Kenya: Fuel-Efficient Stoves Save Cash And Forests

The headmistress, Ms. Wanjau, and three cooks at Kangemi Primary School stand around their new steel 600-litre stove. Photo: WFP/Kristoffer Welsien

Parents in the Kangemi slum in Nairobi used to spend $450 a month on the firewood used to cook their children’s school meals. Now they spend less than a quarter of that thanks to a new fuel-efficient stove that's kinder to the environment and safer to use.

NAIROBI – Preparing the noonday meal for over 2,000 hungry students at Kangemi Primary School is no simple affair. But it used to be even harder, when the massive pots of stew and porridge had to be cooked over the open fire of a three-stone oven.

Little less than a bonfire, the “oven” at Kangemi Primary School consumed huge amounts of firewood and filled the kitchen with smoke. “We used to cough all of the time because of the smoke in the kitchen,” said the school’s principal, Ms. Margaret Wangui Wanjau.

A big improvement

Teachers and Kangemi Primary School used to use four three-stone stoves like this one to prepare meals for over 2,000 children. According to the WHO,  smoke from indoor fires kills over 1.6 million people in developing countries every year.

“But the new jiko (stove in Swahili) has a chimney and all the smoke goes outside. So we don’t cough anymore. And our chest pains have gone, too.”

Better all around

Apart from providing a smoke-free learning environment, the new 600-litre steel oven has saved the children’s families a considerable amount of money on firewood.

Kangemi Primary School is in a large slum on the outskirts of the city, where families typically spend around 70 percent of their income on food. For these poverty stricken parents, any savings at all can go a long way.

“I can’t wait to tell the parents how much we’ve saved this month,” says Ms. Wanjau. “We used to spend $450 on firewood every month. Now that will last us for four months.”

Climate change

Just as importantly, fuel-efficient stoves like the one at Kangemi Primary School reduce firewood consumption and help curb the cycle of deforestation, which has claimed over 83 percent of Kenyan forest land. Coupled with the effects of climate change, this has led to massive levels soil erosion, floods and drought.

Kenya’s waning supplies of firewood have, however, coincided with a rise in demand as the population continues to grow. “I see the increasing demand for firewood as one of the largest underlying challenges for long-term sustainable development in Kenya,” said WFP Programme Officer Kristoffer Welsien.

“Making firewood stoves more efficient is the most sensible way of addressing that challenge in the short and medium term,” he said.

According to Welsien, WFP this year will install over 300 energy-saving stoves in schools across Kenya. He said that with increased donor support, that number could rise to over 3,000 stoves by 2013.

Creative Financing

Fuel-efficient stoves can save so much money, that some communities are willing to take part in the investment. A joint project with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) finances half the cost of school stoves while communities pay for the other half through micro-credit lending. The money they repay goes towards buying new stoves or fixing them if they break. Find out more