In 2017, a Rwandan cookstove company revealed this week that it has raised more money in the past six months than the entire cookstove sector has raised in any single year.
Inyenyeri, a Rwandan company that provides cookstoves to households at no cost in exchange for customers buying their wood fuel pellets, announced at the Clean Cooking Forum in New Delhi, India, that it has raised more than $20 million in loans, grants, and the sale of carbon credits.
In Feb 2018, Inyenyeri was now serving 2,500 homes with top level stoves, while using renewable, made-in-Rwanda fuels. Inyenyeri will use a 3 million Euro IKEA Foundation grant toward their goal of providing this solution to 150,000 households in Rwanda by 2020.
When used with its wood fuel pellets, Inyenyeri cookstoves reduce emissions by 98 to 99 percent compared to wood or charcoal stoves, the company says, making their stoves Tier 4, the highest performing tier for indoor emissions as defined by the World Health Organization. Inyenyeri follows the “razorblade model,” a business model in which one item is sold at a low price, or even at a loss, because the profits come from the complementary products.
An entire sector exists to get the 3 billion people who cook over open fires or with traditional cookstoves to use cleaner methods of cooking. This includes the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership hosting its annual forum in India this week as part of its work to get 100 million households to make the switch to clean cookstoves by 2020.
Most improved or efficient cookstoves do not meet the WHO standards for reducing the indoor air pollution that kills 4 million people per year — more than malaria, HIV/AIDs, and tuberculosis combined. While these cookstoves may save women time, spare trees that would otherwise become fuel, and reduce levels of smoke to the point where it cannot be seen or smelled, they can actually increase health hazards by producing smaller indoor particulate matter that enters lungs and bloodstreams more easily.
The sector has developed a reputation for overpromising and underdelivering. But another key problem in the past has been NGOs handing out stoves for free that people will not use, either because they don’t work as well in the field as they did in the lab, break and are not easily repairable, or because women don’t want to change their cooking methods.
“When people get a free stove given to them, they sign a poster that says they will use the stove and won’t sell it, and when the auditor comes, people get the stove out that they were using as a chair and they use it that day,” Reynolds said.
As a consensus emerges that free cookstoves do not work, there is a further debate among “stovers”. A significant problem in the past was the NGO practice of giving cookstoves away for free. That method is now seen as ineffective. From villages to slums to refugee camps in East Africa, people are selling cookstoves they got for free for a couple of dollars worth of cornmeal, trading in a product they do not want for something they will use for dinner that night. The good intention of distributing cookstoves can lead to challenging environments for social enterprises working to develop products people will pay for.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s made a $10 million contribution to an NIH study on the impact of LPG cookstoves on health in four countries — the largest single grant in the history of the sector.
People are just too poor to use LPG even if suddenly it was rolled out at scale in Africa.
While refugees and other low-income populations can benefit from donated products, there are also large populations who will pay for those products, especially with the right consumer financing models. The global development community should treat the clean cooking sector as a legitimate consumer goods sector.
Since late 2013, Burn Stoves has sold over 478,279 stoves. These stoves have changed the lives of 2.5M people, saving them over $132 million.
This new “Tier 4” stove will also draw on the research of Global Good collaborators, the University of Washington Clean Cookstoves Lab and Aprovecho Research Center, the design capabilities of BURN Design Lab, and with catalytic initial support from the Osprey Foundation to build BURN’s manufacturing facility in Kenya. The biomass cookstove’s research and development is being funded by Bill and Melinda Gates through Global Good.
Through the redesigned stove, we aim to dramatically cut harmful household emissions, minimize fuel use and reduce cooking time, thus supporting BURN’s vision of a world where cooking saves lives and forests.
“We would like to see every household in sub-Saharan Africa switch to renewable and zero-residue fuels. While natural gas and ethanol hold great promise, the reality is that, by 2050, 1.6 billion people will still rely on solid biomass for cooking on the continent,” says Peter Scott, BURN Manufacturing’s chief executive officer.
“To mitigate this looming social, economic and ecological catastrophe, we must make wood-burning biomass stoves cleaner and more efficient. We are delighted to be part of the team tackling this important global challenge.”