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Let’s make clean cooking technologies available to all

Harmful cooking techniques are used at a huge
Harmful cooking techniques are used at a huge cost to the environment and the health of inhabitants of these households. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya’s Ministry of Energy aims to deliver modern, clean cooking solutions to all, two years ahead of the 2030 global target. In order to make this a reality, it will require sustained action in this decade.

This requires doing things differently, disrupting our way of thinking, as business as usual will not lead to achievement of global and national aspirations.

Today, usage of firewood, charcoal, kerosene and other harmful cooking technologies in Kenya, remain in wide use, despite the many associated perils.

According to the 2019 Kenya Cooking Sector Study commissioned by Clean Cooking Association of Kenya (CCAK) in collaboration with the Ministry of Energy, two out of three households in the country use wood fuel (including charcoal and firewood); with another 14 percent using kerosene.

These harmful technologies are used at a huge cost to the environment and the health of inhabitants of these households.

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Exposure to smoke, soot, carbon monoxide and other emissions from these fires, coupled with poor ventilation in many kitchens, often leads to respiratory health complications.

This has been linked to an estimated 21,560 deaths every year, translating into 57 people daily – more than fatalities from road accidents. Emissions from these fires also pollute the air, and degrade the environment, considering the many trees that have to be cut to keep the fires burning in Kenyan kitchens.

Unfortunately, these negative implications have done little to make these technologies any less appealing to Kenyan households.

Even those who use clean sources such as cooking gas – whose use has spiked six-fold over the last two decades, according to the 2019 Kenya Cooking Sector Study - still turn to charcoal from time to time.

Many factors have been cited for this state of affairs, from cultural attachments to these old technologies, to obstacles hindering access, physically and economically. This has made the transition from old, inefficient polluting methods slow.

There is a tendency by users to compare the cost of investing in technologies without considering the lifecycle cost of using them.

Wood may be initially cheaper to acquire, but it also comes loaded with cost – health and time spent looking for it, at the expense of other aspects of their lives.

In addition to this, there is need for innovative financing that will make these technologies more available to users. Options such as pay-as-you-go arrangements can enable individuals to access technologies that they would otherwise have not, if they were required to make the payment upfront.

It goes beyond making the technologies cheaper to consumer, investments also have to be made in making the industry more efficient. For the final products to be more accessible, from a cost perspective, there is need for sustained investments in the industry to minimise costs that get passed to final users.

Many innovations are yet to progress to market because of limited financing as well as supply chain bottlenecks, particularly last-mile distribution mechanism.

Fortunately, the world is working towards making clean cooking accessible. The World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program has announced that it is establishing a $500-million Clean Cooking Fund to accelerate progress toward universal access to clean cooking by 2030. A lot more financing is still required, in the form of different mechanisms – grants, debt, equity, among others, from local and foreign sources. It is through such disruptive approaches, backed by sustained investment in research that this goal of ensuring universal access to clean cooking technologies can be achieved.

Alongside addressing the cost, there is some behavioural considerations too. Culturally, some households are attached to certain technologies that they have used for a long time, particularly the three stone open fires in rural areas, and charcoal. It will take sustained awareness to shift such attachments and behavior towards safer, healthier and environmentally friendlier alternatives.

Unfortunately, some of the available technologies, such as ethanol, pressure cooker, liquefied petroleum gas, ethanol, electric cooking among others, are not as widely known. This limits households from considering and ultimately adopting them, as their primary means of cooking. Some technologies also require some level of skill or training to be effectively used, limiting their adoption. This necessitates innovation to simplify technologies, backed by awareness campaigns.

Some clean cooking technologies lose out from being considered because of their perceived versatility. Households sometimes prefer using one method that is not only used for cooking meals but also provides heating. The challenge is upon the clean cooking industry to understand such unique needs of customers and work towards meeting them sustainably.

All this will need to be supported by a robust policy environment that encourages the clean cooking industry to thrive and innovate. Thus, users will enjoy access to healthy and environmentally friendly technologies. Clean cooking must be a political, economic, and environmental priority, supported by policies and backed by investments and multi-sector partnerships. To make that kind of change, the levels of commitment and the scale of investment matter.

The writer is CEO, Clean Cooking Association of Kenya.

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