YELWA TUDU, BAUCHI: Until May 2015, 44-year-old Jamila Bako cooked her food using a kerosene stove. Some other days, she used a charcoal cookstove that emitted palls of smoke.
"I normally buy up to N100 ($0.6 then) charcoal at least [daily]," the caterer, who lives in Yelwa Tudu, a town in northern Nigeria's Bauchi State, said.
Globally, over 3billion people cook daily with open fires and traditional or unimproved cookstoves enabled by dirty fuels like kerosene, coal, and biomass (wood, charcoal, others). As a result, nearly 4million people die yearly from health conditions traceable to indoor pollution.
In Nigeria, the number comes down to 98,000 women dying annually from indoor smoke-triggered conditions like respiratory infection, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (an inflammatory lung disease).
But after watching "Young Boss," a television programme showing on state-owned National Television Authority or NTA, one night in May 2015, Bako was convinced she needed to change her cookstoves.
That night, the show featured a session that educated the audience about kerosene stoves' health and environmental impacts and some solid fuels.
Towards the end, its host and her guest introduced "Happy Clean Cookstoves" to the audience as improved charcoal and briquette cookstoves that cut the emission of smoke by more than half by converting the charcoal to heat at a higher rate than some other cookstoves or three-stone fire.
Happy Amos, the show's guest and founder of Roshan Global Services Limited - the company manufacturing the product - further explained how that cut reduces the health risk. She also added that the stove cooks food faster because the combustion chamber (a closed part of the stove where charcoal or briquette is burned) intensely directs generated heat to the pot without spilling much of it.
Days after watching the programme, Bako called Amos' company on the phone, placed an order for a stove, and it was delivered to her at the cost of N2,200 ($13.3 then)
"The other one [I was using] was producing so much smoke, I used to inhale it, and it affected me in my lungs, Bako, a mother of four, said. "And it used to produce heat; I used to feel the heat inside my body. But Happy Stove doesn't."
In 2012, while on a visit to her grandmother in Mubi village of Adamawa State, Amos used a three-stone wood fire to prepare meals. She found the cooking experience unbearable because "the smoke was too much and my eyes were hurting," she said.
This got her worried, and she started researching alternatives. Soon, she found that improved cookstoves were not produced in Nigeria.
"I could only find someone from Ghana producing improved cookstoves," Amos said. "But he was venturing into Ondo State and the South West [Nigeria]."
Armed with that knowledge, Amos saw an opportunity and developed a business idea around it. In 2014, she applied for the Youth Enterprise for Innovation in Nigeria or YouWin, a federal government programme that offered grants to young Nigerians with innovative business ideas, and received N10 million ($60,606 at the time) as a grant.
She then traveled to Ghana and learned how to produce advanced cookstoves for a month. When she returned to Nigeria, she started Roshan Global Services Limited and began developing samples for testing.
"[I] made more prototypes, sold some and gave some out for free (including to her grandmother), gathered feedback, and made corrections," the 36-year-old said.
It's cost-effective too
A Happy Clean Cookstove is built with two primary materials: ceramics (or clay) for the inner chambers and mild steel sheets (carbon-low steel with a low tendency to rust) overlaying the ceramics for protection and beauty.
"The ceramics acts as an insulator (a substance that prevents spillage of heat). What it means is that you do not have heat escaping in excess like it would escape through a metal," Amos said. "So it increases the temperature of the fire thereby burning out the impurities like carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas), making it more efficient, cleaner, and directing the heat directly to the pot and making it to cook faster."
Perhaps, the biggest incentive attracting new users to Amos' product is that her stoves are cheaper and cost less to maintain. One Happy Clean Cookstove now sells for N5,000 (about $12) - nearly 17% lower than imported alternatives selling for N6,000 ($15).
Users can also save about 30% in cooking fuel because with less heat spilled and more directed to the pot leading to faster cooking, it consumes less fuel than traditional alternatives.
"Formerly, I bought N100 charcoal (daily), I now use N70, and it cooks faster and emits less smoke," Bako said.
Last year, Amos expanded into briquettes production from recycled agricultural waste, a cleaner alternative to kerosene, charcoal, and wood fuels. She holds demonstrations and cooking competitions in rural communities as a marketing strategy.
"Whenever we go to a community to market our products, we always conduct a cooking competition," she said. "Happy Clean Cookstoves finish 45 minutes earlier than the traditional cookstove."
Dirty fuel tops in Nigeria
Despite being Africa's biggest oil and liquified natural gas (LNG) producer, only one in ten households cook with LNG in Nigeria. That is mainly due to lack of awareness and widespread poverty resulting from years of economic mismanagement that have rendered nearly 43% of Nigerians impoverished and unable to buy and maintain gas cookers.
A National Bureau of Statistics report said the cost of gas cylinders here ranges from between N8,000 ($19.4) and N60,000 ($146), depending on the size; and the average price of a kilogram of gas is N414 (over $1).
For most Nigerians to start using clean energy, the government would need to invest in awareness-creating programmes and efforts that make clean energy accessible, said Sesan Temilade, adjunct lecturer of renewable energy and policy at the University of Ibadan.
Temilade said a genuine commitment to fully implement the Paris Agreement that makes it obligatory for Nigeria to cut 20% of her greenhouse gases - gases contributing to global warming - by 2030 is required to increase greener cooking energy in the country.
She also warned that indoor air pollution resulting from cooking must cease from being seen as affecting only women for any effort to succeed.
"The fact [is] that this problem is seen as a woman's problem, [so] it obscures action and slows decisions," she said. "These issues are further aggravated by the fact that women are often marginalized in the decision making and agenda-setting process."
Although improved cookstoves do not entirely prevent biomass like charcoal from emitting smoke, they are better alternatives to their traditional options, hence the need to make them widely available.
"For clean cooking to make a significant dent in environmental sustainability, it needs to be on a community-wide scale," Temilade said. "Improved cookstoves and briquettes are the cleanest and most affordable clean cooking appliance that is readily available to poor rural households; they do not require huge behavioural change as these households are already familiar with the traditional biomass cookstove."
Yet, Amos is worried that her cookstoves are gradually drifting away from the reach of people in rural and peri-urban communities that were initially her target market. That is because the value of the naira (the local currency here) has fallen by over 200% since 2015, meaning she now buys imported (dollar-pegged) production materials at prices two times higher than she purchased before 2015.
"For example, we used to buy one mild steel sheet for about N3,800 ($23) or N4,000 ($24.2). But now, the same sheet, the same size is about N10,000," Amos said. "It automatically increases the price of the end product. [Yet] as the price of the end product is going high, there is an increase in poverty level - which automatically means that our product is becoming unreachable for our target market."
Amos is still trying to make her stoves accessible to as many low-income earners as possible. So while she is careful not to operate at a loss, she has also refused to raise her price by the exact proposition the prices of raw materials have risen.
Despite that production cost has increased by more than 200%, she has only increased her price by 100% from N2,500 to N5,000 since 2015. But to cover the gap, she is working to improve her capacity for briquette production this year.
"Our plan is to increase our capacity for briquette production from 300-400kg per hour to 2000kg (two tonnes), and that means buying a higher capacity machine," she said.