Giving Power to rural women

With the support of Australian High Commission in Kenya in the 2015 Carbon Zero Kenya partnered with a women group (Umeme women group) in Western Kenya in Kisumu West to produce 900 cook stoves and sell them within the community. The women were empowered with skills in stove production and marketing.

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The aim of the Umeme Women’s Group Improved Cook Stove Project was to set up a self sustaining cook stove enterprise that was to construct and sell stoves within the local community. The project created some source of income for the women and thus enabling them improve their living standards.

Just to offer some background an acute shortage of fuel for cooking is one of the many problems faced by people in Kisumu West as it is the case in other parts of the country. Gathering fuel is generally women’s work but is fraught with dangers; they gamble with the risk of rape and life threatening attacks during their search for much needed firewood, in order to feed their families. In certain areas, local sources of firewood are completely depleted, leading women to travel further and further afield or to dig up tree roots, eliminating any chance of the trees growing again. Even if women survive this, they are still exposing themselves and their children to potentially deadly smoke fumes.

With the above challenges in mind and the financial support from the Australian High Commission Carbon Zero decided to tackle the challenges in Kisumu West through the use of more fuel-efficient Carbon Zero Artisanal Stove, which is both affordable and easy to use; cutting the amount of risky trips for firewood and allowing more trees the opportunity to grow. Subsequently, burning smaller amounts wood fuel means less smoke will engulf their homes and their lungs.

Carbon Zero Kenya mapped out several women groups in the area; vetted them and settled on one that was most convincing – Umeme women group. The group of ten women was well trained both in theory and practicals of artisanal stove production. After which the women were supported to source for materials and stove parts and produced a total of 900 cook stoves that they marketed within their community. The revenues collected from the sales helped the women earn an extra income. In addition the women started making weekly savings into a central kitty that they have been able to invest overtime further raising their incomes which has in a big way boosted their living standards.

Diana   is one of the women group members; the secretary of the group. Speaking to her she elaborates that prior to this project had always used the three stone cooker ever since she was born and had never seen an alternative cook stove. She says that previously she didn’t know how expensive it was sustaining a three stone stove. Knowing well that Kisumu West has fewer forests with most land under farming the only way to get firewood was and still is through buying. While using the three stone stove she says she used to buy wood worth 800/= Kenya shillings per week and this was too expensive for her.

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However she says that her turning point came in 2015 when together with the other women were selected to be trained on how to manufacture artisanal stoves and market them within their community. Diana says that after they were trained as a group they produced a total of 900 stoves that they sold out to locals. She gained skills in stove production, maintenance and also simple business skills that have been very essential in her life thereafter. As a group under her leadership the proceeds from sale of stoves were put into a table banking revolving fund that members have overtime been borrowing and paying back with little interest. She says that many group members have borrowed money and paid school fees for their children, some have borrowed to start different businesses and as they pay back their revolving fund has been growing and today they have even increased their membership.

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Diana explains how she borrowed from the group and started vegetable farming. The project has been on for the last two years and the returns are good. She is able to get an extra income to pay fees for her kids while at the same time get something to keep making contributions in the women group.  She explains that since she did not have formal employment she couldn’t borrow from the bank hence the capital they got from the sales of the stoves helped inject capital into their group that has seen them grow both individually and as a group in ways she cannot explain.

She further explains that many women call her within the local community at times to repair their stoves when they have for instance cracks and they pay her helping earn her earn her income.  She says today she her community as a stoves maintenance expert in the community. Within her own home Diana says that ever since she received the CZK stove she has seen a big difference in her life. For instance the improved cook stove saves wood fuel which enables her channel some of the money she would spend buying firewood to other development projects. As we part Diana says that for her the biggest thing out of the stove production enterprise set by Carbon Zero is that she was able to save and start a farming venture that has really improved her family’s income. She says that the project gave them power to improve their lives and turn around their fate.

 

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Counting the cost

Human life requires cooking, which means having access to fuel. Most families across the globe especially in developing nations depend on traditional stoves for cooking. These stoves emit a huge amount of smoke that affects the families.

For anyone who relies on an open fire to cook daily meals, the need for fuel rivals that for food itself. It’s common knowledge that almost everywhere on earth people cook, but that is not all, the question is yes you cook; but how do you do it? Are you using the traditional three stone stoves or an energy efficient stove? And do you know that the stove you use for cooking has an effect on your health, the environment and even beyond? According to recent estimates by the World Health Organization, up to 1.6 million women and children die every year from breathing polluted air in their homes. Respiratory and vision problems occur in mostly women and children because they spend significant time indoors tending to cooking fires.

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Another critique with traditional wood fires is the inefficiency in fuel consumption. Traditional wood fires are inefficient at transferring the released energy into the cooking vessel. Most of the released energy in the wood is wasted heating the surrounding air rather than heating the cooking vessel. The inefficient transfer of energy requires the user to use more wood fuel, increasing the amount of wood harvested from the surrounding environment. The increased demand for wood can further deplete the already stressed local natural environment.

Even worse is the fact that the burden of accessing firewood  always fall on women and girls, as they are responsible for cooking family meals in most rural communities. This compels them to walk for long distances to find sufficient firewood to cook for their families. Firewood collection is at times incredibly dangerous, exposing them to the risk of physical and sexual violence. Sadly, every day, millions of women and children risk being raped, attacked either my human beings with ulterior motives or even animals as they collect firewood.

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From the above photo Carbon Zero as one of the main environmental companies in Kenya is tackling these issues through the use of more fuel-efficient woodstoves, which are both affordable and easy to use; cutting the amount of risky trips for firewood and allowing more trees the opportunity to grow. Subsequently, burning smaller amounts wood fuel means less smoke will engulf their homes and their lungs. This further translates into improved health and time savings for households, in preservation of forests and associated ecosystem services, and in reducing emissions that contribute to global climate change.

Costly Smoke

According to WHO indoor smoke from coal, wood or dung – used as cooking fuel by more than 3 billion people worldwide – ranks ahead of unsafe water as a cause of death in low- and middle-income countries. Almost 2 million deaths a year are caused by cooking smoke, which is linked to pneumonia in children, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, low birth weight babies and lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

Most families across the globe especially in developing nations depend on traditional stoves for cooking. These stoves emit a huge amount of smoke that affects the families. Because cooking chores most often fall to women, and children are typically at hand, they are the primary victims of smoke-related respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Smoke inhalation from cooking over an open fire annually kills 1.6 million adults and children annually.

In Kenya Carbon Zero Kenya has worked with local community members distributing rocket stoves to help reduce effects of three stone fires. The rocket stoves have been praised by various users in local communities because they save precious wood while reducing cutting of forests, reduces the risk of children injured by fire, and not least the flex oven create less smoke indoors, which is vital for health. Many say the rocket stoves have simplified cleaned their kitchens by sending away smoke.

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Recently in one of our community cook stove projects in Western Kenya in Kisumu we visited Mary Akeyo one of our rocket stove beneficiaries who shared her experience having used the Carbon Zero Kenya rocket stove for the last five years. Mary explained that prior to getting the rocket stove she used to have a traditional three stone stove, which would emit a lot of smoke that affected her and her family. The stove would emit smoke that made her and her three kids cough a lot forcing them to seek medical attention many times, at least thrice a month where they were charged about Kes 300 per checkup per person. This saw her family spent at least KES 1500 per month.

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Also she explained that during this period she had issues with her eyes, shedding tears while cooking even her husband couldn’t support her with the cooking chores as he feared the smoke. Her kids could not even read while at home as the smoke would not provide a conducive environment for them to study. But today she is happy to cook anytime as the smoke is a gone case, her kids can study freely, the many visits she used to go to hospital for treatment of coughs are no longer there, she is happy. Even her husband can afford to cook a meal or two for his family as the kitchen is clean. She further explains that her cooking pots are clean too unlike before when they were all infested with smoke.

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Mary explains that smoke is really dangerous and without one noticing it has effects that can even cause death. She explains the difficulty in breaking her youngest child used to have and how scared she would be at times thinking her kid would collapse and die, she even feared living her kids at home alone. But to her excitement all these are no longer part of her worries. She even says that part of the money she has managed to save from going to hospital for medical checkups she has used to it to feed her family. She is really excited about the rocket stove. As we finalize our chat with Mary she reminds us that smoke is dangerous!

 

Not just about cooking!!!!

Cooking on a three stone stove is the cheapest way to prepare food in many parts of the world. This is because to assemble a three stone stove you only require three suitable stones of the same height on which a cooking pot is balanced over a fire. That’s how cheap the stove is. This make many families across the word especially in Africa fall for them.

Ok cheap is expensive, many say so and indeed even in the cooking sector this turns out to be true. The seemingly cheap stove on the contrary has many problems:

  • The inefficient transfer of energy requires the user to use more wood fuel, increasing the amount of wood harvested from the surrounding environment. The increased demand for wood can further deplete the already stressed local natural environment.
  • Smoke is vented into the home, instead of outdoors, causing health problems.
  • Only one cooking pot can be used at a time.
  • The use of an open fire creates a risk of burns and scalds. Especially when the stove is used indoors, cramped conditions make adults and particularly children susceptible to falling or stepping into the fire and receiving burns.

The World Health Organization has documented a significant number of deaths caused by smoke from home fires. The negative impacts of such a process of cooking can be reduced by using improved cook stoves.

 In Kaptagat in the vast Rift Valley Region of Kenya we visit one of the Co2balance improved cook stove beneficiaries Alice Kiplimo who tells us  “Tangu nipewe hii jiko nimefurahia sana kwa sababu inafanya kazi harakana inatumia kuni chache(since I was given this stove five years ago it cooks faster and also consumes less wood”. She adds that because of its efficiency on wood usage it saves her time and in that she is able to do other activities that are incomes generating promoting the living standards of her family. For instance the time she would use going to collect firewood in the forest she tends her small piece of land with passion fruits that when ripe gives her up to 200/- per kilo, and she makes up to 15 – 20 kilos per week.

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In her explanation she manages to clearly exhibit how the improved Co2balance stove has not only helped her change her cooking conditions but how the stove has changed her life as a whole. She says that before receiving the improved cook stove from Co2balance she used to use a three stove which consumed excess wood not allowing her have any extra time for any other activity; she basically would spend all her free time in the forest looking for firewood. However after getting the Co2balance improved cook stove which uses less fuel she has had many benefits; reduce wood fuel consumption by almost a half, improved health – more coughing like before, less time spent searching for wood etc. She explains how the improved stove has freed her allowing her function fully being her family’s bread-winner being able to invest in her farm planting passion fruits and having time to manage the fruits well. And as a single mother of two this has helped get earn an income which is helping her sustain her family.

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With this living story it’s now possible to see the bigger picture and realize that improved cook stoves are not just for cooking.  They change lives beyond cooking.

Over the years Co2balance has been a front runner in improving access to affordable and reliable energy services for cooking in developing countries. And it’s on this basis that it has invested in over 67,000 improved cook stoves distributed across Kenya and still seeks to partner with like minded organizations to reach many more families which are still in dire need for an improved cook stove because it understands that it’s not just about cooking.

The Joy of Cooking Together….

Carbon Zero Kenya Limited though not so pronounced remains a huge player in environmental conservation initiatives in Africa for instance  considering its efforts to combat effects of climate change in Kenya. Over the past few years Carbon Zero has helped install over 65,000 cook stoves in the country which have gone a long way in reducing wood use and thus emission reductions. Among the many beneficiaries of Carbon Zero improved energy efficient cook stoves in Kenya are members of Kasighau location in Taita-Taveta district of Coast province. Kasigau location is a semi-arid land with magnificent Kasighau hills.

Since the installation of Carbon Zero stoves many benefits have been realized by the stove beneficiaries and the general community at large. Before the distribution of Carbon Zero stoves locals here used the three stone fires. As a result their kitchens were marred with smoke. These smoke kept men from these kitchens leaving women to “die” alone. Kids would occasionally come in either to help with a few kitchen chores or to get a share of their meals. The male partner (husbands) completely avoided the place and their share of the meal could be taken and consumed away from the kitchen. This was because the kitchen was always filled with irritating smoke and ash.

The smoky, ash filled kitchen could not be tolerated by the African man (husband) who is, according to the traditional and cultural perspective, superior in the family and his role in the family, being equated with that of a king. In Kasighau location we meet Mzee Muinde’s family and listened to their story before and after getting the carbon zero stoves, what has changed and how, what has been their experience etc.

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After installation of Carbon Zero stoves the situation has drastically changed. There has been an increase in the involvement of male family members in kitchen cooking chores. This is because cooking has become easy and convenient for them.  A smokeless kitchen is a major factor for the male family members to be involved. This has made the female members proud and happy as their male counterparts help in the cooking chores as demonstrated by Mrs. Muinde’s story.

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Below; Mzee Muinde helping his wife prepare chapatis: An increase in male family members participation on cooking chores has been realized in the area since inception of Carbon Zero stoves.     muk-1                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Below; Mzee Muinde, 3rd from left, in the baraza meeting where he is the baraza’s secretary: unlike in the past, male members in the community can now help in the kitchen chores and still hold their positions in the society.

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Based on this encounter, not only is The Carbon Zero Company providing beneficiaries with energy efficient and clean cooking stoves but also impacting their social lives positively. By involvement of the male partners in routine kitchen chores, there is reduction in the kitchen work load which was primarily for women alone. Women have more time to rest and also engage themselves in developmental issues that affect the society. The family harmony and unity is enhanced when the male and female partners co-operate in the kitchen chores. What used to be a social unit in theory is now a social unit practically.

 

Empower a Woman; Empower the World!

While most governments in Africa acknowledge that empowering women and girls is a key contributor to economic development little as been done to achieve this noble goal. In Kenya women are the backbone of the rural economy. Nevertheless they receive only a fraction of the resources geared at ending poverty i.e. land, credit, inputs (such as improved seeds and fertilizers), agricultural training and information compared to men.
Empowering and investing in rural women has been shown to significantly increase productivity, reduce hunger and malnutrition and improve rural livelihoods not only for women, but for everyone.

With this understanding Carbon Zero Kenya got into Kenya with a different approach on its aim to fight climate change and empower rural communities. It invested in working with rural women as agents of change and this has so far proved fruitful. Since the inception of Carbon Zero Kenya energy efficient cook stove projects in Nyanza most rural women with the neighborhood of Kisumu have been privileged to be beneficiaries of the improved cook stoves.

And it’s in this region that we meet Mama Akinyi who lives in Nyahera village which is located approximately 20kms west of Kisumu town.  Mama Akinyi says that…“The traditional cook stove “kite adek” has been in my family for a long time .I used to buy firewood every week which cost me about 300/= Kshs, which was very expensive considering the fact that I did not have a constant source of income. Per month this totaled to 1200/= kshs,sometimes I was forced to purchase the firewood on credit basis from the wood vendor, this  made me run away when I heard him looking for me. During rainy seasons the wood price escalated, wood was not readily available and sometimes if available was not dry.

One day at the market I met this lady from Umeme women group who introduced me to a jiko ya kisasa, artisanal cook stove”.

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Having read my past blogs you will remember that Carbon Zero Kenya in 2014 trained a group of 15 women form the community (Umeme women group) on how to produce and assemble an efficient CZK artisanal cook stove.

Mama Akinyi continues to say; ……The group used to do a demonstration on how to light and use the stove and this really motivated me to purchase it through an installment basis which was convenient for me .One of the key aspects of the stove was the ability to cut the firewood consumption by approximately 50% leading to the reduction on the amount that I was spending per month to purchase the firewood. The use of the artisanal stove has allowed me to purchase firewood in bulk thus enabling me to prepare the wood in terms of making sure they are well dried and readily available. Also my relationship with wood vendor has improved drastically because am able to buy in bulk and pay on time. Having cut wood consumption by 50% it made it easy to save and start an income generating activity.

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With the funds I managed to save, I started a small kitchen garden where I planted kales and other vegetables .This provides food for my family and is also a source of livelihood. The money from this venture has made me join a “Chamaa” which has enabled me to buy a mobile phone making communication easier. Through this chamaa we do table banking with the money I get form my vegetables farm I intend to save money for a year and borrow a loan to take my son to the University. All this could not be possible were it not for the improved cook stove which was designed by carbon zero and produced by Umeme women group’’.

The story from mama Akinyi verily confirms the fact that Women are essential to ending poverty around the world. Strengthening women’s roles as leaders, entrepreneurs, consumers and economic stakeholders will transform the African continent and the world in totality.

Prepared by; Christine Atira and Moses Maina

Stroke of Luck for Rural Women in Kenya

Worldwide demand for energy to meet social and economic development and improve human welfare and health has been on the increase over the years. This has attracted many versions of energy efficient technologies springing up with an overall objective to save planet Earth.

Carbon Zero Kenya Ltd has remained a key player in the fight against climate change by developing projects that aim at mitigating the effects of the current global crisis. Over the last six years Carbon Zero has persistently worked with local communities in Kenya in promoting use of clean energy thus reducing demand for wood hence bringing down the overall speed of deforestation.

In the South of Mt Kenya is Mathira East project where the company has continued to advocate  and champion the adoption of energy efficient cook stoves, not only with the aim to mitigate green house gases emission but also improving the lives of the community  both economically and socially.

Among the notable aspects of the Carbon Zero energy efficient stove that attracts massive beneficiaries appreciation is in its great ability to save fuel. Wood fuel is a scarce commodity in this region. In addition, fuel costs have risen as more and more forests are cleared, therefore Carbon Zero stoves come in handy in the search of solutions for fuel shortages.

In one of the many success stories in the area, we meet Mrs. Grace Kangacu in her home. She is an aged grandmother from Mathaithi village. She shared her journey before and after receiving Carbon Zero energy efficient cook stove.

Pointing at three children playing outside her house, Mrs.Grace Kangacu explains how she felt deserted when her other grandchildren were growing up. Being a widow, she felt very lonely .She further recounts that before receiving the CZ stove she used to spend the nights alone because her sons’ wives could not allow the children to her kitchen as they feared a likelihood of fire accidents. ’They said that I am aged therefore not swift enough to handle the playful young ones’’ which she agrees it is true. ‘’All this changed when I started using my new (CZ) stove. Now my evenings are full of laughter from my grandchildren since their mothers are comfortable to let them visit. My new stove is safe as the fire is well enclosed inside the stove to prevent accidents and conserving a lot of energy too,’ ’ She confidently wraps up her testimony.

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Seeing that wood collected from Mrs. Grace’s farm lasts longer while using a CZ stove, the need to make back up wood purchases has  also become a thing of the past.

Carbon Zero Kenya is proud of making a change and brightening Graces’ sunset years.

Compiled by; Purity Maina, Virginia Njeri and Moses Maina