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Cook Stove in Kenya, a local solution to a global problem

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Toxic fumes from open fires or inefficient cook stoves inside homes are responsible for some 1.8 million premature deaths --mostly women and children --each year in developing countries.

Peter Thuo, a 29-year old from Kenya, has known these stoves - and their dangers - since childhood. His mother cooked on one, as did most families in his community. Today, his organization, the Ruiru Youth Community Empowerment Program (RYCEP) has come up with a local solution to the problem in poor communities: the cleaner ceramic cook stove, known as the ‘jiko kisasa’ (literally ‘modern stove’ in Kiswahili). The new stoves burn firewood and can be as much as 60 percent more efficient than traditional three-stone open fires used in the rural areas. As a result, the health risks associated with inhaling fumes from inefficient stoves are reduced - as are emissions of so-called “black carbon”.

Inefficient cooking stoves are estimated to be responsible for around a quarter of global emissions of black carbon, or soot, which research by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has shown could be responsible for some 40 percent of climate change.

Youth volunteers from the cook stove project, aged between 18 and 32 years, have already trained around 16,000 local women, on the benefits of the new cook stoves and how to install them in their homes. To date over 3,000 cleaner stoves have been produced and sold by RYCEP, and installed by women’s groups across Kenya.

“Energy saving stoves are of great importance to our community, says Rhoda, one of the youth volunteers on the project. “The stove saves a lot of energy and money because less firewood has to be collected or purchased. It also cooks faster so women have more time to engage in other income-generating activities and it is more hygienic than the traditional model. The stoves have greatly improved our living standards.”

The health and environmental damage posed by cook stoves received global attention last month with the launch of the Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves. At the 65th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the Alliance would supply 100 million homes in developing countries with cleaner stoves over the next ten years. The Alliance is a partnership between the Clinton Global Initiative, the UN Foundation and the private sector.

The Alliance is also helping to engage youth organizations in Kenya and across the developing world. These organizations are also part of UNEP’s TUNZA youth network which hopes to spread the word of bringing clean cooking to the world’s poor.

UNEP has 10 years’ experience working with groups such as the UN Foundation for catalyzing the penetration of renewable energy systems in developing countries. The UN agency also supports the African Rural Energy Enterprise Development (AREED) - along with sister initiatives in Brazil and China known as BREED and CREED – which are helping to introduce cleaner cook stoves in local communities. An AREED project in Ghana has already supplied 50,000 homes with cleaner, more efficient stoves.

“Young people look for things that can direct them,” said Peter, who started RYCEP initially to raise awareness about HIV-AIDS. Today, the group’s volunteers, who are mostly secondary school students, organise road-shows and concerts to spread the word not only about HIV-AIDs but also about the benefits of cleaner cook stoves.

Knowing that he is never alone, Peter, together with other young people and youth groups across Kenya, started the Rural Energy Enterprises Network in June which is expected to spread among youth groups working in poor communities all over the country to promote a new and scientifically sound jiko stove, or other types of clean cooking devices such as biogas digesters or rocket stoves with their ceramic cylinders.

A local micro-financing strategy to enhance the purchasing power of the households to acquire the cook stoves has also now been found with the Tembea Youth Center for Sustainable Development. Riding on the popularity of Mobile Money Transfer, Tembea has helped form over 30 community savings groups in western Kenya to supply loans to members. The subsequent savings that families make on fuel help to pay back the cost of the stove. Tembea’s goal for the next seven years is to sell and install 7,200 rocket stoves each year.

“This cook stove project is here to harness local talents, especially among our young people,” says Thuo, “Together with other youth groups, we want to become the incubator of young enterprises that promote clean sources, provide jobs and help create better living standards in their communities.”