Cooking Energy Access: A Kenyan Case Study

This week’s seminar was from Morgan Raffray from the Centre for Environmental Policy. His talk covered some work supported by Energy Futures Lab and the Global Challenges Research Fund on the impact of access to cleaner cooking stoves in Kenya. He has written us this blog post on his work in the area, which was actively supported by Dr Onesmus Mwabonje and Dr Jeremy Woods.

The cookstove, at the heart of both the home and the problem

Cooking is ubiquitous and culturally defining; it brings us together although it differentiates us. While practices have evolved throughout the ages, they have always required a heat source and a cooking apparatus. In Europe and North America, using solid biomass as a heat source was prevalent until the middle of the 20th century after which they were rapidly replaced by cleaner alternatives. Yet, in the rest of the world, mainly in South East Asia and sub Saharan Africa, 2.6 billion people still rely on biomass for their primary cooking energy needs.

The use of biomass, namely firewood and charcoal for cooking, associated with traditional cooking methods leads to indoor air pollution, which each year kills 1.6 million people prematurely, mainly women and children. The issue’s severity and extent have led Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) such as Practical Action and International Organisations (IOs) like the World Bank to develop numerous campaigns and schemes in order to provide incentives for apparatus switch or fuel efficiency gains.

Nevertheless, while the proposed solutions were developed by accessing a wide range of disciplines including engineering, sociology, policy and/or economics the inherent complexity has often rendered these efforts ineffective. The paradox here is that it is likely that real solutions will only arise from highly interdisciplinary but carefully targeted activities that respect cultural and geographic dynamics.

Through partnerships with local institutions, our project mapped the local stakeholders involved in clean cooking interventions for rural communities in Kenya: businesses, communities, governmental institutions, and international organisations – mostly NGOs. Through interviews and by running focus groups targeting the identified stakeholders, the local partners involved in this project were able to collect valuable data that provided a glimpse of the reality on the ground.

Figure 1. Top 10 infections in a Gazi, a small village in Kwale County, South East of Kenya

Located in East Africa and the leading nation in the East African Community, Kenya has recently undertaken large projects to develop its economy. In the last 25 years, Kenya electrification went from 10.9% in 1993 to 75% at the end of 2018 despite nearly doubling its population from 26 to 51 million.

Nevertheless, the country’s 80% of the population still relies on biomass for their cooking energy needs contributing to the 15,000 premature deaths linked to indoor air pollution.

In fact, respiratory diseases that stem from cooking using partial combusted firewood has remained the third highest cause of premature deaths in the country. In the light of these facts, it is apparent that, despite achievements from the government and the international community, further work still remains to be done to tackle this health epidemic. In Gazi Bay a small village in South East Kenya – Kwale County – the number one ailment among the residents is respiratory disease (fig. 1) that affects mostly women and children.

Inequalities and inefficacies

First, the socio-environmental divide needs to be addressed. In rural areas, the higher level of poverty makes it quite challenging to pay for clean fuel. Therefore, most people in these areas rely on wood either logged or picked up from the ground. For poorer peri-urban and urban populations, charcoal has been the cheapest and most reliable solution (fig. 2).

Cost of a meal in Kenya for charcoal with traditional cookstove (TC) and Improved cookstove (ICS), kerosene, LPG, and electricity
Figure 2. Cost of a meal in Kenya for charcoal with traditional cookstove (TC) and Improved cookstove (ICS), kerosene, LPG, and electricity

Kerosene appears to be popular in metropolitan households for cooking (53.8% in Nairobi and 38.4% in Mombasa) but this may be short lived as the government recently increased its price to match the diesel fuel. LPG is commonly used in Nairobi household (22.5%) but remains out of reach to most households in other parts of the country despite the government effort to subsidise its cost. Electricity for cooking remains the most expensive option in Kenya. Due to volatility in prices, certain household practice fuel stacking and use firewood instead of charcoal when prices are too high, which has been the case since 2018.

Sankey diagram showing cooking energy sources. Electricity sources are representative of Kenya energy mix
Figure 3. Sankey diagram showing cooking energy sources. Electricity sources are representative of Kenya energy mix

The energy landscape in Kenya is therefore divided in two: the rural areas on one side, and the urban and peri urban centres on the other. Wood accessibility in remote places combined with the demand for cheap fuels in urban and peri-urban settlements has fuelled the charcoal informal business sector. This sector was worth approximately 32 billion Kenyan Shillings (KSH) ($427m) in 2005 almost as much as the tea industry (KSH 35Billion).

The impact associated with this informal sector is twofold – loss in government revenues in form of income taxes (about KSH 2Billion annually), and also losses attributed to socio-environmental aspects that are, harder to quantify.

Approximately 10Mm3 of wood is lost in Kenya annually, accounting for 0.3% of deforestation, resulting in approximately 25 million tons of CO2 equivalent being released into the atmosphere each year, as black carbon from partial combustion.

It is important to point out that using biomass as a primary energy vector can be wildly inefficient if not coupled with efficient technologies. Most of the firewood energy is lost in the pyrolysis conversion in traditional kilns and cooking apparatus inefficiencies are not only the cause of losses in energy, but also the primary cause of black carbon inside households.

For all these aforementioned reasons, the Kenyan government imposed a logging ban in 2018, directly impacting biomass usage for cooking. This ban has now been as of late last month.

Kenya’s attempt at clean cookstoves

Kenya has shown positive indicators in its development with a 5.7% increase in GDP in 2018. Furthermore, Kenya is leading the region in curbing climate change and developing clean cooking. In fact, its Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs) are in direct line with the clean cooking issue such as achieving 10% tree cover, enhancing resource efficiency, and clean energy technology (LPG being one).

The rest of the blog will highlight attempts to tackle the issue by empowering communities through: cleaner technologies, cleaner fuels and socio-environmental co-benefits.

Clean Cookstove

The clean cookstove issue is intertwined with poverty, hence it is essential to financially empower people who are dependent on using cookstoves for their cooking needs. NGOs and businesses alike are keen on bringing their solutions to the market in order curb the issues. Problem is, not everybody has the means to afford a cleaner cookstove.

Table 1 provides a summary of business models used by NGO and companies to provide their solutions to impoverished populations. While the solutions may be readily available, accessibility to these solutions remains a problem persists. There are few people who have the time and the means to purchase better solutions.

For private companies and NGOs, access to rural markets remains the main problem since reaching out to remote communities can be expensive. The issue is also similar for alternative fuels.

Table 1. Business models overview with advantages, disadvantages, and actors involved
Model Name and Description Advantages Disadvantages Actors
Outright Purchase Model

Upfront whole payment

  • Lower overall cost
  • Immediate ownership
  • Direct RoI for manufacturer
  • High initial capital needs
  • Rely on whole distributors
Burn Manufacturer, EcoZoom, Cookswell ltd, Envirofit, Fine Engineering ltd, Biolite Ltd, Jua Kali sector (Local artisans) ; Wholesalers and retailers such as Supermarkets ; Commercial banks such as equity bank, Cooperative bank, KWFT, etc.
Hire Purchase Model

Small upfront cost & credit period

  • Partial ownership
  • Warranty for credit duration
  • Right to repossess for manufacturer
  • Loss of warranty
  • Payment default with lack of resale
Burn Manufacturers, EcoZoom, Cookswell ltd, Envirofit, Jua Kali Sector (Local artisans), Paradigm ltd, Premier Gas Company, REECON, Wisdom Stove, Consumers Choice, Koko Networks, Clean Tech Enterprises Kenya, Cooks Well Jikos, EcoCare Africa; KDA, GIZ, SNV, UKAID, USAID, Practical Action
Organized Distribution

Distribution channels through local groups

  • Trust through peers demonstration
  • Risk transferred to the group
  • Group think mentality
  • Trust needs to be already established
KDA, GIZ, SNV, UKAID, USAID, Practical Action ltd, Wisdom Energy, Envirofit,
Lay-Away Model

Credit to supplier and access to apparatus after all cost is saved up

  • No interests on the item
  • Fewer upfront background criteria
  • Savings are irrecoverable
  • Strict terms and conditions
Koko Networks, PayGo Energy,

Cleaner Fuels

Briquette making and usage offers the opportunity to use biomass waste – crops residues, saw dust, charcoal dust – to provide cheap and cleaner alternative fuels to households currently using firewood and charcoal.

PM2.5 emissions from 4 associations cookstove fuel. The Improved Firewood Mud Cookstove was installed by a Nairobi MSc student and Kenyan Charcoal Jiko Cookstove (KCJ) are standard improved charcoal cookstove. Taken from Gamage’s MSc thesis
Figure 4. PM2.5 emissions from 4 associations cookstove fuel. The Improved Firewood Mud Cookstove was installed by a Nairobi MSc student and Kenyan Charcoal Jiko Cookstove (KCJ) are standard improved charcoal cookstove. Taken from Gamage’s MSc thesis

Work done here at Imperial on briquette emissions with improved cookstove aimed to provide benchmark emissions for briquettes as well as test whether households were receptive to using briquettes in Gazi Bay.

The results showed that briquettes (fig. 4) emitted significantly less PM2.5 than firewood and about the same as charcoal. These results were encouraging, however, accessibility of briquettes to the Gazi Bay households remains a significant issue. Briquettes for the experiments had to be sources from Mombasa, a two-hour return journey from Gazi Bay.

Socio Economic co-benefits

Creating upstream socio-environmental co-benefits is the goal of the Community Forest Associations (CFA), which attempt to empower communities through creating a community having stakes in the forests to act a pressure group against illegal activities and devising schemes to improve local livelihood.

The CFA in Gazi Bay is one of the most successful in Kenya. Through an active mangrove restoration plan, coupled with carbon-offset program, the CFA has been able to generate revenue directly from environmental conservation. Two thirds of the US$15,000 generated revenue (from the 3,000 tons of CO2 eq. sequestered annually) go toward the conservation program by hiring scouts and buying seeds. The remaining US$5,000 goes toward the locality and how it is used is decided by the community. In the last four years, the money went into improving the water system, repairing the local school’s roof, buying schoolbooks, and furnishing the dispensary.

Although CFAs are a great solution, the drawback is that they can be hindered by implementation difficulties. Few have indeed succeeded to become community livelihood enhancers.

For instance, in Makueni County (Central), there are nine CFAs in five gazetted forests. So far, only four have a Participatory Forest Management Plan (PFMP) setting in agreement with the stakeholders the user rights that defines how the community is allowed to use the forest for revenue generation. The implemented CFAs were set up by a Belgian team and since then, none have been negotiated.

In Kitui County (Central), has one CFA with a PFMP and a further 12 groups identified for CFA creation. Overall, the CFA political instrument is powerful and should be used as an asset to develop socio-environmental programs, especially in tackling clean energy access. Nevertheless, the lack of capacity and resources make the CFA program inconclusive.

Discussions at the recent Energy Futures Lab workshop at University Of Nigeria Nsukka
Discussions at the recent Energy Futures Lab workshop at University Of Nigeria Nsukka


Inherently, the cookstove issue offers an opportunity to demonstrate synergies between sustainability and development. Briquettes made from waste products demonstrate a huge potential as alternative fuel source for improved cookstove. They could financially empower women and men entrepreneurs and reduce health issues within households in both rural and urban communities.

Furthermore, the national and international programs are keen to keep communities connected with their environment while providing them with economic incentives. Nevertheless, lack of accessibility to briquettes remains the main problem both in terms of accessing the knowledge and the materials. Thus, the leading question is, how to streamline access?

The information presented in the blog post are the results of a scoping study part of the Energy for Development consortium funded by the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) and coordinated by Energy Futures Lab.

The consortium enjoyed partnerships in Nigeria and Kenya where workshops were organised to investigate research challenges and areas of collaboration. The Centre for Environmental Policy, from which the clean cooking scoping study emanates partnered with Strathmore University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) to foster collaboration between the United Kingdom and Kenya.

The blog has drawn results from the following reports, which are unavailable online:

  • K. Mwanzia, “Cook stoves in Kenya,” Strathmore University, Nairobi, 2019.
  • Esau and M. Wawire, “Energy for Development Scoping Project on Clean Cookstove,” Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Nairobi, 2019.
  • Jiang, “Improved cookstove as a socio-economic opportunity for female development in Kenya,” Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College, London, MSc thesis 2019.
  • W. Gamage, “Availability and effectiveness of waste residue briquette fuel for health, environment and economic co benefit: A case study in Gazi Bay, Kenya,” Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College, London, MSc Thesis 2019.

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