Two Kenyans bag global award, Sh150m for 'cleaning our air'

British High Commissioners to Kenya Jane Marriot, Charlot Magayi and Winner of the 2022 Green Kids Awards Karen Kimani. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Two generations of Kenyan female climate ambassadors have won global accolades.

Charlot Magayi, the 29-year-old founder of Mukuru Stoves and winner of the 2022 Earthshot Prize Award, and Karen Kimani, a 10-year-old Environmental Ambassador were recognised to have the potential to create the greatest impact on environmental challenges facing the planet.

Speaking during the event, the British High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott said the innovations will make a great impact in addressing the current climate challenges.

‘‘We are celebrating two Kenyan companies - Mukuru Clean Cook Stoves and Roam – which have been shortlisted for the Earthshot Prize which was established by His Royal Highness Prince William, the Prince of Wales,’’ Marriott said.

She noted that the  British government had invested in clean, green economic growth by engaging young members of the society to push for change and transform the communities.

The First Lady, Rachel Ruto said women and children bear the whole burden of the use of polluting fuels.

‘‘We must not leave anyone behind, especially millions of women and girls who walk long distances to secure cooking fuel and breathe in harmful smoke as they cook," said Ms Ruto. "This is not only a matter of equity, justice, and dignity but a matter of life and death."

Ms Ruto hailed those championing the drive towards improving climate change in the country saying the use of traditional and inefficient cooking stoves has led to chronic illness and death in the poorest and most vulnerable population.

‘‘No life should be lost due to an everyday task such as cooking,’’ she said. 

The First Lady said the Mukuru Clean Stoves not only offer an eco-friendly way of cooking but are also safer, affordable, and easy to use. 

‘‘The young Charlot Magayi, in that unfortunate occurrence, saw an opportunity to create something better. She founded the Mukuru Clean Stoves that use processed biomass made from charcoal, wood, and sugarcane bagasse,’’ she said.

‘‘A commendable contribution in achieving the Green Globe goals. In people like Magayi, we see women empowering others to make a living by making a difference.’’

Today, what started as a solution to an individual's problem in the small shantytown of Mukuru has attracted global recognition and endorsement. 

Visiting UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said, the government has committed to supporting projects worth Sh500 million for six climate and green infrastructure projects in Kenya which will include geothermal, solar energy generation, and reforestation.

He said the UK government will allocate Sh12 billion in climate financing for Kenyan projects for the next two years.

Environment CS, Roselinda Soipan Tuya said the government targeted planting 15 billion trees in the next 10 years.

‘‘We will be launching the drive on December 21. The President has been calling us to turn our birthday into tree planting ceremonies,’’ Soipan said.

‘‘I wish to ask Kenyans as we go into Christmas, don't cut a tree, instead plant a live one and decorate a living one every day,’’ she said.

Karen said her journey and love for trees started when she was four years old.

‘‘I started planting trees at the age of four and took it a notch higher when I joined school. I have managed to plant the bottle brush species,’’ Kimani said.

She took the crusade to schools in the neighbourhood to plant and take good care of existing trees in order to increase the forest cover in the country.

‘‘I also talk to them about the challenge that is facing the world which has made them take it positively. Now they have joined hands in groups of five advocating the need to make our environment green,’’ she added.

Karen's business idea focused on the banning of plastic bottles within Nairobi estates and schools.

She also started her own tree nursery which has 30,000 seedlings and has planted 18,000 trees so far. She was the winner of the 2022 Green Kids Award.

Magayi observed that the challenges she faced while using the charcoal made her think of a better solution.

‘‘I used to sell charcoal in Mukuru and realised that I had developed respiratory challenges. The amount of charcoal I was using was costly which informed me to look for another option,’’ Magayi said.

Magayi further said, little did she know the effect would be felt beyond Nairobi slums.

Magayi sought to find a better solution for families that were affected by respiratory diseases after using charcoal and firewood for fuel in rural areas and informal settlements. 

The two winners were granted Sh150m in the 'Clean Our Air' category as a prize to support them in their quest for a more sustainable future. 

Also shortlisted for the award was Roam, a Swedish-Kenyan technology company that develops, designs, and deploys electric vehicles tailored for the African continent.