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Smart stoves: a new business opportunity with environmental benefits


Modern energy-efficient cookstoves improve the day-to-day life of women by reducing the time they spend collecting fuel and cooking. They are far safer and more durable than traditional stoves. People in rural communities who replace their old stoves with more efficient alternatives not only reduce consumption and save money on charcoal and firewood but help tackle climate change by cutting CO2 emissions.

To ensure a good supply of these stoves is available in some of the energy-poor regions of Kenya and Tanzania, Energy 4 Impact is working with women’s production cooperatives and women entrepreneurs to give them the technical know-how, skills and resources to produce locally more modern and efficient models such as the Jiko Smart. This not only increases supply but also offers wider opportunities for female entrepreneurs to enhance their livelihoods.

The programme has already had wide impact. Over 265,000 improved cookstoves have been produced and sold since July 2019.  Some 782,000 people have benefitted and there has been a 170,000 tonnes reduction in CO2. The initiative has provided employment to about 1,000 people, 47% of whom are women.

Cooking over open fires is still a widespread practice among rural communities in Africa. This is not only responsible for approximately 600,000 deaths from respiratory conditions each year, but it also has a devastating impact on the environment. Inefficient traditional stoves also require a lot of wood and charcoal which aggravates the already critical deforestation problem and contributes to CO2 emissions linked to climate change.

More efficient cooking solutions improve the day-to-day life of women by reducing the time they spend collecting fuel and cooking. Moreover, the clean cooking sector presents opportunities for female entrepreneurs to participate in a growing market and sustain their livelihoods.

With this is mind, Energy 4 Impact, with the financial support of The Adventure Project, set out to help female stove manufacturers like the Kabondo Pottery Organization to strengthen their production capacity and build a sustainable supply of improved cookstoves. This type of initiative is giving rural communities the chance to replace their traditional stoves with more efficient alternatives that save money on wood fuel and cut CO2 emissions.

The Kabondo Pottery Organization is a cooperative of fourteen women involved in the manufacture of improved cookstoves in Homa Bay County, Western Kenya. Its members are among the 230 female entrepreneurs who have received business coaching, technological training and access to finance support from Energy 4 Impact over the last year, to make energy efficient cookstoves available in energy-poor counties across Kenya.

When Energy 4 Impact met The Kabondo Pottery Organization, their business was struggling: the type of cookstoves that they were producing were not selling well due to their low performance in terms of energy efficiency and smoke emissions. It was critical for the enterprise to modernise their products in order to stay in business. 

New equipment and techniques, better performance

Traditional cookstoves tend to be handmade using a variety of available raw materials typically of low-quality. Durability and energy efficiency therefore suffer. Most rural stove manufacturers lack the technical knowledge, skills and tools to produce improved models of cookstoves.

Working closely with Energy 4 Impact’s Technology Mentor, the group learnt new techniques and invested in the equipment and materials needed to produce the Jiko Smart model, a higher quality stove with greater efficiency, reduced emissions and improved safety and durability.

Jiko Smart is the brand name of a cookstove that was designed and launched into the market in 2013 by Energy 4 Impact in two versions: a wood and charcoal type. Following lab and field testing, the Jiko Smart has proved to sustain a good performance in terms of thermal efficiency, durability and heat output. Each of these stoves has the potential to save a family 20% of their daily expenses as they use 50% less charcoal per day.

“The Jiko Smart is still a fairly new product in the market, but its demand is growing, as is the case for other high-quality cookstoves,” explains Wilson Okwako, Energy 4 Impact’s Technology Mentor.

This design has the added advantage that it can be made locally by trained cookstove makers, thereby creating opportunities for local livelihoods in the fabrication and supply chains. Trained cookstove makers can therefore upgrade their production line to this improved model and increase their incomes since Jiko Smart can be sold at a premium price and are more profitable than traditional stoves. The charcoal model of Jiko Smart currently retails at $15 and the multi-purpose wood model retails at $22.

Energy 4 Impact has been promoting this stove as an alternative to the industrial and imported stoves for the last mile customers who cannot afford the industrial models but still want a more efficient stove for their cooking needs. Godfrey Sanga, the Energy 4 Impact Director for East Africa, explained that

the Jiko Smart is a mid-range option between the low-tier improved cookstoves such as the Kenya Ceramic Jiko stove and the more expensive industrial models produced in East Africa. It has been designed to manage the typical cooking needs and habits in the target markets, i.e. low-income rural customers, plus it has an appealing shape and looks like the industrial models except that it is 50% cheaper.

Market development

The technical support provided to stove entrepreneurs to produce the advanced models has been matched by market development support. Such support is intended to develop the improved cookstove markets, increase demand through awareness and marketing activities alongside support for entrepreneurs to participate in trade shows and regional fairs.

Thanks to the support from Energy 4 Impact, the Kabondo Pottery Organization was able to expand their network of clients and retailers. The co-operative thereby increased their sales by 11% during the period from August 2019 to January 2020. They have since recruited six additional members.

The wider overall impact of the programme is now becoming clear. The 230 women entrepreneurs participating in the programme across Kenya and Tanzania produced and sold over 265,000 improved cookstoves benefiting 782,000 people and contributing to save 170,000 tonnes of CO2. The entrepreneurs have provided employment to about 1,000 individuals of whom 47% are women.

Having established new routes to markets, some stove entrepreneurs are also starting to sell solar products such as small lanterns and solar home system. Thanks to their new distribution channels, 388 units of solar lanterns and 1,002 units of solar home systems have made their way into rural homes, reducing the cost of kerosene and the risk of burns. This technology also enables people to charge phones, listen to radio or watch TV.

“Our efforts going forward are geared towards the market expansion for solar products and smart stoves across Kenya and Tanzania. To this purpose, we will continue to recruit more women energy entrepreneurs into the programme and provide them with the support they need to increase their production capacity and sales, thereby benefiting increasingly more households in rural communities”, says Godfrey Sanga.