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RIO+20 The Future We Want

RIO+20 the future we want

A cooking stove improves lives in Kenya

By Andrew Amadi

woman is looking at the cooking stove

Mary Watiri is looking at the cooking stove. It takes 3 minutes to boil water using the improved cook stove, compared to 15 minutes used with charcoal.

On the outskirts of Nairobi in Kenya, an elderly woman forages in the Ngong Forest for fallen branches. In a small village in Karachuonyo, in Kenya’s Nyanza province, a mother prepares a meal for her family in a smoke-filled kitchen. With her eyes bloodshot and watery she coughs as she helplessly waves off the acrid smoke from the cooking stove. In Kawangware, one of Nairobi’s diverse neighborhoods, a student has not finished her homework, but knows that she needs to turn off the kerosene lamp or risk using more than the week’s share of light.

Firewood is one of the key energy sources that 3 billion people in Africa, Asia and Latin America rely on. Many poor families have a limited choice of fuel to cook their meals, heat their water or generate electricity. According to Moses Mbego of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in addition to the wanton destruction of forests for firewood, harmful emissions from inefficient biomass cooking lead to an array of upper respiratory complications. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, cancer of the nasopharynx and larynx tuberculosis, low birth weight and eye diseases such as cataract and even blindness result from constant exposure to biomass fumes.

The energy-saving cooking stove

cooking stove

Project Surya’s Improved Cooker needs a handful of kindle to make a meal.

Fortunately, there is a solution: Project Surya— Sun, in Sanskrit— has teamed up with UNEP, The Energy and Resources Institute of India and other organizations to fight air pollution and climate change.

Project Surya invented a cooking stove that requires less than half of biomass fuel and emits less greenhouse gases. Designed with a solar-panel powered fan, the stove improves combustion by supplying a small volume of high velocity air that increases the mixing of oxygen. An added bonus is the solar lamp, providing light from a renewable resource.

In March 2011, the Appropriate Wood and Solar Energy Network (AWSEN), a renewable energy community group in Kenya, received the improved cooking stoves from Project Surya. Ban Soon-taek, wife of the United Nations Secretary-General, who was the guest of honour at the hand-over ceremony of the cooking stoves said, “The United Nations is constantly seeking simple solutions to major problems that afflict many of us, particularly women.”

In Kiawamagira in Dagoretti, Anne Muringi Gikaria, AWSEN’s chairperson, and her colleagues demonstrated how the improved cooking stove worked. As Anne lit the stove with a handful of wood, the other women spoke of their experience with the new technology.

Mary Watiri, the eldest in the group, said she was relieved her eyes no longer flushed red or filled with tears while cooking. Anne added that to the relief of all the women, their children no longer frequently visited hospitals for respiratory complications.  Then she brought a length of wood—10cm in diameter and one meter long—from her yard. Wood that previously might have lasted to cook one meal, the improved stove used the same amount for more than three days. Using less fuel translated into significant savings. One of AWSEN’s members said that with the new technology she now spends USD 0.2 per day to buy kerosene to cook and light her home, down from USD 0.5 previously.

Project Surya’s cooking stoves reduced Kiawamagira’s contribution of greenhouse gases and improved the health of its inhabitants. Globally, each stove can slow down the rate of deforestation and climate change. While the women of AWSEN are a symbol of what is possible, Project Surya aims to have the stove locally manufactured so that this global solution finds a local home.