Cooking your favourite delicacy in East Africa is going to be cheaper and faster soon. It’s also likely to save the lives of thousands of cooks whose goose is cooked by relying on biomass fuels such as charcoal or firewood.
Granted, cooking which is so central to our lives, thrills. But, depending on method, cooking also kills—in large numbers. For example, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cooking with biomass fuels leads to four million premature deaths per year.
Therefore, it comes as a huge relief that in a major move, one of the world’s leading development agencies—UKAid—is focusing on household energy as opposed to electricity access for achieving universal energy access.
Through the Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) programme that was launched in Nairobi on May 14, UKAid, in partnership with the Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme (ESMAP) of the World Bank and Loughborough University in UK, are striving to change the cooking narrative with a focus on replacing biomass cooking with more efficient, practical and affordable appliances powered by modern energy, while at the same time integrating the climate change agenda.
The five-year, £39.8 million (about Sh5 billion) MECS Programme seeks to break new ground by supporting evidence, research and insights into the drivers and pathways for economies to transition to modern energy cooking services, and investing in new technologies that make using electricity and gas more efficient, more practical, more desirable and affordable for poor households.
MECS will also boost innovations in business models, financing and private sector delivery of modern energy cooking services. As such, MECS goes beyond electric cooking and also includes work on new approaches to other fuels such as biogas, ethanol and LPG.
The centrepiece of the programme is a Challenge Fund that provides grant funding to private companies, NGOs and researchers working on solutions in the areas of energy storage for cooking; grid and infrastructure adaptability; as well as alternative fuels, among others.
The Fund is open to countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, and comes with limited conditions to encourage start-ups, SMEs and community-based organisations to access the facility. The closing date for the first round of applications is June 4.
Globally, the challenge is enormous. Based on UN and World Bank data, three billion people rely on biomass as their chief source of cooking while one billion people don’t have access to electricity. This implies, of course that two billion people who have access to electricity still rely on biomass.
In Kenya for instance, consumption of electricity for cooking accounts for only three percent.
Of the total global lending, less than five percent is committed to investments in supporting the transition to the transition to modern cooking fuels, documented the World Bank in a report on its investments in energy access over the period 2000–2008.
The writer is green energy specialist working for an international organisation.