The Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) leads the Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) in collaboration with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and in partnership with the Dutch Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS).

V4CP is working with 51 locally-based civil society organisations (CSOs) around the world to bridge the gap between the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their implementation within society, especially amongst low-income and marginalised communities. It does so by strengthening the capacity of CSOs to influence stakeholders and decision-makers with solid and contextualised evidence in order to get the interests of communities embedded into government and business policies and practices.

This is a story of how a grassroots female-led group – comprising of a Kenyan CSO network under the V4CP programme – is working to advocate the benefits of adopting clean cookstoves and fuels in order to reduce the health problems associated with traditional cooking methods. A video illustrating their journey so far is available here.

Inspiring a women-led movement

Nearly 3 billion people worldwide still cook using open fires or inefficient stoves fuelled by kerosene, biomass, or charcoal [1]. When used in confined spaces, this cooking method can have severe health consequences; it is estimated to cause 4 million deaths a year[2]. In Kenya, biomass - particularly wood - provides 68% of the country’s energy needs and accounts for over 90% of fuel used by rural households[3], with significant detrimental impacts on the climate (due to deforestation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions) and on human health.

Although improved cookstoves and cleaner fuels can reduce indoor air pollution and its associated health problems, it is not easy to change the way communities have cooked for generations, and better stoves and fuels are not affordable for everyone. The V4CP programme advocates for increased adoption of clean stoves and fuels in Kenya through the inclusion of clean cooking initiatives in national and county plans and budgets.

GROOTS Kenya - a network of grassroots, community-based organisations and a partner in the V4CP programme - has found that by engaging its 3,000 women-led community-based groups, it is inspiring a broader female-led movement that is advocating for safer and healthier cooking methods both at household and policy level.

Evidence for advocacy

This story begins in 2016, when GROOTS Kenya, with support from the V4CP programme, embarked on a study to generate high-quality data about the use and health impacts of traditional cooking methods in Kitui county, eastern Kenya. The aim of the community-led study, which surveyed 455 households across the county, was to gather solid evidence in order to convince the county’s decision makers of the need to promote clean cookstoves and fuels.

The study showed that approximately three quarters of the households surveyed were aware of the availability of clean and efficient cookstoves. However, 50% of those were unable to afford the initial financial investment. Of the households that had already purchased a more efficient stove, 73% did not use it for everyday cooking due to the high cost of fuels. Although traditional, open fires were still used by 67% of households, 74% expressed interest in purchasing an improved stove - such as the Kenya Ceramic Jiko (a low-emission charcoal stove) - in the future, which indicated a desire to practice clean cooking. 

As part of its evidence gathering, GROOTS Kenya also reviewed existing policy frameworks for the clean energy sector at both the national and county level. This, coupled with the household data, formed the basis of a convincing advocacy case for clean cooking.

Clean cooking champions with the Kitui County Minister for Environment, Aug 2018

Towards clean cooking

Given its experience of community-led advocacy, GROOTS Kenya knew that the most effective way to present its evidence-based case was to support local women so that they could influence their communities, as well as county policy makers, as citizens. In light of this, it mapped and identified 40 women (one from each district in the county) to become clean cooking champions. By influencing county governments to allocate budget to clean cooking, GROOTS ensured that the identified women received training from their county on the health problems associated with traditional cooking methods, how to construct and install clean cookstoves, as well as on a wide range of related issues, such as the county government’s planning and budgeting cycle

Igniting political awareness

GROOTS Kenya’s journey is not only revealing some of the challenges faced by poor households in accessing clean energy, it is also highlighting opportunities to integrate the promotion of clean cookstoves within the policy agenda. Building on the relationship established with county-level actors, the CSO has continued to seize opportunities for collaboration in scaling up renewable energy projects in the county. In October 2018, for example, GROOTS Kenya participated at the launch of the Inpower initiative, a joint effort of the National Environment Trust Fund (NETFund), Kitui county and three Kitui-based CSOs.[4]

Yet the CSO wanted to provide the champions themselves with a platform within local government to stimulate political leaders to act. Since 2013, all counties in Kenya have had to prepare County Integrated Development Plans (CIDP) to guide development over five-year periods. The second CIDP for 2018 – 2022 was in the public consultation phase, when citizens can contribute their views. GROOTS Kenya facilitated the participation of the clean cooking champions in Kitui county’s CIDP forums, as citizens, to present their case to decision makers.

“Creating a network of clean cooking champions was a strategy to help us reach the county governments. Under the new devolved government structure, citizens have a big role in decision making at county level. The clean cooking champions are local citizens who have the right to participate in meetings and validate county budgets. We felt that involving the champions would be better than talking on their behalf, as the leaders have to listen to those who voted for them.” - Jael Amati, Programme Co-ordinator, GROOTS Kenya.

Under the public consultation activities, GROOTS Kenya organised for the champions to meet with representatives of relevant county departments, such as the Environment and Forestry, Energy, Public Health, Kenya Forest Service and the Office of the Governor, to encourage them to prioritise policy plans and budgets aimed at increasing demand for clean cookstoves. In addition, it helped the champions organise public awareness forums in their county districts on the health impacts of traditional cooking methods and the benefits of adopting clean cookstoves and fuels. 

Mary Mbole, Clean Cooking Champion, Kitui County

As a clean cooking champion, Mary Mbole travels to different parts of the county to construct improved stoves and to raise awareness of clean cooking technologies. Since being trained as a qualified clean cooking artisan Mary, mother to 11 children, has been able to diversify her source of income and increase her confidence.

 “When I joined GROOTS, I learnt about clean cooking and how to explain to others how to make improved jikos. Clean cooking teaches us about health. Traditional stoves brought a lot of illnesses like TB and eye problems. It also took a lot of time to collect firewood and watch the fire. After the training, I started to inform others. This is how I met customers who wanted me to build a jiko for them. Our cookstove is safe. You cannot get burnt and you do not only have to use wood. It also burns the dry stalks that remain after harvesting.

GROOTS also encouraged us to go to the county government to explain what changes we would like to see. We told them we are clean cooking champions but we don’t have enough skills. We asked them to support our training to talk to others about clean cooking. Madam Rachel (the County Assistant Energy Director) wrote everything down. One month later, the county invited some of us for the training. This was a refresher course for me. I was later selected as part of the team to build stoves for vulnerable households in eight wards. I made 10 jikos in Kitui south sub-county. Here in Mwingi, I have built 50 jikos. Later I was invited to accompany the Energy Director when she visited west Kitui. On that trip, I built more than 20 jikos.

After the visit, I was asked to train two young men in Mwingi. The two young men I trained are also champions. I saved my money from the trip and used it to buy two goats.” - Mary Mbole, Clean Cooking Champion, Kitui County.

Transforming policy into action

Impressed by the initiative, in 2017 and 2018, the Kitui County Department of Energy included 15 of the champions in their training on how to construct and install rocket stoves, an efficient wood burner that can be fuelled by crop residues and other materials that are readily available on farms. Thereafter, the trained champions, with support of artisans from the energy centre, constructed 80 rocket stoves for vulnerable households in the county.

Today, the Department has indicated that it is willing to extend the training to all 40 clean cooking champions and others. Clean cooking has been adopted as an explicit goal in Kitui county’s policy frameworks and the CIDP contains specific interventions that will contribute towards this. Furthermore, funds have been allocated to advance clean cooking in the 2018 budget. The county intends to pilot a project to provide subsidised LPG cylinders and to increase awareness and training for communities on the installation of clean cooking stoves, which will help generate further demand.

In an effort to explore alternatives to charcoal burning (which causes deforestation, emits significant amounts of GHG, and contributes to serious health problems), the county plans to raise awareness of producing alternative wood products for fuel, such as briquettes and wood pellets for  use in improved cookstoves, a move which could also diversify livelihood options for women and young people. Recently, the Department of Energy procured 20 machines for briquette-making as an income generating activity, and purchased 800 energy saving Maendeleo Jikos - simple and fuel-efficient firewood stoves - to distribute to poor households in urban centres.

Scaling up impact to influence national energy policy

Through this programme, GROOTS Kenya has established good working relationships with a broad range of Kitui county departments. As a result, the county’s Kenya Forest Service recently provided some of clean cooking champions and their groups with free tree seedlings so that they can establish woodlots. Kitui’s Department of Health has also expressed interest in including clean cooking in their guidelines for public health officers, by applying World Health Organisation standards on domestic indoor pollution.

As part of the V4CP programme, GROOTS Kenya collaborates with the Clean Cookstoves Association of Kenya (CCAK), to jointly advocate at a national level for clean cooking as a viable contribution to the country’s clean energy policies and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, GROOTS Kenya’s growing reputation as a credible source of evidence-based advocacy is enabling it to contribute to national policy debates. For example, in October 2018, it was invited to participate at sessions of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Clean Cooking (assembled by CCAK), which is currently developing a proposed action plan for ministries to further the agenda in Kenya. It also participated at a national workshop on renewable energy, held in December 2018 in Diani Ukunda, where Kitui county scooped the top award for its efforts in creating an enabling environment for clean cooking and the adoption of renewable energy. Furthermore, the organisation’s success in developing a network of clean cooking champions is being emulated by other CSOs working on Energy, Food and Nutrition Security, Resilience, and Sanitation, not only across Kenya, but also in other countries.

Improved Kenyan Jiko (stove)

Driving policy change: lessons learnt

GROOTS Kenya has found that contributing to transformational change requires patience and long term-commitment, as well as the agility to respond quickly to emerging opportunities.

In January 2018, the Governor of Kitui County, Charity Ngilu, gained national attention when she announced a ban on charcoal burning to prevent further destruction of forests. For her plan to work, the county needed to find alternative employment opportunities for the thousands of people - especially youth - that earn a living burning and trading in charcoal. During the build-up to this announcement, the need to find viable solutions to this challenge provided GROOTS Kenya with an opportunity to engage her and other county leaders and make a case for clean fuels and cooking technologies. One such opportunity was an informal breakfast with the Governor in September 2017, convened by an alliance of Kitui-based CSOs.

Stimulating demand for the future

The V4CP programme continues to create evidence, for example on the use of biomass cookstoves and fuels in Kenyan institutions, in collaboration with Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission. The outcomes are expected to contribute to the ongoing discussions on the need to have regulations governing biomass and the use of clean cookstoves country-wide.

“For us, advocacy does not mean activism on the streets. It’s about boardroom negotiation and influencing. Our contribution to the biomass study means that we will also be able to have an input into energy bills that regulate the use of biomass country-wide. So we work along – not against – government at both national and county levels.” - Mary Njuguna Kimwadu, Coordinator, V4CP Kenya.

If the county-wide clean energy programme allocates funds to promote alternatives to charcoal burning and subsidises clean cookstoves, it will stimulate demand from poorer households. This, in turn, will generate further demand for GROOTS Kenya’s network of trained community cooking champions in the future and help them create a secure livelihood.

 “These are issues we have somewhat factored in our Country Development Plans…what GROOTS Kenya is doing is helping the county to move further in terms of development, in terms of wealth creation, in terms of women and youth empowerment, in every area." - John Makau, Environment Minister, Kitui County. 


[1] World Health Organisation, May 2018.
[2] World Health Organisation, May 2018.
[3] Government of Kenya, 2015.
[4] See media story on the launch at: