While growing up as a child in Nigeria's Kaduna State, Olanike Olugboji-Daramola was passionate about nature, and she felt concerned seeing people throw waste on the road.
“I have a deep connection with the natural environment, and I had it in my mind that someday when I grow up, I will find a way to teach people how to take care of the environment,” Olanike said.
1998, she graduated from the Federal University of Technology Ogbomosho in Oyo State with an Urban and Regional Planning degree. After graduation, she dedicated herself to acquiring practical knowledge on achieving a sustainable environment.
In 2004, she embarked on her journey by founding the Environmental Management and Protection Network, a non-profit organisation that unites individuals and organisations already committed to promoting environmental sustainability and effective waste management. This initiative sought a coordinated and harmonised approach to environmental intervention efforts.
“I have always wanted to bring people together and make them live in harmony with nature while promoting a clean and sustainable environment,” she told Prime Progress.
As Olanike continued to address environmental challenges through the organisation, she became increasingly aware that women in grassroots communities were the most severely affected.
In response to this pressing issue, the organisation underwent a significant transformation in 2008 and was renamed the Women Initiative for Sustainable Environment, or WISE. This strategic change reflected a focused commitment to empowering and supporting women in their efforts to promote environmental sustainability.
“The transition was actually to involve the realities of the women that were at the frontline of the impact of environmental challenges,” Olanike highlighted.
In 2013, Olanike was deeply shocked by a WHO report revealing that more than 98,000 Nigerian women succumbed to annual fatalities caused by using firewood for cooking.
“The statistics were quite alarming, and I started wondering if it could be real,” Olanike recounted.
After conducting surveys in various communities of Kaduna State, she found that the statistics resonate with the realities of women in the state.
Olanike continued, “It's even worse because access to clean cooking wasn't getting the attention it deserves.”
A study further unveiled that exposure to wood smoke carried significant health risks, encompassing elevated blood pressure, compromised lung function, and even a heightened risk of oesophagal cancer.
This compelling experience galvanised Olanike into action. She began composing opinion articles and sharing the stories she had collected from women reliant on open-fire cooking methods, publishing them in online journals.
It was alarming to discover that many of these women were oblivious to the dire health implications of their cooking practices and their damaging role in contributing to deforestation. Consequently, Olanike took it upon herself to spearhead awareness campaigns to educate these women and the broader community about these critical issues.
“Someone abroad who read the stories online reached out to me and supported us with $500, and at the same time, I also joined the platform of the Global Alliance For Clean Cooking,” she said, “It was on this platform that I came across different enterprises working in the production of clean cooking stoves.”
During one of the meetings for Nigeria's platform branch, Olanike met with various manufacturers, used the $500 funds to buy 50 stoves, and distributed them to grassroots women across 11 Local government areas of Kaduna State.
Such efforts earned her another financial support, which she utilised to buy and distribute another 100 stoves across the local communities.
When Olanike realised the response was working, she took a different approach and actualised the WISE Women's Clean Cooking Stove Training and Entrepreneurship project.
Clean Cooking Energy For Women
In 2016, Olanike forged a partnership with the Women Earth Alliance, and together, they initiated the Clean Cooking Stove Entrepreneurship project. This innovative endeavour entailed a comprehensive two-week training program for 30 women, equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to become clean cooking entrepreneurs and advocates.
Upon completing the training, these women returned to their communities and embarked on a dual mission. First, they commenced awareness campaigns to educate their communities about the importance of clean cooking practices. Simultaneously, they began selling clean cooking stoves at affordable prices to low-income earners in their local areas.
Through this transformative intervention, WISE made remarkable strides, providing access to clean cooking solutions for more than 9,000 women across Nigeria, thereby significantly improving their lives and contributing to a healthier and more sustainable environment.
“We tried to make it a market-driven approach that everyone can afford,” Olanike stressed.
Rifkafu Yakubu Bawa was among the 30 women trained in Lere Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
“I was blessed to be part of the project because it has impacted my life and those in my community,” Rifkafu confessed.
She told Prime Progress that the project had changed the cooking method for many families in her community, and she had introduced people to the business.
“I'm also utilising social media to advertise to communities outside Kaduna, and my products have reached far away Anambra State,” she boasted.
The impact of the training is evident from one of the trainees, Hajiya Binta Yahaya, who set up a factory in Saminaka that is now manufacturing energy-efficient cooking stoves.
In the past three years, she has produced over 15,000 pieces marketed across Sub-Saharan Africa.
“I hope that through this process, we will help to minimise the number of women going to the forest to fetch firewood. I feel happy doing this and grateful to my husband, who has been encouraging me,” 50-year-old Binta said.
How it works
The cooking stove features a specially designed chamber where users can place small pieces of dry charcoal. Within this chamber, a layer of fibreglass is incorporated to enhance heat retention and reduce charcoal consumption.
To ignite the stove, users simply place a matchstick or lighter in the chamber, along with some dry combustible materials such as paper and orange peel, instead of relying on kerosene. This ignition process effectively prepares the energy-efficient cooking stove, offering a cleaner and more sustainable solution.
Limitations and the way forward
According to Olanike, the organization faced significant constraints in providing resources to the entrepreneurs, primarily due to limited funding.
"It's challenging to conceal the financial constraints we encounter since they form the foundation of our work as a non-profit organisation," she explained.
Despite conducting extensive awareness campaigns, some households faced financial constraints that prevented them from purchasing the stoves, thereby restricting the project's growth.
Moreover, some households had the financial means to afford the stoves but were hesitant due to conservative beliefs and steadfast adherence to cultural norms.
49-year-old Olanike said she is now focusing the years on establishing partnerships to launch the Women's Eco Learning and Resource Centre. This visionary initiative aims to support a minimum of 3,000 women annually, empowering them to become environmental stewards in diverse communities throughout Nigeria.
Olanike also hopes to see improvement in the Nigerian power sector. “So that people in grassroots communities can adopt electric cooking, which is also one of the cleanest,” she said.