From drought to floods, the impact of global climate change has extended its tentacles to Africa. Notably, Kenya has felt the scourge of erratic rain patterns and extreme weather events.
In the months of February and March, discussions around the country’s ‘slow desertification’ made headlines in the media with public debate on how to recover its depleted forests.
As a reactive measure to save forests, the national government and some county governments issued directives to stop illegal logging and charcoal production. Kenya’s resolve to upscale renewable energy systems has received wide recognition within the region.
The country‘s electricity generation from renewable sources is now almost at 80 per cent. But this latest development is still far off from reaching majority of the ‘energy poor’ and achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG ) 7 on clean and affordable energy for all.
According to statistics, in counties like Marsabit, 92.6 per cent of the citizens continue to use firewood for clean cooking with a measly 3.6 per cent connected to the national grid.
Worse, women and children continue to die from indoor pollution attributed to charcoal and firewood use. These problems only show citizens have been left at the mercy of unreliable energy systems that will soon go extinct if nothing is done.
The push to save our forests by banning charcoal production will only continue to propel energy poverty if citizens do not have an alternative source of fuel. With the current population growth exploding at a high rate, continuous demand on biomass for energy is straining the country’s resources.
Furthermore, the charcoal production value chain (a lucrative income earner worth Sh32 billion is defined by mass exportation of resources from rural to urban areas, with most of the income going to ‘cartels’ rather than those involved in production or small-scale sales.
This alarming trend depicts an unregulated sector that is leading to extinct woodlands. This raises the question: Are there sustainable alternatives to provide a solution? Especially for the families who were dependent on biomass for cooking fuel or income.
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To inhibit deforestation where it’s estimated Kenya’s loses 12,000 hectares of forest cover every year; the government needs to not only focus on macro- renewable energy projects but simple clean cooking solutions that will address citizens’ energy needs and securing livelihoods.
Clean cooking technologies such as bio gas and biomass briquettes can provide a sustainable solution to address the current clean energy deficit in the country.
The two alternatives of clean energy are made from a mix of various sources, for biomass briquettes. Countries in Africa such as Burkina Faso have proven that investment in efficient clean cooking can significantly reduce indoor pollution, protect the environment and improve livelihoods.
The Sahel country is leading as one of the first West African countries to build a successful commercial market for bio gas. With support from development organizations, there has been a deliberate government effort to scale up the use of bio gas to the bottom of the pyramid families- who have borne the brunt of climate change. None of these developments would have been successful without political good will that translated to a conducive policy environment.
With Kenya’s commitment to SDG 7 through the Sustainable Energy for All alliance, clean cooking solutions are paramount in driving the country’s universal energy access.
While the solutions go a long way in addressing the energy needs of the millions of people reliant on biomass for fuel, they also aid in empowering the bottom of the pyramid families especially women to create income opportunities and be in charge of their own energy systems.
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Kenya’s clean cooking solutions largely remain underfunded by the national government. The majority of the funding comes from development aid partners and civil society organizations, which is not a sustainable funding source for the future.
Investing in a market-based approach to upscale clean cooking solutions has been a pillar of success for iconic initiatives such as the Africa Biogas Partnership Programme (ABPP). The multi-country programme implemented in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso has enabled more than 300,000 lives to have access to a clean source of energy.
The government can drive investment in the sector by creating a conducive policy environment. The Ministry of Energy should allocate more financing towards clean cooking solutions and take a further step by partnering with the banking sector to offer financial products that can catalyse uptake of alternatives such biomass briquettes, biogas and solar.
The time is also right for a generation of change through environmental ambassadorship.