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  • Kangwa Kasonde

Clean Cooking up a Storm

Cooking is an integral part of our daily lives, whether as a means to fuel our humanoid engines, for personal enjoyment or perhaps as a job. It is something we as a species have done since fire was discovered and has evolved with us since then.

We cook our food not only for creative expression or to vary how we eat essentially the same foods, we do so also and probably more importantly to destroy harmful micro-organisms that would make the food unsafe for human consumption as well as make certain foods more digestible.

Which brings us to the crux of our topic: the instruments of cooking, Stoves and their fuel. Stoves are a staple of many households all over the world, the heat they provide essential to the cooking process.

It might be tempting to imagine an electric or gas-powered stove as commonplace but instead the reality is that close to 3 billion people worldwide use biomass for cooking. Biomass includes fuels like wood, charcoal and agricultural residues.

Cooking energy accounts for about 90% of all household energy consumption in developing countries and in Africa it is a considerable driver of forest degradation as demand often outpaces sustainable supply. Narrowing down to Zambia, over 70% of energy supply comes from biomass, with charcoal being most typically used in the urban and peri-urban areas and firewood being used mainly in the rural areas.

While biomass has been a significant component of everyday life, it does not detract from its demerits. One such downside is the harmful emissions of burning the biomass when cooking. The smoke from these fuels is made up of small particles, carbon monoxide, and other noxious fumes which lead to indoor air pollution, IAP. When breathed in regularly, IAP can cause a range of chronic and acute health conditions, many of which can be deadly. Approximately 4.3 million people globally die each year on account of this.

That being said, biomass fuels still remain one of the most important sources of energy for the masses on account of its accessibility and affordability and it will foreseeably remain as such because changing habits that have spanned generations will surely take time and sensitisation. But there is a response to all of these negatives and this is where clean and fuel efficient cooking technologies comes in. These are not new on the market however, and to truly see their merits and potential positive impact there needs to be an upward trend in adoption and usage of said technologies. This would require a shift in user cooking habits from their traditional way of doing things which will not typically happen overnight.

Image of the MimiMoto stove which uses biomass pellets and is sold and distributed in Zambia by SupaMoto

A well-designed efficient stove emits very little of that dangerous IAP we talked about earlier and can save up to 60% of fuel compared to traditional stoves. This positively impacts the users’ health and allows them to save money from the reduced fuel usage on top of the convenience of being able to use the stove indoors on account of its reduced pollution.

Clean and fuel-efficient cooking technologies range from biomass burning stoves, solar cookers, heat retaining cookers to stoves using green fuels such biogas. Let’s take a peek at each of these.

  • Agricultural waste, sawdust and other such biomass materials can be processed into pellets or briquettes and used as fuel for efficient biomass burning stoves that reduce emissions and heat waste through improved heat combustion and heat transfer efficiency.

  • Biogas powered stoves make use of methane rich gas produced from anaerobic digestion of organic wastes such as last night’s leftovers as well as animal and crop waste.

  • LPG is a clean-burning, portable and efficient fuel. It is a co-product of natural gas and crude oil production which usually consists of a mixture of propane and butane for standard heating and cooking purposes.

  • Solar cookstoves are useful in areas where solar energy is abundant for most of the year. This falls typically between 30 degrees north and south of the equator, where much of the developing world is located. Solar cookers have zero emissions but require changes to users’ usual cooking habits. Understandably, cooking on a cloudy day would take longer than on a clear sunny day and as such meal preparation would need to begin much earlier. You would also need add-on items such as large glass bowls to cover the pot whilst cooking, for example, acting as a heat trap that will facilitate heat retention ensuring that all that harnessed solar energy does not dissipate quickly.

It is important to note that for there to be significant uptake on the consumer’s part, the stove and fuel source must be accessible. They must be able to find and understand the product and its positive implications for them, in order to even consider purchasing it in the first place. Buyers need to be motivated by the benefits of switching to the stove before, during and indeed after purchase for it to break through the traditional mould and yield social and environmental impacts as well as financial.

Motivating factors could be benefits like the cost-saving potential of the stove, less time spent cooking and convenience factors like the reduced pollution allowing for indoor use and reduced IAP results in longer life expectancy and a generally better quality of life. These positive attributes will get customers to buy the stoves, but to keep customers using them and purchasing the fuels is a different matter. To see value in the fuels, they must be as more accessible than traditional fuels and just as affordable or ideally cheaper. Diligent customer service will also allow customers to become conversant and comfortable with the product making for an easier transition to the upgrade models of newer stoves as technology advances.

In short, the key components for businesses and investors in Zambia looking at this 70% of the population to make a change (and a buck) in this arena are a quality product that motivates the customer to make the switch, is affordable, has strong distribution channels and market presence augmented with customer service. This will ensure that this significant market is more stable which will make for more stable and profitable businesses while simultaneously fueling a cleaner, healthier society.

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