James Wakaba

NexThought Monday: On the Eve of Rio+20, Creating a Lasting Cookstove Market

Editor’s Note: One of the discussions at the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Conference is focused on expanding energy access, including clean burning cookstoves.

I grew up in rural Kenya where most cooking is done over an open fire or a basic metal charcoal stove. Irritated eyes, congestion, and burns were just a few of the minor inconveniences associated with cooking a meal this way. A lifetime of exposure to harmful cookstove smoke causes acute respiratory infections and a range of illnesses that frequently lead to premature death.

Approximately 80 percent of Kenyans rely on biomass fuel such as wood, charcoal, and animal waste to meet their heating and cooking needs. Rapid deforestation, global warming, respiratory and eye illnesses and economic marginalization – especially of women and children – are just some of the downsides of using such rudimentary methods of cooking and heating, which require large amounts of biomass.

In Kenya, indoor air pollution causes 14,300 deaths each year. Acute respiratory infections (ARIs) are among the health impacts of indoor air pollution and at least 8 percent of Kenyan children under-five years of age show symptoms of acute respiratory infection.

Estimates put Kenya’s forest cover at between 2-6 percent, down from 10 percent in 1963 when the nation gained its independence. Toward the end of 2005, the Kenyan government ratified the Kenya Forest Act, a product of the country’s Forest Master Plan, which was completed in 1994.

The Kenya Forestry Research Institute and the Kenya Forest Service are examples of institutional entities set up to safeguard the state of Kenya’s forests. The late professor and Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai also contributed greatly to preserving the environment in my country, particularly the trees, through her Green Belt Movement. With a population of 40 million growing at a rate of 2.6 percent annually, the need for an alternative to biomass cooking solutions in Kenya is evident.

At GVEP International (The Global Village Energy Partnership), we believe this challenge presents an opportunity. GVEP International works with a group of 400 entrepreneurs to promote clean cookstoves in East Africa. More than half of these businesses are based in Kenya, and benefit from access to business and technical skills, as well as linking entrepreneurs to finance where appropriate.

Last year, these entrepreneurs sold more than 275,000 improved cookstoves, indicating that people have accepted the value of more efficient cookstoves, and that they provide a market opportunity for creating a sustainable business model. While availability, quality and affordability of more efficient cookstoves continue to be a challenge, the demand for them is certainly growing.

Take for instance Jackline Awino, a middle-aged widow born and raised in Kisumu in Western Kenya. Awino, who lives with her five daughters and two sons, had long been accustomed to using the traditional three-stone fire stove until she was introduced to an efficient stove called Jiko Kisasa in 2010. Not long after using this new cooking device, she saw the benefits of decreased spending on fuel wood (from Kenya Shilling 50 to Kenya Shilling 30 per day, or US$0.60 to US$0.35), faster cooking times, less smoke emission, and even less time spent sweeping and cleaning her home as she no longer has to deal with excess ashes and soot.

We believe that creating a market around clean cookstoves reduces the health, gender, economic and environmental risks associated with cooking on rudimentary cookstoves. GVEP International is a partner of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an initiative that brings together over 300 implementers and 35 national governments to overcome market barriers and promotes policies that will contribute to building a thriving clean cookstove industry. This is not just about a new business opportunity. It is about saving lives and preserving the environment for future generations.

James Wakaba is the regional manager for Africa at the GVEP International, which works to increase access to modern energy and reduce poverty in developing countries. The Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP) was established at the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. GVEP is part of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and its aim is to increase access to modern energy services to reduce poverty in the world’s developing countries.

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