Kenya: Puzzle of Two Energy Dockets Pushing Conflicting Agenda
Kenya has been working to shift households from dirty cooking fuel to clean energy as it seeks to curb pollution and safeguard the health of its citizens.
Charcoal, wood and kerosene, used by most poor households, have been blamed for respiratory diseases that afflict Kenyans.
While the government appeared to be fully committed to the clean energy cause, the situation on the ground appears to tell a different story with two ministries that ought to be working in synergy to implement the plan to curb pollution caused by biomass use appear to be pulling in opposite directions.
The Ministry of Petroleum and Mining has been at the centre of pushing for the use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) across the country through its department of petroleum with plans underway to start distributing free cooking gas cylinders and burners to poor households to discourage them from using charcoal and wood.
However, in a move that is negating the work of the petroleum docket, the Ministry of Energy, through its renewable energy directorate, is deeply involved in pushing for adoption of clean stoves that use charcoal and wood in various parts of the country.
Apparently, this is a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. Or is it? How can the two ministries not be aware of what each is doing, yet they are both housed at Nyayo House? Moreover, the dockets were split barely two years ago, meaning, the two clashing programmes were at one time implemented by the same ministry.
In its plan, the Ministry of Petroleum aims to have as many households as possible using cooking gas, whose uptake has been dismal at below 30 per cent across the country.
The shift to gas is expected to help Kenya save its forests and improve health for millions of households.
The Energy ministry, however, has set up 16 regional energy centres, which conduct active research on various household and institutional improved cookstoves.
This includes training for local artisans in the manufacture of improved wood and charcoal cookstoves in sharp contrast to the clean energy agenda.
The centres mostly located in rural areas, such as Lodwar, produce what is described as “household and institutional improved cookstoves” for sale to the general public.
“They have installed several institutional wood stoves in schools (funded by the County government), and produced household ceramic jikos, portable wood stoves and slow cookers. The energy centre sources raw materials from Nairobi (iron plates and stainless-steel sheets) and Kisumu (clay) and transports them to Lodwar by road. The centre has also trained local artisans to produce the Kenya Ceramic Jiko (KCJ) so as to increase local production capacity,” said a recent World Bank report titled Turkana County Cookstove Market Assessment: Lodwar and Kakuma Town.
The energy centre even has a sales and marketing team that creates consumer awareness on the stoves through public demonstrations, according to the report.
Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter did not respond to queries about the current roles of the directorate and whether there are plans to integrate its efforts with the LPG agenda, but details in the ministry’s website pointed to the deeper irony.
The directorate is headed by a director who reports to the principal secretary, and is tasked with overseeing the operations of the 16 energy centres in counties such as Homa Bay, Kericho, Garissa, Kisii, Meru, Nyeri and Kilifi.
“The broad objective of the Directorate of Renewable Energy is to promote the development and use of energy technologies, from the following renewable sources: biomass, (biodiesel, bio-ethanol, charcoal, fuel wood), solar, wind, tidal waves, small hydropower, biogas and municipal waste,” reads information on the ministry’s website.
The mention of wood and the focus of the energy centres directly contradict an additional role for the directorate, which is listed as checking on climate change and promoting conservation projects.
The government has also banned logging, making it hard to understand why the agenda for wood fuel is being driven by a section of the same government.
The move also goes against a report the ministry presented in November 2019 during a clean cooking forum where Kenya committed to achieve universal access to clean cooking by 2028, two years ahead of schedule. The CS was even categorical on the need to promote clean cooking solutions to save the country’s forests.
“Using clean cooking solutions will support the move by the Government to restore Kenya’s forest cover to 10 percent up from the current 7 percent. Furthermore, Household Air Pollution (HAP) brought about by cooking using inefficient cooking solutions is a key health risk to populations, and statistics from the Ministry of Health on cooking should motivate us to increase uptake of clean cooking solutions in the country,” CS Keter said during the opening of the forum attended by representatives from 50 countries.
“It is expected that clean cooking will reduce the country’s annual disease burden attributed to HAP from 49 percent (21,560) to 20 per cent.”
In the report, wood fuel comprising charcoal and firewood was ranked top at 75 per cent as the primary cooking fuel with the figure higher at 93.2 per cent in rural areas.
The two sources of cooking energy are responsible for the high HAP — one of the largest health risk factors for mortality in Kenya with about 21,560 deaths attributed to HAP annually according to the Ministry of Health. The number is more than five times the lives lost to traffic accidents yearly.
Petroleum Principal Secretary Andrew Kamau told Smart Company that such cooking solutions were intermediaries before some parts of the country could get proper access to cooking gas, but was quick to add that there are minimal barriers now for anyone to supply or buy LPG in most parts of the country.
Other stakeholders, including oil marketers, are critical of the near double-speak from the government for promoting clean energy while at the same time pushing dirty fuel.
Most critics trained their guns on the Energy ministry that has been praised for driving renewable energy solutions with increased generation from clean sources while pushing wood fuel in some parts of the country.
Petroleum Institute of East Africa General Manager Wanjiku Manyara said the country has done so much to push for the use of LPG to the extent that it would be “shocking” to have someone still promoting the use of firewood or charcoal.
“They are not solving anything by promoting use of biomass because even the current pandemic has showed us that one is more vulnerable when they already have a compromised lung due to respiratory infections largely caused by indoor pollution. We’re losing 21,600 Kenyans per year according to a report the ministry itself presented last year. It would be ridiculous that these contradictions exist in a country where everything has been put right to deepen the use of LPG, including regulations and local manufacturing of gas cylinders,” Ms Manyara said.
She blamed the international community for promoting the use of the charcoal stoves branded as clean cook stoves, which, she said, are misleading as the prototype presented as useful in reducing pollution is quite different from what is actually sold to households.
According to the PIEA boss, the World Bank and other NGOs promoting the use of the so-called clean cookstoves should direct similar energy towards driving the adoption of LPG because economically, the costs are the same as those of the six-kilogramme cylinder and burner.
Several NGOs are said to be supporting the Renewable Energy Department in training local artisans to produce the household firewood stoves in Lodwar. Organisations such as the World Food Programme, Practical Action and US African Development Foundation have been involved in the wood-driven cooking solution.
“WFP funded institutional clean cookstoves in approximately 40 percent of schools across Lodwar and Turkana county since 2011. Deep field presence makes NGOs good partners for distribution and outreach/education activities,” the World Bank wrote in the report targeting cooking energy in Lodwar and Turkana in 2017.
Another NGO, Lokado, is said to be actively producing a wood burning stove, Maendeleo, that is distributed free of charge in Kakuma. The NGO is supported by UNHCR, which has also contracted it to procure firewood that is donated to refugees in 10kg bundles per family member every two months, according to the World Bank report.
The clash in the clean energy cooking agenda also increases the burden on the Ministry of Health, which will now continue battling respiratory infections such as pneumonia and acute bronchitis said to be largely contributed by household pollutions and causing significant loss of lives in the country.
The ministry considers acute lower respiratory infections to be the second largest cause of death and are linked to 26 per cent of all deaths reported in hospitals in Kenya.
Government doublespeak on clean cooking energy has been one of the greatest set backs in eliminating the use of biomass for cooking. Last year State House left many in shock after it advertised a tender for the supply of charcoal after the government banned logging.
The July 2019 open tender included supply of liquefied petroleum gas in a move that gave the public a glimpse into the President’s kitchen where, it turns out, charcoal was a source of fuel.