On the Right Path: Clean Cooking

On the Right Path: Clean Cooking

By Líbhan Collins, Key Correspondent for the Irish Forum for Global Health

Brilliant and eager minds gathered in Wexford, Ireland on May 29th to 31st at the Pathways to Clean Cooking International Conference 2019 to examine recent advances in clean cooking technology and practices.

In low income countries, cooking often takes place on low quality stoves and to a large extent indoors. The air pollution as a result means that there are millions facing a very dangerous health risk by their exposure which can lead to asthma, pneumonia and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) incidence. A variety of other pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases are also likely when living in these conditions.

Another issue of concern is the impact that burning fuels such as kerosene, coal, wood, and charcoal, have on the environment. The desired outcome of the Clean Cooking Alliance is a world in which equal and affordable access to cooking methods that are efficient, sustainable and that minimise air pollution are adopted. In addition, there is also a desire to reduce deforestation which has detrimental effects on local agriculture and the environment.

As is evident from the overall climate emergency situation, it is very challenging to create change in the behaviour of populations. For something like cooking, an essential practice in everyday life, a lot of factors must be addressed for any real progress to be made on a large scale: education on the benefits and risks, a subsequent desire to make the change by communities themselves and finally access to an alternative. More often than not, when authoritative figures or external organisations give instructions or mandates about behaviour change it is not adopted out of a need for free and independent thought and the desire to make one’s own decisions.

Speaking at the conference in Wexford, Emily Hosford detailed the sort of community-led initiatives that were necessary for an increased adoption of improved cooking stoves. As part of research led by Vita and the CLTS Foundation in Ethiopia, community meetings were organised in six villages, which encouraged reflection on how the people in each community cook and the effects their methods have on their overall health and local resources. This approach, she said, allows people to own their solutions based on local circumstances, thus spurring action.

Vita dove into this research with the goal of influencing attitude and behaviour change which was favoured over a top down order for change. The approach also means that any changes will be suitable to local environments, a factor of vital importance which reduces the risk of western developed solutions having little relevance in contexts that have different cultures and societal values.
Issues that were considered in these meetings included fuel usage and availability, the time resources can take to collect, forest cover in the surrounding areas, as well as pricing and usage per month.
A committee was created in each of the villages and an action plan with deadlines were set out by locals. Hosford’s team made use of triggering to mobilise the communities via visual analysis of their sanitation and cooking situation.

With the success of this method, Vita have now trained 40 NGO and government facilitators to roll out this approach for change to 40-50 more villages throughout the remainder of 2019. In this extension of their research, they plan to gain a deeper understanding of how to address barriers and the types of factors that drive the adoption of improved stoves and fuels as well as the reasons for the lack of uptake. The role of researchers as facilitators in this case allowed a pathway to open up for this community.
Of course, the SDGs aim high and the progress made to date with SDG 7 has been minimal. Elisha Moore-Delate illustrated the extent of the challenges regarding clean and affordable energy in her address to delegates. She used the REDD and then REDD+ mechanism as a favourable solution for many programmes but noted that the programme development pace can inhibit progress pointing out that it took ten years from the point of initial pitch to the initiation of the existing newly launched energy programme in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Creating changes in the types of fuel and its usage is not something that will happen fast—in many countries such as DR-Congo biomass consumption is predicted to increase. But it seems many organisations are on the right path. REDD + (Reduction of Emissions, Deforestation and Forest Degradation ), aims to mitigate climate change while also addressing poverty alleviation. When looking at energy through this lens, biomass use and transformation is an important livelihood resource—contributing to income and energy needs and thus this REDD+ programme favours promoting sustainable biomass and the use of renewable or alternative energy sources.

While Vita focuses on household stoves, an issue highlighted by Moore-Delate of further importance was the lack of policy and legal frameworks surrounding energy use. In addition, there is a clear need for a commercial energy market for clean fuel and stoves. Programmes have a tendency to focus on either the stove or the fuel rather then addressing the whole cooking for energy value chain.

It seems that the solution to the obstacles being faced by the proponents of Clean Cooking lies in the adoption of a holistic approach sector wide, taking into account the wide and varied complexity of the issues facing the users, the process of delivering the technology and the practices that must be rolled out in tandem for adoption rates to be improved

10 July 2019