Let's embrace clean cooking technologies to save our health, habitat

Cooking is a fundamental activity in human life, serving not only as a means to prepare meals but also as a social and cultural practice. However, traditional cooking methods, characterised by open-fire stoves and inefficient charcoal stoves, have had detrimental effects on both human health and the environment. It is high time we recognise the urgent need for improved and clean cooking technologies to address the inefficiencies and challenges associated with traditional cooking.

In many rural areas, traditional cooking methods involve the use of open-fire stoves, typically achieved through the arrangement of three stones as a tripod on the floor. This practice allows for cooking but also provides warmth, which is enjoyed by women, children, and even animals. However, household pollution from open fires poses a significant danger, as inhaling smoke particles and carbon monoxide can lead to severe respiratory problems and, tragically, even death. Moreover, the large carbon emissions released into the environment contribute to global warming and climate change. Furthermore, the high demand for biomass feedstock, such as firewood and charcoal, results in widespread deforestation and degradation of tree cover.

To overcome these challenges and ensure a sustainable future, we must embrace clean and improved cooking technologies. Clean cooking focuses on technologies that do not emit carbon compounds, while improved cooking aims to enhance thermal efficiencies, conserve energy, reduce feedstock consumption, and explore alternative fuels from recycled waste.

One of the most promising advancements in sustainable cooking is the use of electricity. Electric cookers and Electric Pressure Cookers (EPC) provide efficient and convenient solutions for cooking. These electricity-powered devices not only offer a cleaner alternative but also enable the preparation of heavy foods in a cost-effective manner. Additionally, the development of ethanol and biogas cookstoves offers greener alternatives that reduce reliance on traditional fuels.

Under the umbrella of improved cooking, there are technologies designed to minimize feedstock usage and maximize efficiency. Improved firewood and charcoal cookstoves, commonly known as "Maendeleo cookstoves," have been developed to accommodate charcoal briquettes and pellets. These stoves are designed with small feedstock areas and increased heat insulation, resulting in minimal fuel consumption while providing maximum heat output.

Addressing the challenge of sustainable cooking requires collaboration among various stakeholders. Government bodies, including the Ministry of Energy and County Governments, are working alongside organisations such as the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya (CCAK) and Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS). These collaborations aim to develop strategies and establish County E-Cooking Hubs, which serve as training centers, equipped to support the adoption of clean cooking technologies across the country. Successful hubs in Makueni and Kakamega serve as models for replication and expansion.

Furthermore, the clean cooking sector holds untapped job creation opportunities. Charcoal briquette production factories, utilizing agroforest and industrial waste, can significantly reduce reliance on wood charcoal while generating employment. Biogas systems not only provide affordable and environmentally friendly gas for cooking and lighting but also offer opportunities for masonry work and the production of homemade fertilisers.

Ms Mugo is the Energy Consultant, Ministry of Energy and Petroleum County Renewable Energy Officer, Tana River