(5 Aug 2012) LEADIN:
For many in rural Africa, the centuries old ‘three stone stove’ cooking technique is still used.
But this inefficient system wastes precious firewood and causes respiratory illnesses. Now a new invention promises to improve lives by halving the amount of fuel required and reducing toxic smoke.
Choking on the fumes 86-year-old Mary Nyambura uses the same cooking technique as her ancestors thousands of years ago.
Three stone stove cooking is a daily ritual for almost half of the 40 million Kenyas, and many more besides across continental Africa.
Although it has a Boy Scout appeal, the smoke is highly toxic when inhaled over a prolonged period and the World Health Organisation estimates it is responsible for 14,000 deaths every year in Kenya alone.
But it’s not just bad for the health, it’s bad for the purse too. Firewood is an increasingly expensive source of fuel.
Mary Nyambura explains: “For someone who doesn’t have his or her own tree, you have to buy a lot of firewood and that doesn’t even last three days because you have to use a lot of firewood so that you can get the fire going, if you put one or two the fire will not start up, they will just make smoke but you will not get any fire. One is forced to put firewood on all sides, after they have smoked for a while, you throw a piece of paper in and the fire starts.”
But a project – backed by the U.N. – is hoping to revolutionise Kenyan cooking.
The Paradigm Project is campaigning against traditional fires and is promoting the development of stove technology that burns more efficiently than open fires.
In Kenya, the Paradigm Project works with partners to produce modernised stoves like the ‘jiko poa’ (meaning good stove in Swahili).
These stoves claim to use half as much wood as an open fire.
At this factory engineer James Irungu is putting the finishing touches to the latest jiko poa off the production line.
Irungu says: “The ‘jiko poa’ is made of three parts, we have the cooker, this is where the pot sits on, inside we have a ceramic liner, its made of clay, this supports the combustion and reduces the firewood usage by more than 50 per cent and this is where we place our firewood, you just place them horizontally, light it the normal way that you would light any other stove, it’s portable and quite efficient. It emits less smoke compared to the three stone so its quite advantageous compared to any other type of cooking device or equipment.”
They make about 150 a day, packed and ready for to be transported to various suppliers.
“Here we have the final product ‘jiko poa’ ready to go, we usually make 50 to 150 pieces in a day, so far today we have made 35, by the end of the day we are expecting to have maybe 150 because today the production is quite okay,” says Irungu.
The challenge is that one ‘jiko poa’ costs 20 US dollars and for most Kenyans living on less than a dollar a day, that’s a lot of money.
The Paradigm Project hopes to get around this through subsidies and by using carbon credits from developed countries because less firewood is burnt.
Expensive, maybe, but there are already success stories for this clean technology in Kenya.
79-year-old Lucia Wambui’s new stove has put a smile on her face.
She faces the arduous task of chopping firewood with an axe – now she has half as much work to do.
Lucia says that it helps her get her food ready more quickly and has been friendly on her pocket.
“This stove really makes me happy since the first time I started cooking with it. It makes me happy with the way I am able to cook very fast and it does not smoke and the way that I am saving a lot of money from buying less firewood than I used to before so I am able to use that money to do other things.”
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New wood burning stoves save lives in Kenya