More than 3 billion people globally use open fires and simple stoves for their household and business activities. Most common fuels used are wood, charcoal, animal dung and crop waste, according to a report by the World Health Organization. In Kenya, the collection of firewood by women and children in rural regions proves to be time consuming but fairly cost effective compared to the purchase and use of charcoal.
Wisdom Innovations, a for profit organization are offering clean cooking solutions primarily to rural women across the country, with the introduction of clean cooking stoves and fuels. These innovative stoves are designed to use firewood as a source of fuel and still produce charcoal as a by-product for reuse.
The organization founded by Dan Waithaka has a set target market of around 4.5 million women living in rural Kenya. The organization’s headquarters are in North Kinangop, where the all the manufacturing of the stoves is done. The pilot phase was launched in four counties, Narok, Nyandarua, Kiambu and Nakuru Counties, all in the rural parts.
The stove with an initial cost of KShs. 3500 was a costly affair to many rural women due to financial constraints. To assist more women to purchase the stoves, he teamed up with local microfinance institutions that would offer financing for the purchase of the stoves. This deemed to be a challenge; there were no proper follow up mechanisms with the fund recipients and most women groups defaulted on their loans.
The company went back to the drawing board and came up with its own financing model. A pilot was conducted for six months and turned out to be successful. With the informal cook stove consumer finance model, Wisdom is able to disburse funds and keep track of the women groups with a customer database that regularly checks in on the groups’ progress. The financial model has been tested and has had success with a total of 31 groups.
Wisdom Innovations was able to receive a grant from Winrock International through the USAID’s-funded Developing a Sustainable Cook stove Sector (DSCS) project. He will be able to sell 375 stoves per month, in order to break even, up from the current 100 stoves a month. With this grant, Mr. Waithaka has been able to develop a financing model that offers affordable financial options to target groups that have no financial networks.
Criteria for a group to receive funds are that they are self-formed. With the initial phase, financing was offered to groups that had been formed by the organization itself. This was unsuccessful due to lack of a common interest and unity, which is often the backbone of most successful groups. The groups have to be registered, they have to meet on a regular basis and they should not be beneficiaries or affiliated to other micro finance institutions.
“Creating groups for ourselves came with a lot of defaulters. With the new model, we are able to minimize defaulters as the group savings act as security,” added Waithaka.
Initially, the organization marketed the products through open market demonstrations, which were mainly attended by men who were the primary purchasers of the stoves. Difficulties arose when the stoves became cumbersome to use because of lack of proper information dissemination to the women who were the users.
A woman targeted marketing strategy was adopted. This increased the sale of the clean cooking stoves. A comparison was made between the commonly used three stone open fire method and the cooking stoves and it was noted that there was a reduction of smoke and that they were easily portable.
This significant milestone in ensuring that air pollution is reduced in many households. According to a report on Household air pollution and health, by World Health Organization 4.3 million people a year die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution caused by the inefficient use of solid fuels for cooking. Among these deaths, 12% are due to pneumonia, 34% from stroke, 26% from ischaemic heart disease, 22% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and 6% from lung cancer. With the widespread adoption of these clean cooking stoves, these percentages can be drastically reduced.
Access to clean cooking is still a challenge in many rural households. Mr. Waithaka hopes to primarily rely on revenue from sales rather than grants as one of the organizations objectives. Plans are underway to relocating to Kikuyu town and have an increase of production of stoves by an upscale of 2500 stoves and ultimately increase profits.
By Michelle Mung’ata