Life.Saving.Stoves

Written by 

Every evening when I was growing up I would sit on the stairs of our front porch watching and waiting for even the softest breeze to help with my jiko-lighting. In most cases, there would be no breeze to assist me. If the jiko was to catch fire and let me be on my way to the playground with the rest of the kids from my estate, then I would have to blow life into it straight from my lungs.

It was an arduous task, to say the least. A page of an old newspaper would go into the opening of the jiko, matches at the end of the newspaper, my mouth close to both, and I would blow as hard as I could. Sometimes I was lucky enough to have forgotten that there was ash under there and get my whole face filled with the gray stuff.

I hated lighting those things. I vowed to never ever own one and never make my daughter light one, until I saw an advertisement of a jiko a few months ago as I was queuing at the bank. Life saving stoves, they called them, but an energy saving jiko is what you probably know them as.

An energy-saving jiko has plenty of benefits. It is better on the environment because it releases a lot less smoke than a regular jiko. It also uses less charcoal. Some brands boast the use of almost half the charcoal a regular jiko uses. This reduces the rate of deforestation in the country. Energy-saving jikos also produce more heat and your food is ready before people start complaining of hunger. Traditional jikos can take ages to boil a small pot of water. The energy-saving jiko is a life-saver for most women who have used the traditional jiko.

Statistics show that in the next few decades, urbanization and population growth will increase charcoal consumption by 50.82% percent. This means more pollution in the form of smoke and toxic gases, and less forests, not to mention more neighbors! As if there are not enough people in urban areas already. My building houses 86 bedsitters, each of which can comfortably hold two-four people in 1/16th acre piece of land.

Water is a luxury and 100 liter storage containers are the norm. When I have running water for 24 hours straight, I can barely contain myself. I want to wash everything and every inch of my house. In a few years, getting water even thrice weekly will become a luxury. The least I (we) can do is improve on the areas that we can because some areas we will not be able to change.

Sure, even the energy-saving jikos are not the most environmentally friendly. While toxic gas reduction is reduced, it is not completely eliminated. However, before you pass judgment, consider that we all have to make small changes like converting to energy-friendly options to make a big difference as a whole. Almost half (45.9%) of Kenya’s 45.55 million (2014) or so people live below the poverty line which is exceptionally low as is expected of a lower-middle income country.

Despite the availability of energy-saving jikos in Nairobi, I do not own one. Obviously I’m a sweet talker, who cannot back up her convincing words with actions, right? Wrong. I desperately want a jiko that will use half the charcoal as the one’s I used in my childhood and exude 80% less smoke (Honestly, the smoke is incentive enough to get one). I just do not live in a place conducive to use such an appliance. Hear me out before you once again go passing judgment.

First of all, I live in a one-roomed (roomed, not bed-roomed) house with no balcony. So using a jiko, energy-saving or otherwise, would be impossible. In fact, of all the 86 ‘houses’ in my building, none uses a jiko. It is simply impractical to use one here. Or maybe it’s because none of the people living in my building are part of the 45.9%. Anyway, point is, the environment is not friendly for jiko use, not even an environmentally friendly one.

Excuse number two is that energy-saving jikos are not as cheap as regular jikos. A jikokoa charcoal stove goes for about KES 3500. This is about the amount of money I spend on gas in about 7-9 months of moderate to heavy use. I am a heavy user. I cook every meal, unless I’m having overnight oats in which case I heat water for coffee (instant) to take with it. Considering that I bought my gas cylinder complete with a burner for KES 4500, the jikokoa really is cheaper. No excuses here.

Excuse number three… No more excuses. The more I write, the more I realize all I have been telling myself about getting a sustainable jiko has been for naught. I want to be part of the statistics of energy-saving jikos. I want to be part of the 300,000 lives changed and to contribute to the KES 11.1 million saved. I want to be part of the 1.8 billion people in Sub-Saharan Africa whose lives have changed by 2050. It could be sooner if more of us sit down and realize we’ve been making too many excuses. And on my path to a clean diet, I want to be a user of clean cooking technology, as well.

One person cannot change the world, but when it comes to sustainability, a small change by everyone makes a bigger difference. It’s no wonder environmentalists are such great speakers. Part of their cause, as with any other, is to convince people to believe in it enough to make those small changes that accumulate to make big impacts. I keep saying small changes because in the context of nature as a whole, they are small. However, the changes are actually grand. Even if it takes a few months for the effect to be felt.

Just like my poor eating habits, which are steadily declining, my sustainable actions will consistently improve. I might be the next Wangari Mathai. Not all leaders are born, some have it thrust down their throats by circumstance, duty and guilty consciences. I want to get to line having struggled and fought. It does not matter how you get there, though. All that matters is that you finally crossed the finish line, in a way. Becoming sustainable is not the end of sustainability, after all. I love jikokoa’s motto, ‘Life. Saving. Stoves.’ Imagine saving a life, yours or someone else’s.

Login to post comments