How clean cooking stoves could save millions of lives
How clean cooking stoves could save millions of lives

This article was first featured on the Friends of Europe Website.

Some 3bn people around the world, mostly in low- and middle-income countries, cook their food using biomass in inefficient open fires or with traditional stoves in poorly ventilated rooms. They often rely on heavily-polluting fuels like charcoal, kerosene, wood and animal dung. Cooking this way is not only costly, but the cause of more than 4mn deaths annually. This exceeds the number of those who die from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

The adoption of cleaner and more efficient cookstoves and fuels can dramatically reduce exposure to harmful cooking smoke, reduce fuel costs for most families and cut down on forest degradation.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves was set up in 2010 to address these challenges through the creation of a global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. While most of the companies formed out of this process took to distributing stoves to consumers in developing countries, companies like BURN Manufacturing adopted a different model. Instead of focusing on distribution, they invested in manufacturing locally – in Kenya – enabling communities to take ownership and allow BURN to modify the process to reflect these communities’ needs.

In Kenya, around 60% of the population continues to rely on solid fuels to cook their food. The average household of five people spends approximately $2 per day on fuel, making cooking an expensive affair. A traditional stove is the cheapest option available to most, though many remain unaware of the financial drain and health implications of cooking in this way.

There is also a cultural element that needs to be addressed: traditional cooking practices tend to promote open fire cooking.

The company’s stoves are designed and engineered to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions from burning biomass fuels such as charcoal and firewood. Since the establishment of the BURN Manufacturing’s plant – Sub-Saharan Africa’s first solar-powered, modern clean cookstove plant – more than 3mn tonnes of wood have been saved. These cookstoves have also been instrumental in reducing over 5.3mn tonnes of harmful carbon dioxide emissions. Furthermore, their consumers’ fuel consumption decreased by 56%, saving them about $150-300 annually.

Companies looking to invest in developing clean stoves in countries that need them also have an opportunity to help local communities by promoting gender equality. Appointing more women in manufacturing roles – as BURN Manufacturing has done – can help shift perceptions about what women ‘can’ do and provide a way in for women can take the lead in delivering energy to their own communities.

Despite all of these benefits, obstacles to widespread adoption do remain. On a market level, the cookstove industry aims to address barriers that impede the production, deployment, and use of clean, efficient stoves and their fuels in developing countries. Local authorities can help by providing manufacturers with tariff exemptions for assembling materials. This would allow the industry to reduce manufacturing costs and lower costs for consumers.

There is also a cultural element that needs to be addressed: traditional cooking practices tend to promote open fire cooking. Public awareness of the benefits of switching to cleaner, safer stoves will help encourage behavioural change. It is important to frame this transition not as one that challenges local culture, but as being beneficial to both health and economy while allowing cooking traditions to be maintained. Manufacturing locally supports this process, bolstering a sense of ownership and increasing usage within these communities.

The International Energy Agency predicts that 2.2bn people will still be without access to clean cooking facilities in 2030 and experts estimate that over the next 30 years, biomass will continue to supply between 70-80% of all household energy needs in sub-Saharan Africa. It is clear that a great deal more must be done to ensure the widespread adoption of clean cooking stoves across Africa and the wider developing world.

Sustainable funding is also needed to help the sector grow and meet its goal of a world where cooking does not kill.

A broad marketing strategy can help in this regard. By connecting corporate and product brands to climate action, consumers recognise the benefits of purchasing a clean cookstove beyond their own needs. This creates added value to products and a unique selling point.

Sustainable funding is also needed to help the sector grow and meet its goal of a world where cooking does not kill. Access to sufficient funding allows a company to establish itself and mature. This growing stability gives a recipient business the opportunity to carve out a market for its product while also enabling it to innovate and expand.

Greater investment from public and private sector organisations would go a long way in supporting innovation and manufacturing in the cookstove sector. A steady flow of funding could allow clean stoves to reach a wider market, increase manufacturing capacity and at the same time subsidise the cost of stoves.

Creating partnerships with different financial institutions and ‘pay-as-you-go’ companies, which BURN Manufacturing has done, provides an opportunity to reduce costs for consumers feeling the pinch. These companies offer credit, in some cases even allowing customers to pay as low as $1 a week for an agreed period of time. Having an array of credit lines also allows a company to extend credit to small-scale distributors and in turn increase their product’s reach, in this case stoves.

Finally, investing in research and development to develop low-cost but fuel-efficient stoves would also help increase their adoption in Kenya and beyond. There is still ample room for innovation in this area – and companies like BURN Manufacturing will have to continue to play a greater role in ensuring that affordable and clean cookstoves are available to households across sub-Saharan Africa.

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