This story is part of a special feature by the Voice for Change Partnership and partner civil society organisations on Sustainable and Affordable Clean Energy, originally published in the Daily Nation (27 March 2020).
Mueni is a 21-year- old mother of one. She lives in Mbitini Ward of Kitui Rural sub-county.
One day in June 2016, Mueni, who is epileptic, felt dizzy and decided to rest. Later that day, a neighbour, having received no response after knocking on the door, walked into Mueni’s house and found her lying motionless next to an open fire. She had severe burns on her hands, face and parts of her body.
In addition to suffering pain and a worsening of her epileptic condition due to the burns, the ordeal created a financial burden on the family. “We used a lot of cash in treating my daughter…I wish I had used that money to buy a safer cookstove,’’ says Mueni’s mother regretfully.
Mueni’s story illustrates the health impacts of unsafe and inefficient cookstoves, which can also plunge households deeper into poverty.
Despite the efforts made in promoting improved clean cookstoves and fuels, the uptake is still low in Kenya. A recent Kenya Household Cooking Sector Study found that 59% of households still use the three-stone open fire stove, compared to 76% 20 years ago. Although the proportion has dropped, the aggregate number of users has increased from 4.7 million households to about 7.3 million.
About 65% of households (8.1 million) in Kenya still use wood as their primary cooking fuel, followed by LPG at 19% (2.4 million households) and charcoal at 10% (1.3 million households). This is far from the target to provide 58% of households in Kenya with clean cooking technologies by 2028). It is even further from the Sustainable Development Goal 7 aiming at universal access to clean cooking. This means that the adoption of clean cooking solutions must be drastically scaled up though disruptive innovation in Kenya.
Through the Voice for Change Partnership Programme (V4CP) implemented by SNV and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in partnership with the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya (CCAK) and Grassroots Organisations Operating Together in Sisterhood (GROOTS) Kenya, with funding by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we seek to increase the adoption of clean cooking technologies and fuels in Kenya by building capacity of civil society organisations (CSOs) to undertake evidence-based advocacy and be clean cooking advocates in Kenya.
CCAK and GROOTS Kenya intervene at both national and county levels. At national level, CSOs are supported to disseminate clean cooking evidence targeting decision and policy makers, to influence the development of clean cooking standards and partner with the Ministry of Energy to create an enabling environment for Jua kali (informal) sector and formal manufacturing of clean stoves and fuels.
At county level, we seek to increase county government commitment to clean cooking by increasing budgetary allocation, inclusion of clean cooking plans and policies and capacity building of clean cooking champions, firstly in Kilifi, Kiambu and Kitui counties.
Acknowledging the fact that adoption of clean cooking is still low in Kenya, we have initiated various policy, legal and regulation initiatives to enhance the use of clean cooking technologies and fuels. These aim at governing the use of clean cooking technologies and fuels, and providing (fiscal) incentives for the sector (e.g. increasing tax on kerosene and excise duty waiver on denatured alcohol commonly sold in supermarkets as ethanol gel).
To align the clean cooking sector to the Big Four Agenda, the government of Kenya exempted local manufacturers of clean cooking technologies from import duty for raw materials. Despite these, there are still gaps that contribute to the low adoption of clean cooking, such as the nascent stage of the sector and poor policy implementation.
Economic factors affecting Kenya is a major barrier to the adoption of clean cook stoves. Higher tier stoves, which retail at an average of $38, are not affordable to the common mwananchi.
Gender and socio-cultural factors also play a great role in adoption of clean cookstoves: The influence of peers; perceptions that food cooked under wood biomass tastes better than those cooked using gas; the importance of open fires for social bonding, or gender roles. Scaling up adoption of clean cookstoves in Kenya therefore requires realignment of these social and cultural barriers.
While advocating for increased adoption of clean cooking, equal participation of men, women, youth and people with disability is important. They play different roles in decision making and in the transition to clean cooking. Between 2013 and 2017, Kitui County trained 240 youth as stove builders. A GROOTS Kenya study on the health impact of unclean cooking in Kitui County revealed that women and children were the most affected by the health impacts of unclean cooking. They suffer lung problems and eye irritations. Hence, if targeted, women can play a key role in accelerating the adoption of clean cooking.
Last but not the least are factors concerning technological choices, which determine performance of fuels and stoves.
The development of standards and lab testing protocols for fuels and clean cooking technologies in Kenya are at advanced stages. Some standards are already in use. One of them is the biomass stoves performance standard. This standard by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) provides guidance on specific requirements for the manufacture of biomass stoves. It creates harmony between the domestic and institutional stoves manufacturers that utilise solid biomass fuels.
Standards provide guidelines that have to be taken into action by all the sector players and once adopted, improve products performance.
This story was originally published in the Daily Nation. Read stories from civil society partners CCAK on Recovery from rudimentary forms of cooking, and GROOTS on Lack of clean cooking energy exposes women and children to increased risks in the midst of COVID-19.