Fuelling change: Overcoming hurdles to widespread adoption of improved cookstoves in East Africa

Published: February 15, 2024

Across East Africa, reliance on traditional biomass cooking methods remains widespread, with 75-95% of the population using solid fuels like wood, charcoal, and crop residues. Often employed in the form of inefficient three-stone fires, this approach presents multifaceted challenges encompassing environmental, climate, health, and security aspects.

Environmentally, unsustainable biomass harvesting contributes to deforestation and soil degradation, impacting ecosystem health. While charcoal might appear as an alternative, its production chain carries a significantly higher carbon footprint.

Health concerns are also significant, with household air pollution (HAP) from biomass cooking being a major contributor to respiratory illnesses, particularly among women and children who spend more time near cooking areas. This elevates HAP as a leading risk factor for death and disability in the region.

Security-wise, reliance on biomass fuels impacts both food and financial security. Time and resources spent collecting fuel divert them from other essential needs. This burden falls disproportionately on women and girls, who often venture into remote areas for firewood, exposing them to potential violence and harassment.

Transitioning to cleaner, more sustainable methods becomes necessary not only for convenience but also for the well-being of individuals, climate and the environment. Accordingly, several HORIZONT3000 partner organisations are actively promoting improved cooking methods through their projects and initiatives. There are various models of improved cooking stoves available, offering better efficiency and reduced emissions compared to traditional methods. However, adoption rates remain low due to mainly affordability and accessibility issues.

Seeking to accelerate adoption of improved cooking solutions, partners involved in the East African SDG13 project and HORIZONT3000 member organizations expressed a strong desire for knowledge and experience exchange on this topic. In the context of the Community of Practice Climate Action East Africa, a virtual gathering was organised: 35 participants from 19 diverse organizations presented and discussed their experiences and success with different stove types and community outreach approaches.

Table 1: Portable and fixed stove models used by the partners.

Despite diverse outreach and dissemination strategies, project partners identified consistent hurdles hindering improved cooking stove adoption. I) affordability remains a primary concern for households. II) additionally, communities exhibit reluctance due to cultural factors, perceived maintenance requirements, and theperceived need for additional investments like building a roof above the cooker and better fitting saucepans. III) durability, maintenance, and repair issues were also highlighted, particularly for mud stoves prone to breakage with improper use. Finally, IV) stove sizes might mismatch existing pots and pans, leading to inefficiency and further discouraging user acceptance.

However, the open discussion yielded promising solutions and recommendations based on practical experiences. Financing models were explored to address i) affordability, including options like full subsidies (funded by donors or carbon finance), material subsidies, buyer co-contributions, loans, and “pay-as-you-save” schemes. To combat ii) community reluctance, suggestions included active marketing, household dialogues, awareness-raising meetings, and utilizing “lead farmers” or champions to demonstrate the benefits. Addressing iii) maintenance and repair challenges involved assessing repair capabilities, material availability, and knowledge gaps, followed by training programs on stove maintenance and handling. Finally, the importance of iv) pre-intervention needs assessments and ongoing monitoring and impact assessments was emphasized to ensure efficient project implementation and user satisfaction.

Beyond the efforts of HORIZONT3000 partners, several (international) cooperation spearhead the progress to accelerate the uptake of clean cooking solutions at scale. Connecting with these networks can be fruitful regarding knowledge exchange and sourcing of potential funding opportunities.

For example, the Clean Cooking Alliance regularly posts funding opportunities to support stakeholders across the clean cooking ecosystem. Also, the Modern Cooking Facility for Africa has regular funding rounds. CLASP  finances higher-tier cooking components in Uganda.

While challenges remain, collective action through knowledge sharing and coordinated investments can ignite a continent-wide shift towards cleaner cooking practices, fuelling a brighter future for generations to come.

Christin Haida-Greenbank

Christin Haida-Greenbank

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