In sub-Saharan Africa, where access to electricity is limited for millions of people, firewood and charcoal are the main sources of energy for cooking. Together they account for three-quarters of total energy demand.
In response, in some countries, a wide range of private-sector initiatives have emerged, offering alternatives that are both efficient and environmentally friendly. In Kenya and Uganda, for example, improved cookstoves are widely available, but in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) options remain extremely limited, even though 90 percent of households use wood fuel – one of the highest rates on the continent.
In Kisangani, the third-largest city in the DRC, only 16 percent of households use an improved cookstove, according to a recent report published by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), in partnership with the Belgian Development Agency (Enabel), the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the Congolese Organization of Ecologists and Friends of Nature (OCEAN). The remaining households use traditional, simple brazier-type cookstoves, which are not very sustainable.
The city’s residents consume more than 2.7 million cubic meters of wood fuel a year, according to the report. Eight out of 10 households use mostly charcoal (or “makala,” as it is locally known) for cooking, making it the most widely used fuel in terms of number of users.
Charcoal is sold at 452 Congolese francs (USD 0.23) a kilogram, making it a significant expenditure for households. Energy for cooking accounts for about 14 percent of the average monthly budget.
As a result, 76 percent of households reported that they would be interested in purchasing an improved cookstove, with a locally produced clay-and-metal model, enabling them to use 36 percent less charcoal than with a traditional stove. “This represents significant savings, making it a very attractive option,” said the study’s lead author, Gerard Imani.
Training manufacturers to increase supply
To convert consumer interest into purchases, affordable and high quality improved cookstoves must be commercially available in Kisangani, according to Elisha Moore-Delate, co-author of the study. One of the big obstacles is poor performance. “Users mention flaws such as fragility, heaviness, small size and difficult handling,” she says. According to the report, of the 15 manufacturers specialized in making such equipment in Kisangani, only four produce quality improved cookstoves. In total, only 450 quality improved cookstoves are produced each month in Kisangani, but most of them are not energy efficient.
To increase production capacity and the cookstove supply in Kisangani, the project “Technologies, Renewable Energy, Academy” (TERA), which is coordinated by UNDP and UNCDF, plans to support training for cook stove makers on design, improvement of heat transfer, safety, ease of use and quality control. “We have to increase the lifespan of the improved cookstoves and make them easier to use,” said Imami.
Toward a sustainable wood fuel value chain
Support for a comprehensive strategy is needed if improved cookstoves are to have a significant impact on reducing charcoal use, according to CIFOR research associate Jolien Schure: “This means making environmentally friendly charcoal available and seeing to it that producers have established sustainable management options.”
Through the European Union-funded project “Governance of multifunctional landscapes in sub-Saharan Africa,” CIFOR is working in the production areas around Kisangani to increase charcoal-making efficiency and reduce wood harvesting. It is also supporting tree planting to ensure a sustainable supply of wood resources.
“Ultimately, a combination of these measures is needed to meet the city’s energy demand without jeopardizing the surrounding forests,” Schure said.
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This research was supported by the European Union.
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