This is a post from a guest blogger, Francesco Mirabito who originally came through the Wildlife Works project area from Italy in June of 2015 as part of the Walk with Rangers event. He fell in love with Kenya and our wildlife sanctuaryÂ so he came back again to launch his Eco Stove product in partnership with Wildlife Works.
Eco stoves tackling carbon emissions, benefiting health and improving gender relations
Last summer, I had the opportunity to spend a few days walking through the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project with the Wildlife Works rangers.
During those wonderful days, walking, surrounded by the beautiful landscape of the southeastern highlands of Kenya, I met people tirelessly devoted to the conservation of a masterfully preserved ecosystem and the community linked to it. These people have to deal with many challenges to meet their basic needs in a rural environment that has very limited natural resources.
While in the bush, I discovered how complex it can be to preserve so vast an area. For example, one day we came across piles of wood. The rangers explained to me that these were from illegal loggers cutting down trees within the Wildlife Works project area and we had to destroy the wood. Immediately, I realized that this is an issue even more controversial than poaching.
Everybody has the need to cook food, and the access to a clean and cheap energy resource is a right, making this issue very complex. In my time with Wildlife Works, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about âdirty cookingâ and its implications.
In Africa, over 90% of the wood taken from forests is for fuel. The majority is consumed directly as fuel and a substantial amount is also made into charcoal. More than 80% of charcoal is used in urban areas, making it the most important source of household energy in many African cities. In Kenya, annual production of charcoal is estimated to be around 1.6 million tons with households consuming between 350 and 600kg annually. It is estimated that about two million people are economically dependent on the production, transport and trade of this charcoal.
Negative impacts of solid cooking fuels
Cooking with solid fuels, such as charcoal, wood or coal, produces significant levels of air pollution in the home environment. The effects are disturbing. Burning solid fuels produces particulates, carbon monoxide and a set of other harmful aromatics gases. These emissions can cause a long list of diseases, including respiratory damage, lung cancer and damage to the fetus and the growth of infants and children. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these pollutants contribute to the premature death of at least 4.3 million people each year and to more than 110 million developing chronic illnesses (2010 data). The WHO has assessed home air pollution as the fourth highest risk factor for premature death in the world and the second highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Premature deaths as the result of these air pollutants exceed the sum of those for HIV-AIDS (1.5 million), malaria (1.2 million) and tuberculosis (1.2 million).
Every year, it is estimated that the developing world produces emissions ranging from 500 million to 1.5 billion tons of CO2. This means that the absence of âclean cookingâ produces between 1.5% and 3% of global CO2 emissions, the equivalent, more or less, of the annual carbon footprint of a country like Britain (at the lower end of the range) or Japan (at the top).
You also cannot ignore the impact of solid fuels on open fire stoves which emit black carbon, which account for roughly a quarter of the total. While CO2 remains in the atmosphere for decades, black carbon has an atmospheric lifetime of 8-10 days. This means that their elimination could lead to rapid global warming benefits.
Collecting and processing fuel and cooking food is, in developing countries, an almost exclusively female activity. The consequence is that women, and their daughters, are bearing the brunt of the social, economic and health effects of the âdirty kitchenâ. For example, according to a World Bank report, in Kenya women are exposed to particulate emissions four times that of men. It is also hard physically; women carry heavy fuel weighing on average 20kg for long distances between 1 and 10km. According to estimates in circulation, the collection and use of solid fuels for cooking and heating results in time poverty, on average 5 hours a day. This is time that is taken away from other activities potentially productive of income and well being, from childcare to education. All in all, this trend crystallizes existing gender inequalities.
I think itâs easy to see that illegal logging is just the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, intervening by only punishing those who cut down trees does not address the needs that drive people to cut.
A new cooking stove as an innovative solution
It was during a night campfire, watching the fire, that my mind went back to when I came across the work of Professor Peressotti from the University of Udine. It was something that I thought could radically change the way that rangers cooked their food.
Professor Peressottiâs team have developed a clean, efficient, easy to reproduce, but most importantly, sustainable stove, called âElsa stoveâ. Their aims are to lessen the pressure of the population on their forested environment while increasing soil fertility of croplands and to ensure sustainable development (i.e. reducing the above mentioned health risks). The cooking stove technology uses mainly crop residues as a fuel source, and wood to a lesser extent, in a more efficient process meaning less solid fuel is used. Benefits include that biochar can easily be recovered, which is used as a natural fertilizer to build soil fertility, and that the burning process emits less harmful emissions.
So, this was the situationâŠ I was sitting watching the fire thinking about how this technology could perfectly fit the needs of the community that was hosting me.
My time in Kenya had almost come to an end; in less than a week a flight would carry me back in Europe. I met with leadership of Wildlife Works, Rob Dobson and Jamie Hendriksen, to share the idea with them. Rob, VP of African Operations, said only: “Hmm, interesting, would you be able to create a prototype before you leave?” I thought: âWow, finally someone pragmatic and direct.â My answer was: âYes, of course.â The day after I was introduced to Nick, a really nice and clever guy that is in charge of the workshop. Together we found an appropriate metal sheet, cut six patterns and assembled a stove burner.
Wildlife Works workshop guys cutting and assembling the first new stove design
The result was a small (cute, even!) burner that I tested with employees that Saturday. Even if it was just a prototype, the reaction of the crew was amazing. It was immediately clear to everybody that those small burners had the power to be a life changer for them and their community.
After returning to Italy, I prepared a project proposal and eventually I flew back to Kenya to put a plan into action. In early 2016, I arrived back at Wildlife Works to huge smiles and manifestations of joy for my return. The workshop guys got started on building the new stoves right away.
Wildlife Works workshop guys proudly displaying the first batch of eco stoves
After two days of cutting, drilling and bending, we were ready for the first test. I was really worried, because that was my first full-scale test. So I decided to do the first test in a private way. Just Nicholas and I attended the test. It was a huge success; we obtained a strong and hot smokeless flame that lasted for almost two hours. That success pushed us a lot so we continued to assemble burners with renewed excitement. The day after we were ready for a real cooking test, which I did with Joyce and Pauline two of the lovely Wildlife Works employees. We perfectly cooked rice and beans and we did it without smoke, such a surprise for them.
Right away I started the deliveries of the stoves to the rangersâ camps and within two weeks we finished assembling all the stoves. When they were complete, I gave one to each of the workshop guys as a thank you. They were thankful and happy to have the opportunity to use this new technology in their own homes.
Francesco delivering one of the eco stoves to a team of Wildlife Worksâ rangers
After delivering stoves to all of the rangers, Samuel, one of the workshop guys, and I started doing demonstrations in the local villages. The people showed a lot of interest about this new way to cook and the most common questions were: âhow much it cost?â and âwhere can I buy one?â I was really excited and had a strong sensation that the project was a big accomplishment. We are now in the process of rolling this technology out further with the local community.
At the end of my trip, I came back to Italy with my heart full of hope for the future, and I think that this was thanks to all the great people I met but especially for the incredible results obtained by Wildlife Works in the region.
Iâm already working on the next step of the project. The idea is to use the same principle, the pyrolysis technology, to obtain clean and tenable energy.