The red hot embers crackled in the dimly lit tin-roofed madhouse. The sizzling sound of something cooking could be heard a few feet from where I stood. This is the homestead of Ulder Juma in Katombo Village, Kisumu County. It is located about 354 kilometers from the capital, Nairobi. The main economic activity here is small-scale farming, and fishing. 67 year old Ulder is mother to 5 children, 7 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
I was straining to make out the shape of who was behind the cooking. Then I heard a familiar female voice welcoming me into the kitchen. I made it only a few feet through the door and I was already struggling to catch my breath. Smoke from the open fire was choking me and watering my eyes. I wondered how anyone would survive right in the middle of all the smoke and still be fine. That has been the life of my mother-in-law in rural Kisumu County, at least from the time I knew her. But I am told it has been the practice, her labor of love, since time immemorial. And not just for her, but for many women in rural parts of Kenya.
A kilometer away in Nyakach Center is 50 year old Monica Odhiambo, a mother of 2. She has used open fire to cook for 19 years. In 2005, she developed chest complications and was diagnosed with asthma. This she was told was due to exposure to smoke over a long period of time.
The World Health Organization, WHO indicates that the health burden, which includes strokes, heart disease, breathing disorders, and lung cancer, falls mainly on women and children who are exposed to smoke and other gases over time.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC estimates that replacing traditional open fires with improved cookstoves has a global mitigation potential to prevent climate change, while delivering a wide range of development benefits.
In line with that, the global climate change initiative and several UN conventions included renewable energy as a priority for sustainable development in 2016.
Monica says she started using energy-saving jikos in 2022. Nine months on, and she has not looked back. Monica, a businesswoman by trade, had another jiko set up in her hotel. She says using the jiko has helped free up more time to be able to interact with and serve more customers.
Sustainability expert, Dr. Edward Mungai who is also the lead consultant and partner at Impact Africa Consulting Limited, says the energy-saving jikos have emerged as a game-changing technology in the field of energy efficiency and sustainable cooking practices. The jikos he says align with global efforts to combat climate change and achieve SDG goal 13.
SDG goal 13 has to do with taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
The energy smart stoves according to Dr. Mungai, increase combustion efficiency, reduce cooking time, minimize the fuel wood demand of a household, conserve the forests and thus mitigate against the increase in greenhouse gases, and reduce indoor air-pollution.
For Monica, freed up time and less fuel consumption have meant more money earned and saved from her hotel business. She says her visits to the hospital have also reduced significantly.
Dr. Mungai stresses that realizing the full global mitigation potential of energy-saving jikos requires addressing barriers such as affordability, accessibility, cultural preferences, and user adoption. Implementing supportive policies, financial mechanisms and capacity-building initiatives he says, are essential for overcoming these challenges and maximizing the mitigation benefits offered by energy-saving jikos.
Similarly, in Machakos county, Victoria Nthenya Philip Mutiso, a climate change ambassador and chairperson and founder of Women for Women Empowerment, a community-based organization is giving back to her community. This she does by empowering women in Matungulu sub-county, about 91 kilometers from Nairobi.
A gender-based violence survivor, Nthenya says the women are trained in the making, installation, and maintenance of the jikos and encouraged to adopt it as a business model. Through this she says, they are able to earn money and cater for some of their basic needs. The formation of women groups or what is commonly referred to as chamas, enables them to save, take loans and achieve economic development.
Small strides are creating a snowball effect of positive impacts in the mitigation of climate change and enabling sustainability.
Article by Joy Kiruki