Smoke Gets in Your Eyes - Clean Cooking in Ghana Improving Health and Well-being


Around the world, millions of people (predominately women), cook on stoves that fill their bodies with polluting fuels. This poses a serious health risk if one is continuously exposed to these harmful emissions.

This was personally put into perspective, when I found myself in front of a cook stove in Kokrobite,  Ghana, profusely shaking my head from side to side, as the wood soaked fumes, gently blown by the hot humid wind, entered my nose. It was pretty harsh and unbearable, and I was already four feet away from stove….in open air!  

Prior to this moment, I knew very little about “clean cooking”. Sure, it is important, but do we really understand the long term effects of such a simple day to day task?

For me, it was only in that moment, in front of that stove for a measly ten minutes, with closed burnt eyes and agonising smoke in my nose, that the dire numbers on the harmful effects of (traditional) cooking methods really realised in my mind.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

According to data from The World Health Organisation 4.3 million people a year die prematurely from illness attributable to household air pollution caused by the inefficient use of solid fuels for cooking. To put this into context, the number of people who die each year from harmful cooking practises is roughly the population size of Mauritania. This does not take into consideration the associated long term health and economic impacts of traditional cooking methods and how they affect people in the long term.

Systemic Approaches to Clean Cooking

Clean cooking is a complex issue and involves a systemic approach that requires tailor made cookstoves (for the purpose of the context), and strong consumer demand and policies that support the sector. The end goal should provide direct tangible impact at household level, and improved health and well-being for all family members.

The Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP) is doing just that. This project merges cross sectoral interconnected approaches focussing on energy (cookstoves), health (less household pollution and improved nutrition), environment (deforestation), and gender (women empowerment in the labour market).

In Ghana, fish processing is the main economic activity for women living in and around the costal and lake regions of the country. Usually, fish is processed and preserved through smoking methods which is highly dependent on fuelwood derived from mangroves and other wood sources. This results in environmental forest degradation, increased carbon emissions from bad cooking methods, and importantly lost time for women who spend hours collecting timber when in fact their time could be dedicated to income generating activities.

In response to this the SFMP is addressing these issues by focussing on the following components:

The adoption of improved smoker technology has led to the design of newly improved fish smoking stove for fish smokers. The Ahotor stove (meaning ‘Comfort’) promoted by the project, produces lower levels of smoke and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which is considerably lower than the Chorkor stove (previously used) and is known to be 32% more fuel efficient. SNV with the support of the Food Research Institute of Ghana researched, developed and engineer the new cleaner cooking Ahotor stoves.  

The Regeneration and replantation of mangrove forests due to limited wood resources will improve deforestation rates (sitting at 2.2% annually in Ghana) of mangroves usually used for firewood for smoking fish. The mangrove trees are planted close to the coastline and the roots of the trees serve as a spawning area for oyster. These oysters will be harvested and this will provide alternative means of economic market activities, when fish stock are low due to seasonal fluctuations.

Strengthening the value chain to enable smallholders to seize market opportunities and to boost local economies and food security. Services include capitalising on existing economic markets, and ensuring their stainability by creating an enabling environment for demand and supply to flourish. Capacity support is also being provided through the creation of markets for fish products and by linking processors to these markets for increased revenue and improved livelihoods.

Capacity building and harnessing of skills for post-harvest fish processing and packaging to promote high hygiene and quality, and for mangrove and oyster cultivation. This is critical to improve the market opportunities for beneficiaries. Providing capacity development, business skills and education for all those involved in the value chain drives improved standards of the smoked fish product, and ensures the longevity of mangrove ecosystems for oyster harvesting. This is especially important from a gender perspective as the post-harvest value chain is dominated by women.

Child protection and child trafficking education amongst beneficiaries remains a key component. Engaging with Community Committees, traditional leaders and households to reduce child participation in the labour market is a key component of the project.

Women with traditional cookstoves

Women with new Ahotor stoves which ensures clean cooking.

So far, beneficiaries are committed to the project and are involving their communities. Over 7,500 mangroves have been planted, and it is expected that more than 4,000 micro, small and medium scale businesses involved in the fish value chain will benefit from post-harvest improvements. A new training and post-harvest product packaging Centre has been built, where along with project beneficiaries, "the fishers" (fish processors and fishermen) are to be trained on the innovated approaches of the project. The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development has pledged their interest and commitment to the project, notably to provide direct advisory and technical support to the Centre, to be involved in the oyster production, and to implement at government level sanitary practises and standards for basic food handling.

Beneficiary with newly planted mangroves

Mangroves are planted close to the coastline where oyster spawning takes place

A sustainable scale-up strategy has been developed for the promotion of the improved cookstoves, providing a 30% incentive for the first 200 early adopters. The additional 70% is substituted by the bank, however this project needs to be expanded to other inland, lake and freshwater communities besides the project ones on Ghana’s coast. It is also important to extend the 30% subsidy to many more beneficiaries in order to increase adoption and demand.  To further scale-up the programme and to reach more beneficiaries, further investment will be needed in addition to more developed partnerships with the government, private sector and academic institutions.