John Paul

The Business Case for Clean Cooking

Every year, smoke from traditional stoves fueled by wood is responsible for 1.5 million deaths. Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia are particularly affected. Now a new report from the World Health Organization makes the business case for investing in cleaner household fuels. The report claims that $13 billion dollars per year would halve the number of people worldwide cooking with solid fuels by 2015, resulting in a payback of $91 billion dollars per year. This seven-fold return on investment is a result of savings gained not only from less illness and death, but of less time spent ill, collecting fuel and cooking.

“Making cleaner fuels and improved stoves available to millions of poor people in developing countries will reduce child mortality and improve women’s health,” said Dr LEE Jong-wook, WHO Director-General. “In addition to the health gains, household energy programmes can help lift families out of poverty and accelerate development progress.”

The report concludes, ?With more time available, children would do better at school, while their mothers could engage in childcare, agriculture or other income-generating activities as a way to break the vicious cycle of poverty.?

Sounds like a slam dunk to me, so why isn?t it being done now? The main reason is that the cost of a new stove is bourne primarily by the family using it. The people who could benefit the most are primarily those who can afford it the least. In spite of this obstacle, several initiatives are tackling the problem head on through a combination of product innovation and multi-sector partnerships.

The Biogas Sector Partnership, for example, has developed a cooking stove for rural Nepalese that operates on the methane produced when cow dung ferments. It subcontracts the installation of its cooking stoves in Nepalese homes to over 50 independent companies. The cost is partially subsidized by the Dutch aid agency DGIS. The rest is available through a microfiance program.

A more efficient biomass stove that saves wood and reduces smoke has been developed in China. Two others (here and here) have been developed in Ethiopia.

Finally, US-based Sun Ovens International is manufacturing solar-powered ovens for the developing world. It has two types of ovens: one for a family, and one for the production of much larger quantities of cooked food. Sun Ovens International partners with NGOs to assist in the distribution of its product.

The market for these ovens is enormous, and the proven economic, health and environmental benefits to be gained makes scaling up these solutions a smart investment, both for business and development.

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World Resources Institute