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January 18, 2015

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Ethanol stoves give boost to Kenya’s poor

RAPHEAL Maina, a resident of one of the sprawling slums of Nairobi, Kenya, has been using charcoal and kerosene to cook food in his household ever since he migrated from his rural homestead more than 20 years ago.

However, the smoke emitted from this form of cooking has taken a heavy toll on his health. Maina told Xinhua that he was therefore elated when he found out about ethanol stoves that cook without emitting any smoke. He is among the more than 600 beneficiaries who have so far replaced their charcoal and kerosene stoves with innovative ethanol stoves.

Government data indicate that about 14,300 people die annually from exposure to toxic fumes from cooking and heating their homes on open fires and rudimentary stoves. This is largely because about 70 percent of Kenya’s primary energy comes from either biomass or charcoal. This is typically burned on smoky open fires or on inefficient charcoal stoves.

Experts say this is a major cause of respiratory disease and eye infections among women and children who spend a large part of each day exposed to the indoor air pollution.

The stoves have been designed and distributed by Safi International and promise to change the way low-income households cook. Safi International Kenya director Elisabeth Klerck said ethanol stoves are very efficient in cooking at the household level.

“On average, they cook at half the cost of traditional stoves,” Klerck said.

The viability of the stove is also pegged to Kenya’s large sugar industry. Klerck said a byproduct of the sugar industry is ethanol — a clean-burning, renewable fuel.

The innovative stoves are designed to use ethanol to cut out indoor air pollution and in the process lower greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, they cost over US$33, which is beyond the reach of the low-income earners.

Safi International has partnered with donor agencies to subsidize the cost of the stoves to make them more accessible to those who need them most.

In April 2014, Britain’s Department for International Development provided a grant to support ClimateCare to implement programs in Kenya that will reduce carbon emissions. ClimateCare is using part of the funds to subsidize the cost of the cook stoves. The slum dwellers are able to acquire the ethanol stoves for US$27.

ClimateCare is also providing capital for a revolving fund from which local savings and credit cooperative societies can borrow money to lend to their members to buy the stove.

“The interest rate charged will be zero and the loan should be repaid in five installments,” said ClimateCare Director Tom Morton. “We are providing enough funds to allow 1,600 people to borrow at any one given time.”

Felix Okoth, Kenya operations manager for Safi International, said the stoves will soon be rolled out to all informal settlements in the country.


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