Kenyan women discover their entrepreneurial spark with clean cooking technologies
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13 شباط/فبراير 2017 Author :   Karitu Njagi

NYERI, Kenya (PAMACC News) - Although she struggles to make her economic stake as a housewife, Louise Nyawira is beginning to count herself a winner.

The mother of two, who operates a cook stoves making stand at Kangemi estate on the fringes of Nyeri town, is among hundreds in Kenya who are making business out of the kitchen.

For every switch a mother makes from the traditional three stones cooking set up to the energy saving cook stove here, there will be more clanging at Nyawira’s yard.

“There is high demand for the energy cook stoves because they use less firewood or charcoal,” explains Nyawira.

It is easy to see why. At her tin smith yard, the floor is littered with cut metal sheets. A basin at one end is half full with paste cement and clay. It is the assembling of these that have resulted to the waist high pile of newly made cook stoves at another end.

“All these are for servicing an order of 30 cook stoves that we must deliver to a customer today,” beams her husband, Philip Njau, who makes the cook stoves, while Nyawira delivers them.

Nyawira says customers place orders from as far as neighbouring Counties, for as much a $ 100 in a day.

Lately, the couple is planning to hire a tin smith to assist them in making the cook stoves, to meet the high demand.

Creating business out of clean energy solutions is an emerging niche that is pulling Kenyan women like Nyawira from the kitchen to the wealth creation ring.

With the income she receives from the cook stove making venture, she is able to meet basic expenses like paying school fees for her two children, and buying food.

“The good return the business is making has even bonded me closer with my husband,” she says. “We are able to sit down and plan for our family and how to make the business better.”

The successful adoption of clean cooking technologies ‘is evidence that poor people are willing, able and indeed often keen, to pay market prices for energy services’, argues the 2016 poor people’s energy outlook report by Practical Action.  

However, they are unable to afford the full cost of the higher levels of access which would fully meet their needs, adds the report.

For instance, the report says, over 84 per cent of Kenyans rely on biomass as their primary energy source for cooking and heating, with firewood contributing 69 per cent and charcoal 13 per cent of this figure.

But resources like firewood are diminishing, forcing mothers like Margaret Wanjugu to make a one kilometer journey to buy it from the nearest retailer from her home in Solio village, central Kenya.

“There is no firewood,” says Wanjugu, indicating that the resource is on the decline at the nearby forest which the community there has been relying for fuel.

Even for those who dare make the 10 kilometer walk to comb for dry twigs at the Gathorongai forest floor, the journey is replete with danger.

Stray wild animals like elephants send the mothers scampering for their safety, while some live with the pain of being raped by human stalkers living in the forest.

“This is why I prefer to spend at least two dollars to buy firewood,” says Wanjugu, adding that these can last even two months.

However, this was after Wanjugu acquired an energy saving cook stove, which she came to know about after meeting the Sustainable Community Development Services (SCODE) officials.
There is an economic benefit too. These days, she uses the time used to collect firewood from the forest to herd her goats, do some farming, or even take a leisure walk to Nyeri town.

“The idea is to ensure women economic empowerment through energy enterprises as way of meeting the SDG on energy that Kenya is a signatory to,” explains Practical Action programme manager, Lydia Muchiri.

The Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya (WEEK) project, says Muchiri, aims to reach 730 small scale women energy entrepreneurs in Kenya.

By her estimation, their empowerment can benefit some 364,200 Kenyans, including institutions, where 450 jobs will be created by women enterprises in the project areas, including Rift Valley, Western and Nairobi regions.

Such a hopeful outlook seems to impress Lilian Njeri, who is a volunteer at Imarisha (to make better) Community Based Organization (CBO) in central Kenya.

“We create business opportunities for mothers because there is high demand for charcoal briquettes by farmers who do chicken farming,” says Winnie Kamau, who has been training Njeri at the CBO.

The farmers use the briquettes for indoor warming because the product does not emit noxious fumes, she adds.

“Energy enterprises have better returns for poor because every household must cook every day,” argues James Mwangi, a technology mentor at SCODE and coordinator of WEEK in central Kenya.

SCODE is promoting improved cook stove, charcoal briquettes and solar technologies in Kenya, he says.

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