How New Ways of Cooking Are Changing Children’s Lives in Africa

What comes to mind when you think about school-aged children enjoying a home-cooked meal in the heart of an economically disadvantaged village in Africa? Do you imagine young families, gathered together, sharing food across a table–or possibly huddled around a stout, sturdy cooking stove like the kinds found in cabins or farmhouses? Do you see bowls brimming with food being passed from person to person?

Food in a market in Ivory Coast
Food markets in Africa are a sight to behold.

Do you think about serving dishes that hold individual recipes, carefully prepared by expert hands, before being fried or boiled or baked–and then collected from scalding hot pans or bubbling pots–as the fragrance of spiced vegetables, rice, and grain-based stews fill the air? Do you see fish or meat being grilled in the open spaces between homes, like some kind of community backyard barbeque? 

Or, do you imagine small, unbalanced cooking towers, with metal bowls precariously perched atop a power source that is fueled by wood-fire or charcoal? Finally, do you see that this home-cooked meal is made using a power source that that fills the kitchens, living quarters, homes, and even neighborhoods with a dark, oppressive, and toxic smoke–so thick and so strong, that it not only destroys any chance of a savory experience, it also puts the lives of the family members at risk?

How are cooking methods in Africa harmful?

The unfortunate fact is that the environmental pollutants of daily-use cooking stoves contribute negatively to the already stark means for many of Africa’s poor. The benefits of a home-cooked meal–even if the food or ingredients manage to be abundant–are outweighed by the negative impact of breathing in the toxic smoke produced by the method of cooking.

Wood burning stove in a kitchen
Cooking methods in Africa are beginning to change.

And, to add even more difficulty for these compromised families (most often, women and children), those using wood need to spend time looking for suitable supplies (whether foraging or walking to neighboring towns to make a purchase)–while those using charcoal are forced to spend their financial resources in purchasing charcoal out of budgets that also need to provide for food, household supplies, healthcare expenses, or even educational content and school uniforms.

Improved cooking methods in Africa that use clean-burning wood pellets, biofuel, or even waste from eucalyptus production (including low-pollution stoves with rechargeable battery packs) are critical to improving the health of women and children in places like Kenya, Rwanda, and Zambia, where environmental pollution is already a threat as serious and far-reaching as poverty, sanitation, and food insecurity.

These cooking solutions in Africa are all-encompassing too. As an added benefit, these new clean-cooking designs are also being produced locally–often by the same women who use them, and often from recycled or upcycled ingredients–which means an increase in positive environmental impact, along with enhanced employment opportunities for many of the women who are learning to use these new pellet stoves at home.

From an innovation perspective of cooking solutions in Africa, the challenge of advancing this technology appeals most to those who seek to improve the environment and provide labor opportunities for the disadvantaged–but it’s also an appealing opportunity for those hoping to create new opportunities for an emerging audience of social entrepreneurs in the food and global health space. The opportunity is not entirely new–but it’s definitely gaining traction.

Kitchen table full of utensils and jars
The home should be a safe and secure place, and pellet stoves are making that more of a reality in Africa.

So, what makes these pellet stoves so valuable? 

These cooking stoves (and the technology that drives them) are largely being funded and produced by philanthropic organizations and companies from outside Africa. This infusion of energy and capital from external, international agencies serves to fight the potential for any kind of political or financial corruption from within, while also circumnavigating many of the bureaucratic issues that could plague homegrown initiatives.

These companies create immediate opportunities for those who seek to do good to make a direct impact with cooking solutions in Africa. They allow for multiple levels of high-impact giving–from individual and corporate match programs to one-time sponsorship. And, companies that promise to contribute value are tracked by organizations like the Climate + Clean Air Coalition, which evaluate the efficacy of clean fuel programs across Africa in countries where usage is high, including Kenya, Rwanda, and Zambia.

One organization that’s really making a difference in the area of clean-fuel cooking is the Inyenyeri company in Kigali, Rwanda. Inyenyeri has developed a model to give away the stoves for free, charging only a small, super-reasonable fee for the fuel pellets required to heat the stoves.

The benefits of using one of their products (small, compact, red and silver all-in-one devices called MimiMotos) include speed and efficiency–but perhaps most importantly, they are 30% less expensive to run than wood or charcoal, they reduce harmful emissions by over 98%, they reduce biomass use by over 90%, and they cut up to 8 tons of CO2 emissions per household per year.

The Inyenyari directors are working in partnership with multiple charitable agencies–and, they create direct impact on 12 of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development goals.

Wood burning stove in farm-style kitchen
Sustainability and a healthy kitchen go hand in hand.

How can you help?

In addition to getting involved with giving opportunities for companies like Inyenyeri, if you want to provide direct impact to the women and children living near to the company headquarters in Kigali, Rwanda, you might consider providing a donation to the GoAbroad Foundation’s partnership with Hope for Tomorrow–which provides critical resources to women and children in the Kigali area.

The Hope for Tomorrow organization provides support to the most vulnerable members of society, creating opportunities for sustainable, long-term support. Whether you decide to help put stoves into the homes of Kigali families, or simply make a donation to connect those same Kigali families to much-needed support, you can choose to make a difference today!

Post originally written by Andi Sciacca, GoAbroad Writer’s Academy Member