For Rhoda Tanko, preparing dishes of okra or egusi soup in her small shack was a daily ordeal spent battling the dizzying, toxic black fumes spewed out by her charcoal stove.
“Every time I had to cook for my family, I knew I had to deal with smoke that made my head feel heavy and my eyes swim,” Tanko, a 38-year-old mother of four, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the central Nigerian town of Jengre.
Her home’s energy needs were costly too: oil-rich Nigeria’s unreliable power supply meant she had little choice but to spend a large part of the family’s income on firewood, charcoal and kerosene.
But that changed earlier this year when, with help from her local cooperative, Tanko bought a new, cleaner-burning stove.
The stove, which cost 10,500 naira (Sh3,400), was provided by Solar Sister, a non-profit that operates in Nigeria as well as in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
The charity helps women entrepreneurs sell clean-energy consumer products such as solar lamps and a stove that minimises emissions by trapping most of the smoke fumes within its aluminium combustion chamber.
A more efficient stove means fewer trees are felled for firewood, said Hanatu Onogu, Solar Sister’s business development manager in northern Nigeria.
“Because people use less charcoal and firewood for more cooking, it saves resources. In the long run, it reduces the rate of deforestation and conserves energy,” Onogu said.
Over the past two years, about 4,500 of these stoves have been sold in Nigeria alone, according to Solar Sister.
Tanko, who is one of several hundred women in her area testing out the stove, said it had made a big difference.
“It cooks food faster and it doesn’t consume much charcoal. Before, a bag of charcoal would not last one month, but now it’s been four months and this bag is not finished yet,” she said, pointing at a half-empty sack.
Worldwide, more than three billion people use traditional, solid fuels like charcoal, firewood and dung to cook, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
And each year nearly four million people, most of them women and girls, die from the effects of these dirty, climate-changing cooking fuels, the WHO says, in part due to inefficient stoves and poorly ventilated homes.
A lack of access to cleaner energy supplies is a problem in Nigeria too - despite the fact that the country of 180 million people is Africa’s biggest oil producer.
Fuel shortages are common, with its 445,000 barrel-per-day refining system operating well below capacity due to mismanagement and lack of investment, forcing the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to import most of its gasoline.
The country has set a target of expanding electricity access to 75 percent of the population by 2020 and 90 percent by 2030.
Meantime, the supply remains unreliable: January saw six power outages in eight days as the national grid repeatedly collapsed, plunging most of the country into darkness.
That burden falls harder on Nigerians in rural areas, where just one in four people are connected to the national grid, according to campaign group Power for All, which promotes decentralized, renewable energy, and which funds Solar Sister.[Thomson Reuters Foundation]