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The transition to electric cooking: the Community of Practice case for Kenya

15th December 2023

By Erin Maxwell, Loughborough University

It is no secret that shifting to clean cooking has numerous social, economic, and environmental benefits. In Kenya, clean cooking is becoming increasingly popular. To explore its benefits and interest amongst Kenyans, The Clean Cooking Association of Kenya (CCAK) in collaboration with the Modern Energy Cooking Services programme (MECS) established a Community of Practice (CoP) group in 2022. This group consists of individuals, civil societies, Private sector, governmental and non-governmental organisations involved in research, sales and use of electrical appliances, aiming to promote sustainable cooking. Following the inaugural Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, where the MECS team also showcased its work in the eCooking sector, CoP membership grew by 78.26% between November 2022 and September 2023. As shown in the featured image at the top of this blog, the CoP has addressed a wide array of key topics related to clean cooking. Initially, discussions often focused on promoting different appliances, employment opportunities, and events. Members frequently gave advice to others on their appliances. Over time, the discussions evolved to focus on the broader implications and developments of electric cooking (eCooking), including topics such as tariffs and educational institutions. This blog will delve into some of the key messages addressed by the group.

Benefits of eCooking in Households:

“The level of socio-economic integration that clean cooking brings to Africa is beyond imagination” (Atela, 2022). Clean cooking is not only environmentally sustainable but also socially sustainable. As electric cooking is considered safer than traditional firewood cooking, the chef can socialise with their family in another room whilst the food cooks – such actions are often unattainable with firewood cooking. Reducing the time spent on cooking can simultaneously improve and strengthen family relations, especially as households often cook 2-3 times a day (Leon, 2022). Similarly, clean cooking significantly reduces health risks from air pollution, thus increasing life expectancy. Additionally, promoting clean cooking has piqued overall interest in cooking, particularly among men, where there has been a greater focus on gender integration into programs and eCooking hubs. Over time, this may reduce gender inequality in cooking as the cooking load is shared. To elaborate its benefits further, electric cooking has been recognised for increasing food security. Through higher productivity use and less food waste (Irene, 2022), eCooking offers a sustainable solution to famine, boosting health and well-being between households (Amadi, 2023).

Infiltrating clean cooking into educational institutions:

Cooking in schools consumes a substantial amount of energy. Transitioning to electric cookers in school is relatively new but in high demand, whereby Universities are viewed as a “prime target” (Mukulu, 2022) for electric pressure cookers. In Tanzania, 231 rice cookers have been successfully tested in schools, serving as a model for other nations to emulate. However, many institutions struggle with high, unreliable electricity bills and require the dual use of electricity and LPG. Furthermore, CoP members proposed that universities should support students through education on using electric pressure cookers. By shifting preconceived beliefs about clean cooking, this could create generational changes and longer-term benefits.

Despite these benefits, the CoP highlighted that transitioning to clean cooking poses many challenges. In particular, the accessibility, efficiency, and reliability of clean cooking. For example, while solar cookers reduce grid pressures, they are weather dependent and therefore often require a backup appliance. However, many regions in Kenya are susceptible to power outages and high tariffs. Without a secure power supply, the thought of eCooking becomes nothing more than an ‘idea’ as it becomes unfeasible (Danson, 2022). Therefore, the CoP members have proposed that for 100% energy security and independence, residents should use multiple energy sources from renewable materials, at least in the meantime (Danson, 2023). While strategies to increase awareness are prominent throughout Kenya, the question of whether people continue to use dirty fuels remains. For example, Danson has speculated that, although many rural households own modern cooking technologies, many continue to use traditional methods. In turn, an outcome from the CoP suggests that more should be done to stress eCooking importance.

The challenges of tariffs:

Tariffs both incentivise and disincentivise eCooking (Leary, 2023). The ambiguous and constantly changing nature makes it challenging for Kenyans, particularly in lower income households, to transition to 100% electric cooking. As a result, many Kenyans continue to rely on alternative cooking fuels and combinations to ensure stability. For example, the draft tariff proposed in February 2023 was set to increase tariffs by 40%, ultimately discouraging people from adopting electric cooking methods and encouraging consumers to opt for solar cooking. Unlike tariffs on electric cookers, solar panels and battery prices are decreasing over time. In turn, it is possible to see a potential shift in primary sources, where electric cooking serves as a backup to solar cookers, rather than the reverse (Craine, 2023). CoP members therefore proposed some recommendations to tariff insecurity: invest in solar and small hydro mini grids, create universal pot designs compatible with all appliances to reduce additional costs, and cook with energy-efficient appliances. In fact, cooking with energy-efficient appliances can be up to five times cheaper than other fuels, making it a cost-effective, desired option, even if tariffs doubled. In summary, the temporality and uncertainty of tariffs imply a corresponding temporality in cooking methods, hindering the path to clean cooking.

In conclusion, the CoP has made significant developments in addressing the benefits and challenges associated with clean cooking. By bringing together a range of experts, members have highlighted that clean cooking is not limited to cooking alone and have emphasized the importance of continuing efforts to raise awareness about the benefits of clean cooking.

Featured Infographic: Copyright of Erin Maxwell,2023.