Rural households in Africa rely on solid biomass such as fuel wood or coal fuels for basic cooking. They use open fire or charcoal stoves to cook food often indoors; however, these methods are not sustainable or efficient. Wood and charcoal emit harmful gases into the atmosphere, including smoke and greenhouse gases (GHG). These toxins contribute to climate change and respiratory diseases.
The consistent need for wood has led to deforestation, which has contributed to global warming. Many African communities face a fuel-wood shortage since the demand for wood outweighs the supply. Forests are dwindling at rapid rates due to fuel wood being harvested in unsustainable ways. Wood harvesting impacts water flow and contributes to soil erosion. In addition, families spend extensive time and money collecting wood and charcoal which could be spent on more fulfilling tasks such as school or work.
The Current Situation of Cooking in Africa
Non-renewable woody biomass is the most used method of cooking by the African population. Recent studies show that this method leads to disastrous effects on the population’s environment, health, economy, and society. There is a predominantly serious need for action in sub-Saharan Africa, where 923 million people lacked access to clean cooking in 2020. The continual burning of fuelwoods also creates health concerns such as musculoskeletal pain and respiratory disease. African families suffer from these health concerns due to the heavy lifting of wood and inhaling smoke. Household fuel consumption is also linked to GHG emissions and land degradation, resulting in increasing deforestation rates by 30%. Concerned government agencies and environmental organizations have looked to the improved cookstove (ICS) to reduce the negative impacts. Most recently the private sector is making use of carbon finance to distribute ICS to communities in Africa and Asia e.g. India.
The Technology of ICS
The word ‘stove’ means a device that generates heat from an energy source. The term “cookstove” is when the process finishes by transferring the generated heat to food. The phrase ‘Improved Cookstoves (ICS)’ means it is more efficient and emits less greenhouse gases; that is why it is called ‘Improved.’ On the other hand, stoves that burn firewood or charcoal extensively and emit harmful gasses are called traditional cookstoves or three stone fires. The three stone fire refers to the stones placed under the cooking pot which is inefficient and grossly polluting. The ICS takes many shapes, including Portable ICS and Built-in ICS. Depending on the household size and institution, cookstoves differ in size and materials, such as metal or clay.
The Portable ICS
The most common portable ICS has one burner and it’s fueled with wood or charcoal. This portable ICS must be built elsewhere e.g., in China, due to the lack of material, then transferred to rural African households. The production and delivery consume energy and emit emissions until it reaches the beneficiaries. Portable ICS are achieving no poverty and good health and wellbeing sustainable development goals. However, the portable ICS do not meet the decent work and economic growth as well as generate local jobs and use local suppliers.
Rural values are essential for economic development. Built-in ICS is designed with income-generating interventions that support broader market growth, meaning that the cookstoves are produced locally with local raw materials and force. These cookstoves use 40% less nonrenewable biomass and reduce the health risk caused by harmful emissions. Built-in ICS achieve several SDGs including decent work and economic growth by generating local jobs and supplying materials locally, reduces deforestation and land degradation, supports conservation agriculture, affordable and clean energy, Gender equality, and climate action.
There are laboratory-based (e.g. water boiling test) and field-based (e.g. kitchen performance test) protocols to assess the effectiveness and performance of the ICS, including a mix of the two called the controlled cooking test. The controlled cooking test allows comparison of non-renewable woody biomass stoves and the ICS by testing with local foods, fuels, and cooking practices. Studies show a consistent decrease in the overall cooking time and fuel use when using an ICS. These tests prove that the ICS outperforms traditional cooking because they account for adequate food handling, storage, and heating methods, while reducing GHG emissions and lowering indoor air pollution in the process.
Benefits and Opportunities of Using ICS
With the use of an ICS, African families can avoid long-term health problems associated with traditional cooking methods due to the decrease in toxic smoke. African communities can also save cooking time and financial assets, maximize fuel efficiency, and reduce indoor air pollution.
When African communities use ICS, they are released from the financial and physical burden associated with the previous cooking methods. Families are able to spend more time working on farms, instead of gathering fuel wood in the forest. Forests can be preserved due to the reduction of wood collection by African families. Efficient cookstoves do not rely on entire chopped trees. The use of ICS provides less fuel-wood usage and lower GHG emissions.
The built-in ICS can be simple to construct and allow for adaptation based on local materials. High demand for ICS indicates there is room for growth and expansion. Even if the initial expense of purchasing an ICS is more than a traditional cooking stove (some distribute it for free using carbon finance), African communities will spend less on supplies. One kilogram of charcoal on a traditional stove could last two days, while an ICS extends this usage for three or four days. Efficient stoves make economic sense because they provide a long-term solution to several problems.
How Aither Is Fighting Climate Change with Efficient Cookstoves
Aither is helping through the ICS project by providing clean cookstoves to developing countries in Africa, such as Senegal and Zimbabwe with an extensive distribution programme to create nation-wide access to clean cookstoves practices.