered with permeable material allowing water to sift through and the solids to remain on top. The dry faecal matter is in turn co-composted with fresh organic market waste to create nutrient rich compost. Also the water can potentially be re-used; from the drying beds it is routed through various waste water treatment ponds and the final result is nutrient rich irrigation water.

Sustainable systems need energy to survive

Many development projects suffer a pre-mature death. Often from lack of maintenance resources or knowledge and sometimes for lack of support. Yet most impact comes through time. Compare it to interest; If you leave money on a bank account, compound interest will increase exponentially. Slow at first and then at increasing speed. Safi Sana’s aim is to produce long term compound impact by selling valuable products from the treatment of organic waste. The income should cover operational and maintenance cost. The products, energy and in particularly fertiliser and irrigation water can be used locally. By adding nutrients and organic matter to their soil, local farmers can increase food production. Their products will feed the local population and the increased commerce boosts the local economy.

Safi Sana’s own greenhouse testing fertiliser and seedlings for optimal agriculture output.

Making data useful

Tracking data from this value chain helps Safi Sana tune operations and allow us to support teams remotely. We have defined Key Performance Indicatiors (KPI’s) for the various teams and are now working with CGI, a global IT service provider (www.cgi.com), on the configuration of the CommCare database to feed Power BI (https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/) for flexible data visualisation. This enables us configure dashboards suitable for different audiences; operational teams, management, investors, or stakeholders and allow access on any device with a browser. More on that in the next blog.

To learn more about Safi Sana’s work, please visit their website. If you’d like to learn more about how CommCare can support your water and sanitation project, please send a note to info@dimagi.com. Thanks for reading!