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Bridging the eCooking Gap through Alliances

3rd April 2023
Electric Cooking

By Paul Osogo (Africa Research and Impact Network), Emily Bolo (Africa Research and Impact Network), Joanes Atela (Africa Research and Impact Network), Syprose Ochieng (Gamos East Africa), Jon Leary (Gamos East Africa), Beryl Onjala (Gamos East Africa), Irene Wanjohi (Kenya Power and Lighting Company), & Wairimu Njehia (Kenya Power and Lighting Company)

This blog aims to highlight the importance of partnerships in achieving common project objectives. Given the interest that the First Lady of Kenya has in clean cooking, the Africa Research and Impact Network through its Government Diplomatic and Policy Liaison Officer, Mr. Paul Osogo, made plans to arrange for a meeting with the Office of the First Lady (OFL) immediately after last year’s election to deliberate on areas where the two offices could work together. After several planning sessions, a day was settled for when the ARIN team would shed more light on the eCooking technology to the OFL’s Environment and Climate Action Team. Since Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC), which also works closely with ARIN, has a program dubbed as the ‘Pika na Power’, ARIN saw it wise to engage the institution in the meeting given the wide range of energy-efficient electric appliances that they have, which could easily be showcased to the OFL team.

As such, MECS (Modern Energy Cooking Services) through ARIN (Africa Research and Impact Network) and , KPLC (Kenya Power and Lighting Company), met with the team from the Office of the First Lady (OFL) of Kenya at the ‘Pika na Power’ demonstration center on Thursday19th January 2023. Also present in the meeting was Gamos East Africa. The meeting aimed to brief the OFL’s team on electric cooking as a clean cooking alternative which apart from the fact that it could address a myriad of problems associated with the use of biomass, it could also contribute towards climate action. As the team was being brought to speed on the various electric cooking initiatives and campaigns that have been conducted within the country, cooking demonstrations were being carried out using the different electric cooking appliances while connected to smart meters for them to witness the electric units and time used in the preparation of different dishes. It is normally said that seeing is believing, and so the team had the opportunity to experience in real-time how these appliances work and through the aid of smart meters understand the cost and how cheap it is to cook using electricity. They also got the opportunity to sample all the dishes that were prepared and ascertained that they were indeed tasty. At the end of the meeting, all the questions they had concerning the affordability of the fuel and the appliances as well as the payment plans available to help low-income earners purchase the equipment, were addressed to their satisfaction.

eCooking adoption has been slowly accepted in Kenya and having the office of the first lady take an interest or rather join the table for a discussion on collaborations, is crucial for this process. While numerous research and campaigns have been conducted on electric cooking to prove its effectiveness to facilitate its uptake, its adoption among the Kenyan population has been slow. Many people are still not aware of energy-efficient electric appliances and the mere mention of cooking with electricity is usually not well received as a bigger percentage of the population still believes that it is costly and thus not a viable idea that they are willing to entertain. The meeting could hence open doors for collaboration with the OFL which now houses the Ministry of Environment and Climate Action. Besides, should the OFL endorse electric cooking, its adoption could be accelerated given the influence that the office tends to have.  

The Office of the First Lady, through meetings and engagements with various stakeholders in the clean cooking sector, has shown her interest in supporting the clean cooking agenda. In Kenya like many other countries, the office of the first lady is given the mandate to implement overseas initiatives of their choice and in this case, Kenya’s first lady office has shown interest in 3 key pillars:

  • Women’s economic empowerment and financial inclusion

Under this pillar the OFL advocates for women’s empowerment through table banking and financial inclusion and wealth generation, and capacity building through training, sustainable livelihoods, and trade.

  • Environment and climate action

The environment and climate action have two departments, the green economy, and the health and wellness department. Under the green economy, a national tree restoration campaign was launched by the president to increase the tree cover by 30% by 2032. They also have an environmental award scheme which they plan to institutionalize and can be an avenue for education and sensitization awareness. The health and wellness department aims to transition the communities in the rural and informal settlements to cleaner lighting services and cooking technologies. This department works closely with the ministry of public health and KEMRI.

  • Faith diplomacy

It focuses on two aspects, family values and mercy work. Mercy works entail extending compassion to the country through school feeding programs. The OFL has partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to feed marginalized schools, especially those in ASAL (Arid and Semi-Arid Lands) areas.

Hence why it was important to bring her team on board to understand the current ongoing clean cooking and eCooking initiatives in the country and to understand what areas of collaboration could emanate from these engagements.

Ongoing initiatives for constructive collaboration

The Ministry of Energy through the support of MECS is working with the EED Advisory and Nuvoni Centre for Innovation Research to develop Kenya’s national clean cooking and national eCooking strategy. These two strategies aim to bring coherence to the cooking sector by taking stock of the progress to date, evaluating the potential of different cooking fuels/technologies, and exploring the different pathways toward achieving the government’s ambitious target of achieving universal access to clean cooking by 2028.

Additionally, MECS through UK PACT (Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions) funding is also supporting 12 pieces of work on capacity building for electric cooking (eCAP) working with KPLC, CCAK (Clean Cooking Association of Kenya), ISSE, Powerplay, SCODE, Kisambara, and Nuvoni. Also, SNV and MECS have recently launched the ‘Institutional e-cooking pilot in Kakuma’ project, co-implemented and funded by EnDev through the MBEA (Market Based Energy Access) II project and the MECS programme. The project aims to test the use of large Electric Pressure Cookers (EPCs) with 3-4 social institutions in the Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement that is connected to a solar mini-grid system or have their solar system.

ARIN is currently the Kenyan Partner of the MECS program. The Africa Research and Impact Network (ARIN) is a leading research-impact platform of over 200 researchers and policymakers with national focal points across 36 African countries. Under the climate change and energy thematic area, ARIN through the Modern Energy Cooking Services has worked with counties and national governments to promote electric cooking so far in the counties of Makueni, Kisumu, Nakuru, Kitui, and Nairobi. The project is undertaken in collaboration with Kenya Power, the Clean Cooking Alliance of Kenya, and Gamos East Africa.

Kenya Power’s ‘Pika na Power’ (Cook with Electricity) campaign was launched in 2017 to increase revenue per customer by stimulating demand for electricity and increasing the social impact of electricity access. The campaign aims to tackle the common misconception that electricity is ‘too expensive for cooking’ by showing people just how little it costs to cook with electricity through live demonstrations, social media content, and multimedia outreach.

Figure 1: Illustration from the Kenya eCookbook (2019) showing the dramatic reduction in the cost of cooking ‘heavy foods’ such as beans with an Electric Pressure Cooker (EPC)

To date, the activity has included a prime-time TV show, bi-weekly cooking classes at a modern demonstration kitchen in Electricity House, highlighting at events, and brokering strategic partnerships with appliance manufacturers/distributors and financiers. Building on this, work is just beginning on eCAP (eCooking Capacity Building & Market Development), a broad programme of activities funded by UK PACT (UK Partnerships for Accelerating Climate Transitions) and MECS (Modern Energy Cooking Services) and implemented in partnership with Kenya Power that is designed to further build capacity and develop the market for eCooking by building upon the foundation laid by ‘Pika na Power’.

Why we need to join forces

In conclusion, both teams recommended the following areas as crucial in increasing the uptake of eCooking.

  • The need to package all the energy-efficient electric appliances and attach a price value to them, which can then be discounted. This could be appealing to people who want transition to eCooking.
  • Stima loans may help consumers purchase e-cooking appliances and pay over a certain period with the savings made from cooking with electricity.
  • Energy is a fundamental enabler of development. While the electrification rate in Kenya has sharply increased, it is not being utilized effectively. As such, while it was meant to improve the lives of those who have been connected, it cannot if it is only used for lighting.
  •  Lobby the government through the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA) to reduce the taxation rates of electric cooking appliances to facilitate uptake.
  • The need to design a carbon project that may help lower the prices of electric cooking appliances and hence accelerate uptake.
  • The biggest thing that needs to be done is not improving the infrastructure but raising awareness. “We need to go big into letting people know what eCooking all is about.”
  •  For counties, the CDF and Governors funding can be used to plug into institutional EPCs.

Featured Image: The Office of the First Lady and MECS team. Image Credit: Agnes Kalyonge.