- 7th January 2022
By Herbert Njiru Nyaga (Energy 4 Impact, Rwanda).
As part of their research partnership with Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) in Rwanda, Energy 4 Impact recently studied the cooking habits of twenty-five households in Kigali over nine weeks. Provided with electric pressure cookers and electric infrared stoves, the households were asked to record their daily experiences using these technologies in the form of ‘cooking diaries’. Starting from baseline observations of what these Rwandan households traditionally like to cook, alongside how much time and fuel they spend in the process, the cooking diaries then tracked how these patterns shifted after the introduction of modern cooking equipment. In order to better understand possible barriers to its widespread adoption, the study also tracked their cooking preferences alongside their attitudes and perceptions around different types of equipment and fuels. The preliminary findings show that cooking with electricity was appreciated as an energy efficient and cost-effective method of cooking by participants. In order to further spread the message on the viability of electric cooking for Rwanda households, MECS and Energy 4 Impact joined forces to host a cooking competition in Kigali in which several households were invited to cook a popular dish using electric appliances. Herbert Njiru Nyaga, Energy 4 Impact Country Manager in Rwanda, was on hand to coordinate the competition and relays his observations below.
The recent completion of the cooking diaries study suggests that cooking with electricity is highly compatible with the cooking preferences of Rwandan households – a pleasing result that bodes well for government plans to reduce the use of biomass for cooking. We know that 79% of Rwandan households rely on traditional cooking fuels and the government aims to reduce this to 42% by 2024. So although cooking with traditional fuels, such as charcoal, is harmful to both family health and the environment, we have reason to be optimistic that the tide will soon turn. As the government plans to reach universal electrification by 2024, we have a fantastic opportunity to grow the market for electric cooking appliances as a replacement for charcoal (or use them as an alternative or addition to LPG). But getting the message out there is really important: this is why events such as the cooking competition are an important way to show key stakeholders, as well as the wider world, that Rwandans can adapt comfortably to cooking with electricity.
I’m originally from Kenya, but I have visited many Rwandan families over the years, and I’ve come to understand how much they relish a lunch dish called umuceri n’ibishyimbo, an aromatic stew of beans, vegetables and rice. A great number of households cook this dish in a terracotta pot over a fire or on a charcoal stove, so we chose this popular dish as our challenge recipe in the hope that it would show how cooking with electric pressure cookers (EPCs) can produce the same delicious results.
We had invited cooks from fifteen households already participating in the cooking diaries to join us in a marquee on an October day in Kigali. I stood alongside our team of judges, composed of representatives from MECS, Arc Power (a Rwandan solar mini-grid developer), Electrocook (a Kigali-based EPC supplier), the Head of Biomass at ECDL (sustainable regional energy provider Energy Development Corporation Limited), as well as other members of the Energy 4 Impact technical team. I welcomed the curious and eager participants as they arrived, explaining the rules carefully: the winner would not be the cook who produced the tastiest stew, but the one who used the least energy in the process of cooking the meal (we would only use a taste test in the event of a tie in lowest amount of energy used). This was not going to be a typical cooking competition! The team was not just content with proving that EPCs can produce good results, we wanted to show our invited guests, ranging from electric cookstove suppliers to mini-grid operators to government officials, that the ease with which our cooks could produce this dish demonstrated the tremendous potential for market growth in the EPC sector.
The participants were allocated to numbered tables where they found the electric stoves, cooking equipment and ingredients (0.5kg of rice, 0.5kg pre-soaked beans, 1 carrot, 1 onion, 3 tomatoes). Participant Mukasonga Lydia said, “I’ve cooked it hundreds of times for my family, so I’m not worried about getting the recipe right, I just hope I can use energy sparely enough to win”. However, a few others seemed less sure. Mukaneza Agnes said “I’m getting more confident with using the electric cooker as the weeks go by, but I still haven’t fully got the hang of how long it takes to cook different ingredients”. Before they started, I further explained that they had been provided with an infrared stove as well as an EPC, and they could use either or both (although they were aware that the infrared stove consumed more electricity). All the appliances had been hooked up to meters to enable us to take accurate readings of their electricity usage.
The competition was strong as all the participants had experience of using EPCs after participating in the cooking dairies: the average power consumption ranged from 0.62 kWh to 0.86 kWh. The winner, Nyirarukundo J. d’Arc, used 0.62 kWh; the first runner-up, Uwineza Phoebe, used 0.68 kWh; the second runner-up, Mulisa Solange, used 0.7 kWh. The thrilled winner attributed her win to using the EPC continuously at home prior to the competition which gave her enough confidence to realize she could produce virtually all the usual dishes for her family with low power usage. The competitor with the highest power usage of 0.86 kWH was clearly less confident as they chose to back up their use of the EPC with the infrared cooker.
We were satisfied that our winner and runners-up had managed to produce a tasty meal with an economical amount of electricity. It reinforced the results of our cooking diaries study which showed that cooking with EPCs is typically much more cost-effective for Rwandan households than LPG or charcoal: cooking a comparable lunch costs 33 Rwf per person with EPCs, 90 Rwf per person with LPG and 56 Rwf per person with charcoal.
As our judging panel went around the marquee sampling the stews, confirming that all of the cooks had produced fine-tasting versions of the dish, most of our competitors said they found EPCs easy to use for the majority of dishes they typically wanted to cook. However, it also enabled us to better understand the possible barriers to uptake of EPCs: I asked Mulisa Solange why she felt she needed to use two cookers and she said she found it more convenient to place the pot on top of the infrared cooker, just as she is used to with charcoal stoves, whilst she cooked the rest of the ingredients on the EPC. Her response underscored one particular finding of the cooking diary study: the fact that most EPCs typically had only one inner pot prevented users from cooking separate ingredients simultaneously when making certain dishes.
Hearing the feedback from the competitors enabled the team and the various gathered stakeholders to reach some conclusions. Daniel Shijaku from Electrocook said, “This competition shows the potential for large-scale adoption of EPCs in this country which gives us further confidence as we plan on setting up an assembly plant in the near future. However, we must ensure the product is not only affordable, but that the design really meets the needs of Rwandan households.” Assumpta Umwali from Arc Power also commented, “It is so encouraging to see home cooks adapt comfortably to cooking with EPCs, because as more consumers are persuaded to switch, demand for electricity amongst off-grid customers will only increase and make decentralized energy businesses like our own more sustainable.’ Oreste Niyonsaba from ECDL said that, “This is a great initiative that aligns well with the government objective of reducing use of biomass, and I envisage that these EPCs will be incorporated into the Energy Access and Quality Improvement Project (EAQIP) , a World Bank-funded initiative which aims to support the growth of the clean cooking sector in Rwanda, which will then enable suppliers to benefit from a results-based financing facility which will help them grow their businesses”.
Not only had we had a fun and laughter-filled afternoon, we had gathered more of the field-tested evidence we need to persuade policy makers and other stakeholders that the transition to cleaner cooking practices is a viable one.
Featured image, top: The tasting panel watches as the cooks prepare their umuceri n’ibishyimbo, an aromatic stew of vegetables, beans and rice (image credit: Energy 4 Impact, 2021).