In search of fresh air in the kitchens of West Africa


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Worldwide more than 4 million people die each year from the effects of cooking on an open fire.

Every day, 3.9 million tons of wood go up in smoke, contributing to the loss of 200 km2 of forest per day. In the face of this bleak picture, SNV chooses another way. Along with Philips, SNV signed a cooperation agreement in November 2014 to provide improved cook stoves to poor communities affected by bad cooking practices. The collaboration focuses on researching new, financially viable models for large-scale adoption of cleaner cooking technology by low-income households.

In recent years, SNV has conducted extensive research in determining the best cook stoves in terms of environment, health, cost, ease of use, durability and efficiency. Though the Philips cook stoves were the most suitable, their particular features and advantages went unnoticed as 90,000 stoves sold annually in Ghana. After testing various distribution methods and models, almost all the Philips stoves were sold.

In February 2015 Andy Wehkamp, Managing Director for Renewable Energy at SNV, visited a rural community near Accra, where Philips cook stoves are used, particularly curious about the users’ identities, needs, experiences with the stoves, and eager to know what could be done to achieve scale. The following excerpt from her blog originally published on the Philips website summarises her impressions. 

"A drive of about 56 kilometers from the capital Accra brought us into the village Jei-Krodua. Adam and Adwoa Yakubu have a small palm oil business there, where they earn just enough to get by. While traditional fuels such as wood and charcoal are becoming scarcer and therefore more expensive in Ghana, rural communities have easy access to free agricultural waste. The palm kernel shells are usually discarded, while they are a good fuel. 

The Yakubu's wanted to participate in the experiment with palm oil waste, and explore the new market possibilities this could bring to their business. They bought a Philips cook stove, which they fuel with waste instead of charcoal as before in a traditional device. Early on, they noted important changes: switching to palm kernel shells meant they no longer had to spend the equivalent of 1 euro per day on charcoal for cooking at the home and the school. They were able to buy the device with a subsidy of about 60% of the cost paid by a funding from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an energy project implemented by partners ETC, Philips and SNV. The acquisition costs were recouped in six weeks. Besides cost savings, Adwua sees the speedy cooking time as an added bonus.

Adam and Adwua Yakubu were the first to test one of the eight distribution models developed for this type of stove, and Adam sold the first devices to workers and suppliers of his palm oil business.
I spoke with Adwoa Bawah, one of the workers. Cooking with the new cook stove is not only faster and cost-efficient, she also experiences less discomfort with her eyes than before, "because there is no more smoke released during cooking". Her colleague Akua Asanamahama still cooks with fuelwood she gathers and uses on an open fire, and is willing to purchase the stove in installments, as it would save her the time spent gathering wood for fuel. Though the fan system occasionally fails, possibly because the ash released during cooking which gets trapped inside, it can be quickly repaired. She has taught Adam how the fan can be repaired, and is happy with her modern stove.

A bigger problem is the price. SNV is currently working with Philips on additional ways to reduce the price, for example through government incentives such as lower import taxes and duties, or climate finance. Even with the price reduction, payment remains a challenge for low-income populations. A lot of users are still unaware of how this type of stove will yield benefits worth the initial financial sacrifice.

Preliminary conclusion is that there is not one successful model, but that depending on the local context, a combination of four distribution and information models is recommended for best results."