Long way to Kenya’s dream of clean energy as wood is chosen over LPG

Sunday November 17 2019

A woman carries firewood at Nairutia trading centre in Kieni on January 23, 2017. About 65 per cent of households in Kenya use wood as their primary cooking fuel, even with the negative health and environmental impact such as respiratory and heart diseases, lung cancer, and eye irritation. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG


The traditional three-stone open firewood cooking method remains the most common in Kenya, with 58 per cent of the population using it, says the Kenya Cooking Sector Report.

And according to surveys on Kenya’s cooking energy mix, 70 per cent of households in Kenya use some type of woodstove as either their primary or secondary cookstove. Majority of these users, at 92 per cent, live in rural areas.

Tellingly, when the respondents were asked by the researchers to select their most preferred stove, 28.6 per cent of rural residents chose the three-stone method.

“This is in spite of it having been taunted as an inferior technology associated with very low efficiency rates and lots of health risks,” observed the report.

And about 64.7 per cent of households in Kenya use wood as their primary cooking fuel, even with the negative health and environmental impact such as respiratory and heart diseases, lung cancer, and eye irritation.

“This means that there is great exposure to harmful pollutants, resulting in about 21,560 deaths annually. This is more than the average number of deaths caused by road accidents,” Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Ministry of Energy Charles Keter said.


The Kenya Cooking Sector Study, also found that in spite of the ban on charcoal use, the average charcoal consumption among households is 395kg per year while the annual market value of charcoal consumed by the residential sector alone is Ksh68 billion ($680 million).

This is twice the amount spent on Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) and almost 40 per cent more than what all domestic customers paid to Kenya Power in 2018 for their electricity consumption.

On a positive trend, between 1999 and 2018, the number of households using LPG gas increased about six times from approximately 0.6 million to 3.7 million.

But this is telling for Kenya, which targets 100 per cent of the population having access to modern cooking solutions by 2030.

Mr Keter said under the Paris Agreement, Kenya has committed to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 30 per cent with clean cooking expected to contribute approximately 14 per cent of this target.

But in Kenya, only three per cent of households own an electric cooking appliance such as mixed LPG-electricity stove, electric coil stove and microwave. This is largely attributed to the high cost of the stoves and cost of electricity.

Kerosene use for cooking is still prevalent in urban low-income areas—1.7 million households in Kenya or 14 per cent of the total population cook with kerosene. At least 27.7 per cent of these are in urban households and 3.2 per cent are in rural areas.

Alternative cooking technologies like ethanol stoves, biogas, briquettes, pellets and solar cookers are collectively used by less than one per cent of Kenyan households.

About one in every two (49 per cent) households in Kenya use only one type of stove option while 36 per cent alternate between two types of stoves. The remaining 15 per cent have three or more options.

At least 6.6 per cent of all households in Kenya have LPG as a primary cooking technology and no other appliance as a secondary stove. And that households using LPG as the primary fuel still use, close to half of the amount of charcoal used by households that depend on charcoal as the primary fuel.

“The message Kenyans have communicated is that although uptake of clean fuels typically results in the reduction of use of traditional fuels, it does not necessarily translate into complete displacement of those fuels,” said the report.

“The three-stone earth method has remained the most common form of cooking technology for decades and continues to defy efforts to displace as the centre of cooking especially in rural areas.”

This in the overall, defeats the World Health Organisation standards against the air pollution, mean annual exposure, from traditional wood or charcoal burning must be limited to just one to three hours per week.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (Unido) has partnered with the government of Tanzania to phase out the use of charcoal as a primary source of cooking energy in a programme targeting 500,00 middle-income households in Dar es Salaam.

According to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), more than 85 per cent of the country’s population depends on biomass energy for cooking and more than 70 per cent of urban dwellers rely specifically on charcoal. Dar es Salaam accounts for almost 60 per cent of the charcoal consumption.

The clean cooking energy programme is being implemented by a private firm, Consumer Choice Ltd, with funding from Global Environmental Facility.

Consumer Choice Ltd, which will provide the biofuel-run stoves for between Tsh35,000 and Tsh40,000 ($15 and $17). The biofuel is ethanol, will be sold in quantities ranging from Tsh50,000 ($21) to Tsh80,000 ($34).

Mohammed Kadhi, the firm’s director for East Africa said Phase 1 of the project, which will take 18 to 22 months to implement, will distribute 390,000 stoves and the bioethanol fuel.

He said in the next five years, these households will shift from charcoal, wood fuel and other traditional biomass fuels to bioethanol for cooking.
The distribution of the stoves started in the mid of October.

The ethanol will be supplied from the Kilombero Sugar Company, Zanzibar Sugar Company and Kilimanjaro BioChem in Tanzania.

According to Mr Kadhi there is a potential market for 1.5 billion litres of ethanol annual for cooking fuel in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda over the next 15 years.

Unido aims is promoting bioethanol as an alternative clean cooking fuel by creating a market enabling environment.

Currently, Unido is running similar programmes in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Madagascar.

Additional reporting by Dorothy Ndalu