While traditional methods of cooking – open fire or traditional stoves – have been the norm for many Kenyan households, they are silent killers. Taking this into account, a Kenyan company invented a fuel-efficient charcoal stove that is saving time, lives and fuel, while keeping the world clean. ESTHER KIRAGU takes a look at the innovation and the benefits of adopting eco-friendly cooking stoves and fuels.

It is alarming that death and diseases from smoke emanating from solid fuels is an issue in this time and age. The World Health Organization (WHO) places 4.3 million as the number of people who die each year globally from illnesses attributable to household air pollution and assorted pollutants such as soot from solid fuels. This number is much higher than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis deaths combined.

In 2014 alone, reports indicate that about 600,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa died from smoke-related emulsions from use of biomass for cooking. Most of these victims were poor and living in low to middle-income countries. In developing countries such as Kenya, indoor smoke from biomass fuels is associated with four to five per cent of all deaths.

Link between energy access and women

In her keynote speech to participants of the 2015 EU sustainable Energy for All Summit held in Brussels,Belgium, Michele Bachelet, former president of Chile and now head of UN Women, stated that 2.7 billion people across the globe rely on open fires and the traditional use of biomass for cooking and almost half of the world’s population still depend on solid fuels such as wood, dung, crop waste, coal or charcoal.

Many of these are poor women in rural areas making them the first to be exposed to the risk of disease and sometimes death. The situation is even worse in poorly ventilated homes as smoke levels are higher, necessitating the need for a change or innovation that not only utilises clean energy but also saves lives.

In Kenya, research indicates that close to 80 per cent of urban homes use charcoal to cook with average homes spending about Ksh100 per day on charcoal. It is with this in mind that BURN Manufacturing has designed a stove that reduces household fuel consumption by 55 per cent, emissions by 65 per cent, saving families an average of Ksh 18, 000 per year. The stove dubbed jikokoa, a Swahili word that means “stove that saves”, lights and cooks faster at 1,000 degrees centigrade, has an inbuilt ashtray that allows you to control the temperature while you cook and keeps your stove clean at the same time.

In keeping with the dire statistics, BURN’s new state-of-the-art factory in Ruiru has hired those affected the most – women, ensuring they are no less than half of those working in the factory. Dorcas Eshikumu, a quality inspector at BURN’s factory and mother of one, believes that the move is called for considering that in most households, it is women who spend more time in the kitchen.

“Working at the factory as a woman has served as proof to naysayers that one’s gender doesn’t inhibit one’s ability. It is all about interest and dedication to your work. And because women are the majority users of the jikokoa in households, I think it only makes sense that women be incorporated in manufacturing the product as they understand the needs of other women using the product,” she says.

Angela Simuyu, a wife and mother and jikokoa convert, says the cooking stove has not only saved the time she spends preparing a meal for her family, but also empowered her economically. “Previously, I would use three sacks of charcoal every month but now I use about one-and-a half sacks,” she says adding that with the remaining charcoal, she has begun a side business of selling charcoal to surrounding households in the evenings after her teaching job as an Early Childhood Development (ECD) teacher in Ruiru.  Angela is also happy that she doesn’t have to worry anymore about exposing her young family to the harmful smoke from the regular cooking stoves.

Recently, BURN received the Ashden Award for Clean Energy for Women and Girls; an international award that champions trailblazing sustainable energy enterprises and programmes that improve people’s lives and tackle climate change. Locally, the company won a trophy early this year for being the most popular agro-technology innovation during the Kenya Livestock Producers Association (KLPA) farmers trade fair exhibition held at Nyahururu stadium in Laikipia County.

The price of deforestation

A study conducted in 2012 by both the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Kenya Forest Service shows that deforestation deprived Kenya’s economy of Ksh 6.6 billion in 2009 and Ksh 5.8 billion in 2010. This amount exceeded the Ksh1.3 billion injected into the economy from forestry and logging each year.
With charcoal use comes the problem of deforestation but BURN has taken this into consideration with their innovation. Boston Nyer, BURN’s chief product officer, says the jikokoa innovation has been manufactured as a tool to combat deforestation and the negative health effects of traditional cooking.

“The idea is to find a sustainable alternative to charcoal as it is dangerous for people to be cooking on charcoal indefinitely. But first, we need to stop the bleeding, which is what jikokoa aims to achieve. It is estimated that in the next 10 years, 123 million trees will be saved in Africa and carbon emissions reduced by 21.3 million tons,” he explains.

The jikokoa innovation is in line with BURN’S goals –  to protect the forests and the environment, improve health, reduce fuel consumption and help people alleviate the burden of poverty. Boston says, “With less money spent on charcoal, families who use jikokoa get to save up to Kshs 36,000 in reduced charcoal expenditure annually, which they can channel to other income generating activities and by extension this will save the economy more than Ksh120 billion within the next 10 years.”

One of the consequences of deforestation that continues to impact hugely on the Kenyan government is the rise of malaria infections. It is estimated that incidences of malaria attributed to deforestation cost the government about Ksh 237 million in both health expenses and loss of labour productivity, which negatively affects the Kenyan economy as the money could be channelled to other programmes.

Jikokoa is available in leading supermarket chains and is not limited to just low-income households who rely solely on charcoal, but also the urban wealthy who mostly use liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) but need charcoal stoves to make fuel consuming foods such as cereals and githeri. With new technological advancements, people no longer have to die or get respiratory infection from a basic task such as cooking,” Boston says in conclusion.! It retails at Ksh 3,800.