According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, 16,600 people in Kenya alone die every year as a result of exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves and open fires. Rather than safer electric or gas stoves, 80% of the Kenyan population (especially in rural areas) relies primarily on burning wood and charcoal over open fires for their household cooking needs. Women and young children are disproportionately affected by this smoke, which can cause early childhood pneumonia, emphysema, lung cancer, bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, and low birth weight.
In addition to preventable negative health effects, using these solid fuels is bad for the environment and even gender equality. First of all, using wood or charcoal requires chopping down trees and, ultimately, deforestation. Burning these solid fuels also releases carbon dioxide, methane, and aerosols like black carbon.
Additionally, women and children are the primary members of the household who collect the wood- a process that can take many hours per week, which could be dedicated to more productive activities such as generating income and going to school. Women and children are also the ones predominantly affected by the negative health outcomes of traditional cooking methods, as they tend to devote more time to domestic duties than men.
When researching this topic, I wondered why we cannot just give away free clean cookstoves to households in the developing world- as it seems like such an easy solution to a preventable problem. However, it turns out that it is not so simple.
Many are reluctant to give up their traditional methods of cooking. For one, such practices can be deeply embedded in a culture and give a preferable taste to food. Cooking over open fire can also be faster than clean cookstoves. A recipient of a clean cookstove thus might not see the benefits of the appliance if they are not given the proper education behind it.
There is also the debate on whether or not clean cookstoves should be given away for free or they should be sold. An obvious obstacle for poor, rural households to purchasing a clean cookstove is affordability. However, one argument is that people do not take care of and appreciate a good if they do not pay anything for it. If someone is simply given a clean cookstove for free that they didn’t necessarily want (especially if they didn’t receive any instructions of the importance of clean cooking methods), they might not even use it. Furthermore, allowing for the private sector to provide clean cookstoves is also a way of empowering entrepreneurs, creating jobs, and developing the most effective and innovative products.
Josphat Wahome, founder of Equater Fuelwood Energy Saving offers a suggestion for how the poor can access clean cookstoves: carbon credits. A carbon credit is a permit that allows an entity to produce a certain amount of carbon emissions, which can be sold to other organizations or companies if the full amount is not used. This would be particularly beneficial for sustainable enterprises like Wahome’s, who would be able to sell their carbon credits in order to subsidize their operations. As a result, they would be able to sell clean cookstoves at a much lower price whilst still covering production costs and earning profits.
Equater Fuelwood Energy Saving, which produces cookstoves that reduce carbon emissions by up to 70%, has also benefitted from involvement with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. This is a public-private initiative by the Clinton Foundation which has helped Wahome’s enterprise in the following areas: marketing the product to raise awareness, reducing company costs, access to forums in different countries such as the United States and India, and knowledge obtainment. However, the alliance has not provided Wahome with financing, which is one of the several areas in which KCIC has been able to step in.
It is not an easy task to convert 80% of the population to new methods of cooking. However, by boosting entrepreneurship in the field through public-private partnerships and favorable policies, Kenya can stop easily preventable deaths and improve the environment in the process.
By Alise Brillault