Improved cookstoves offer more than reduced carbon emissions

by Esther Kahinga | Kenya Climate Innovation Center
Wednesday, 6 May 2015 16:14 GMT

A woman fries fish along a street in the sprawling Kibera slums in Kenya's capital Nairobi on April 23, 2010. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

Image Caption and Rights Information

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Better health and forest preservation are just some of the benefits

It is 10.30 am on a sunny Thursday and our one hour journey from Kenya’s capital Nairobi to Thika brings us to the backyard of a technical training institution where Kenneth Ndua, the founder of Stamp Investments is having tea with his nine employees – two women and seven men. The team has been trained to assemble cookstoves that are fuel efficient and that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly black carbon.

After tea, the young men and women go back to the workshop. The noise from the cutting and shaping of metal can be heard from Ndua’s office where a colleague and I sit to learn more about his innovation and the journey to being an entrepreneur.

Ndua explains that for 10 years he was engaged in community development work that often saw him visit remote communities in the country. During the numerous trips, he realized that women often cooked in smoky and poorly ventilated kitchens.

Accessing the fuel was also a big problem. In one particular incident, it took two women 45 minutes to prepare two cups of tea using dry maize stalks as fuel. That was his turning point.

A year later, in September 2010, he quit his job as a programme officer with a non-governmental organization to concentrate on developing a cookstove that would give women in rural areas a clean cooking experience and also save fuel. He still worked as a part time lecturer to pay his bills.

The journey of developing the cookstove took Ndua four years, and along the way he received business support from the Global Village Energy Partnership International and the Kenya Climate Innovation Center.

In January 2013, Ndua was one of the recipients of a research grant from Grand Challenges Canada that was used to improve the original model of the cookstove. Between February 2013 and April 2014, Ndua worked with women from the semi-arid parts of Kenya to improve the stove. Today he has two variations of the cookstove, one that uses firewood and the other charcoal. 

Traditional firewood and charcoal stoves like those commonly used in Kenya emit black carbon or soot as a result of incomplete combustion during cooking. The carbon not only affects the environment but is also a big health risk, particularly dangerous for women and children who spend long hours in the kitchen.

A report published by the Lancet Respiratory Medicine in 2014 revealed that indoor air pollution kills 3.5 to 4.3 million people each year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. When put into perspective the numbers are much higher than annual deaths resulting from HIV and AIDS (1.6 million) and malaria (627,000) combined. In Kenya, for every one million people, 400-600 are likely to die from respiratory illnesses related to indoor air pollution, annually. 

Commercial production of the cookstoves began in May 2014 and so far 600 stoves have been produced and sold in various parts of the country.  The charcoal and firewood stoves cost about $33 each and have been designed to cook and boil water simultaneously. The improved cookstove is a triple win for rural populations in terms of access to safe drinking water, fuel efficiency and reduced indoor air pollution.

The stoves designed by Ndua and his team are part of the many innovations to address climate change that are transforming lives in Kenya. The technologies are especially adapted to address many of the challenges that poor people face. Climate change experts have warned that climate change effects will have a big impact on the very poor who depend on natural resources for their livelihood.

Ester Kahinga is the communications and knowledge manager officer at the Kenya Climate Innovation Center.