Scaling clean cooking responsibly: Tackling air pollution through a woman-centered model in Nigeria

by Nexleaf Analytics - 30 July, 2020
A CCAC-funded project has set out to reimagine how we tackle household air pollution, field-testing cookstove models in homes to determine the most suitable solutions for scale up.

Nexleaf Analytics, Rural Women for Energy Security (RUWES), and women from the Mararaba-Burum village in Nigeria, with support from Climate & Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), have collaborated on an innovative approach to tackle household air pollution. Together, they have set out to test the sustainability of clean cooking solutions in the vast and culturally-diverse country of Nigeria.

Under the project, five types of clean cooking solutions – LPG, biomass, or ethanol-fuel based – were evenly distributed amongst 50 households in Mararaba-Burum village to identify at least one stove model that was not only black carbon-reducing but also durable, affordable, and capable of meeting the specific cooking needs of the community. Nexleaf Analytics, a non-profit organization focused on collecting ground truth data to drive social impact and systems change, and RUWES, a sisterhood of 2 million Nigerian women advancing clean energy worked together to implement the project. A new report details the findings.

A wireless sensor on the cookstove tracks how long and how often women cook.
A wireless sensor on the cookstove tracks how long and how often women cook.

Based on publicly-available emissions test results, four of the five selected stoves showed 71.9-99.7% reductions in black carbon emissions compared to the traditional cookstove, the three-stone fire, used in Nigeria. The fifth stove model was popular enough to encourage field testing to see if its high usage warranted additional lab testing.

While these stoves are promising in their environmental and health impact, there are multiple factors to consider when selecting a cookstove to scale. Beyond evaluating stoves for black carbon emission reductions, Nexleaf also evaluates long-term use of the stoves, which can be influenced by ease of use, fuel availability, or other factors. Nexleaf attaches wireless sensors onto cookstoves to track how long and how often women cook. The data, downloaded via mobile devices or tablets, is used to quantify emissions reductions as well as determine what cookstoves are actually being used.

The report demonstrates that the liquid fuel stoves (LPG and ethanol), some of the cleanest cookstoves in terms of black carbon emissions also showed the lowest adoption (long term use) especially compared to the two biomass stoves. Purchasing additional LPG fuel replacement was too expensive for the families, and ethanol proved to be difficult to source in the specific region. As one household described, “The fuel doesn't last. Like if I purchase one canister, and I cook rice and beans just once, the fuel will finish.” Biomass stoves, of course, benefit from a regular and local supply of wood.

Further trade-offs are explored in the report, including usability versus a household’s willingness to pay for their stove. The surveys found that households were more willing to take out a loan for LPG over any improved biomass stove, even though the biomass stoves exhibited higher adoption.

From past projects in India, Nexleaf learned that piloting cooking solutions in small cohorts of 10 were enough to answer simple questions around sustainability, and, therefore protect both rural communities and project implementers from scaling the wrong solutions. The project in Nigeria dates back to a South-South Technology Exchange in March 2017 during which representatives from RUWES visited villages in Odisha, India to learn about their journey to clean energy transition.

Sensor data showed that LPG overall was more consistently used compared to other clean fuels.
Sensor data showed that LPG was used more consistently compared to other clean fuels.

"To activate climate action in a country, women are essential. They are the formidable force behind the drive for renewable energy and we plan to intensify our input in the sector,” explains Engr. Bahijjahtu Abubakar, National Coordinator of Renewable Energy Programme at the Federal Ministry of Environment in Nigeria.

The aim of the project is to equip country leaders with the ground reality data they need to identify and deliver reliable clean household energy to 1 million households by 2025, and, more significantly, to identify a basket of viable solutions that can reach all 3 billion people in need of clean energy.

The two most promising clean cookstoves from the first phase were the LPG and a forced-draft biomass stove, and are being moved to the second phase to be tested in 50 households each. The lowest when it came black carbon emissions reduction at 71.9%, the forced-draft biomass stove, exhibited high usage rate because it matched current cooking habits, like using free firewood, making it a promising contender for scale up. Uptake of the LPG, the cleanest stove in this cohort, reducing black carbon emissions by ~99.5%, was the highest among the liquid fuel-based stoves. More significantly, the LPG stove, perceived by local communities as the stove of the future meant for modern cooking, received positive feedback and women even expressed willingness to pay for such a stove.

While both had imperfect results during the first stage, having a combination of liquid fuel and biomass stoves for the next stage of work will contribute towards understanding how clean energy interventions can better meet women’s needs as well as what assumptions should be challenged in the process.

Expecting one stove or even the cleanest stove to satisfy all households’ needs does not reflect the complexity of cooking practices. As one Nigerian woman said, “Some think their stoves aren't okay for their cooking, and would have loved to have another type. For instance, some women using the improved wood stoves would say they prefer to have been issued with LPG stove, whereas some women that were even given the LPG stove would say they wished that they were issued with the improved wood stoves so that they could easily fetch firewood from their farmland and use for free without the financial stress of having to refuel their gas cylinder every now and then.”

Nexleaf’s work in Nigeria and previously in India is making a case for results-based scaling and programming as precursor to financing. As results-based financing continues to grow in the energy space, for example the World Bank’s planned $500 million Clean Cooking Fund to drive universal access to clean cooking for the poorest 3 billion, it is necessary to have identifiable methods to track and prove results for investors and for people.

“This project is a major step in enriching our knowledge and capabilities, and in finding solutions that can thrive in different environments,” says Tara Ramanathan, Director of Clean Cooking at Nexleaf. “It’s invigorating to see that when we work collaboratively not only with other stakeholders but also with the women who are doing the cooking, progress is both measurable and attainable.”