By Henry Owino
Poor people especially women and even children, are at the centre of sustainable use of clean energy saving innovations. In Africa, women and children are the primary collectors of firewood. Still, the consequences of climate change have direct negative impacts on their lives, with deforestation and drought making their daily chores more arduous as they collect firewood and fetch water.
Additionally, they spend hours daily cooking over smoky flame placing them at a higher risk of developing adverse health problems. However, families and institutions in Kenya are resorting to energy saving technologies especially the modern energy-saving stoves.
This comes after many years of relying on traditional open flames (three stones) that consume lots of firewood that emit plenty of smoke. Many households and learning institutions are resorting to energy saving cooking stoves locally known as fuel saving jikos.
These jikos emit less smoke, less money is spent on charcoal and save time spent in looking for firewood and cooking apart from reducing negative health impacts, Women are more prone to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs.
Symptoms include breathing difficulty, cough, mucus (sputum) production and wheezing. It’s caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases/smoke or particulate matter.
Visiting Uthiru and Kinoo Wards in Kiambu County and Kangemi in Nairobi County where women have previously suffered from various health conditions linked to firewood smoke, one is surprised by the clean environment.
Shiro Wanjiku, one of the women leaders in Kangemi Ward, affirms that residents have completely turned away from traditional jikos to modern energy saving cooking stoves. Women are the change agents, pacemakers and clean environment ambassadors in Kangemi. The women brag about their positive influence in the community they live. Wanjiku claimed the cleaner environment is as a result of clean energy saving jikos. She narrates that the ban on polythene papers by the government, acted as a wake-up call for women to also retort to alternatives to cooing with outdated energy wasting smoke spewing firewood cook-stoves.
Wanjiku claimed the recent ban on logging was yet another blessing in disguise to residents. She laments a few, as usual, had to complain but women in Uthiru, Kangemi and Kinoo took it positively.
“We quickly thought of alternatives and modern energy saving jiko sprung up. As we speak, it is now all over the place as you confirmed with the residents,” she bragged.
Josephine Njeri aged 32, explained main reason why residents had to find an alternative is that firewood became scarce and prices shot up. Wood-fuel is the main source of energy in most parts of Kikuyu Constituency as the lifestyle is that of the countryside.
Again charcoal prices increased fivefold and even the poor had to buy the only breakthrough was widespread use of energy saving clean cook-stoves. “A bunch of firewood used to cost Ksh.200 but after the logging ban, it almost doubled to Ksh350 and rare to find. We had to work extra hard to search for wood-fuel and at the same time buy it expensively,” Njeri lamented.
Njeri said although modern jiko may look expensive to buy, once bought it saves you a lot in terms of firewood consumption and money spent. Depending on the model and size of the jiko, it costs between Ksh500 to Ksh4000.
“I must admit these modern cook-stoves burn more efficiently than traditional stoves. It reduces the amount of fuel consumed, cooks faster and even reduces harmful smoke emissions,” Njeri emphasized.
Catherine Muthoni aged 36, whose life has changed for better, says she uses potable ceramic jiko that consumes less charcoal which saves up to 50 percent from every tin of a 2kg charcoal she initially bought at Ksh90.
“As long as I save money and fuel energy I worry about the ban on logging which has been an eye-opener to me, and many residents,” Muthoni added. Those with large families really had it rough initially as they were to use at least two tins at Ksh 100 but with the ban this jumped to Ksh180 per tin meaning they had part with not less than Ksh360.
Modern energy saving jiko has since solved the problems of high prices of charcoal, wood-fuel, and energy efficiency. Women who had running nose, red and watery eyes due to smoke are contented with new technology as a solution.
“I am happy and almost everybody here in Kangemi and neighborhood are because we are conserving the environment in one way or the other and same time make savings, ”Muthoni explained.
Mary Wandia has worked for Children’s Garden Home and School for seven years as a cook. She with other three colleagues have used wood-fuel as a source of energy in open-fire which consumes a lot of firewood and very smoky. However, nowadays they are the happiest cooks since the installation of modern energy saving jikos in the institution’s kitchen. They use utmost four bunches of firewood a day instead of 8-10 previously, no smoke, saves time and is even cleaner.
Wandia said cooking the food takes between an hour and two compared to the previous duration of three to four hours. The speed of burning is easily monitored and controllable and no need of being closer to the heat.
“We used to struggle to cook under heat and smoky fire, risking our lives because of high temperatures of fire and steam. However, nowadays we are safe, and at peace with the modern stove and the institutions saves close to Ksh5000 per month,” Wandia reveals.
“As you can see my colleagues over there and myself eyes are clear, had you come here the last term of January to March, they were full of tears, cough, mucus or sputum and wheezing chest caused by obstructed airflow hence breathing become difficult,” Wandia recalls.
Walking randomly in many homes across the Constituency, at least every household owns modern jiko. They wonder why the idea never came early to them. John Kamau, a jua kali artisan, makes and sales ceramic energy-saving jiko within the constituency.
Kamau says demand is very high for individuals, families, organizations, schools, and companies. He said booking or advanced orders are made for larger sizes for big institutions which cost between Ksh 40,000 and Ksh 60,000.
“I must say surely, sales have gone up and business of selling modern energy-saving cooking stove is currently booming,” Kamau admits. Residents have realized they can save money, fuel and conserve the environment as well,” he added.
Kamau says he doesn’t want to take advantage of crisis as an opportunity to make money. So, he has not raised prices but hired more people to assist him to make and serve more customers. In a day he sells at least 15 household jikos and 3 large ones for big institutions.
“No need to increase prices and lose business yet cost of materials have not risen unless otherwise,” Kamau assures customers.
The use of modern energy saving jikos has become very popular in urban homes in Kenya today. Investing in clean energy saving stove offers solution equally to both poor and wealthy people, as well as a clean living environment as forests are conserved.