Of the issues informing global geopolitics and commerce, climate change and the dilemma of biofuels have a special place.
But we tend to forget the device we use to cook and heat.
Only 6 per cent of Kenya’s nine million households can afford electric or LPG cookers. The rest depend on biomass-combusting jikos.
These are the common jikos or hearths that mainly use firewood or charcoal and are mostly highly inefficient in combustion and heat preservation.
Household air pollution, the World Health Organisation says, causes more than 15,000 deaths and an equal number of respiratory health complications yearly in Kenya, with women and children bearing the brunt.
Sadly, we hardly notice this phantom because that has been our lifestyle and the impact may not be immediate yet millions of people suffer silently.
Besides, inefficient stoves are wood guzzlers — meaning with an ever-growing population, depletion of the environment is higher.
Kenya loses 7,000 acres of woodland to cooking; we are not out of the woods yet (literally).
Use of environment-friendly improved stoves that use less fuel and have minimal emissions can only be achieved in a streamlined setting with robust policies including strict standardisations and consumer awareness.
That can be achieved by adopting the 2013 Improved Biomass Stoves regulations.
The urgency of innovation and uptake of clean stoves in Kenya cannot be gainsaid in the wake of an imminent environmental Armageddon.
Kenya needs to take regional leadership in this sector. In the 1980s, the country developed the Kenya Ceramic Jiko — since adopted in countries such as Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. But, three decades down the line, we have not improved our technology.
Thirty years in purgatory is a long time in research. Countries that are passionately engaged in research and innovation on stoves are exporting to us.
Cooking is a multibillion-shilling sector that is easily ignored. Yet every day we have to cook and heat.
Were our research and development robust, we would have a vibrant industry exporting stoves, employing our youth and saving the environment and our health.
Luckily, the civil society is leading a charm offensive in ensuring that a new regime of clean improved stoves becomes a reality in Kenya.
Standardisation will help to control entry and production of counterfeits and sub-standard jikos not only inefficient in combustion but deadly. Kenya Bureau of Standards has its work cut out for it.
In all fairness, Kenya has an improved stove standard — KS1814: 2005 — that gives guidelines on safety, efficiency and durability. But it failed to recognise the genie of emission that lurks dangerously in millions of households.
It’s commendable that, last year, the State waived duty on imported jikos. This is good but there is a challenge: The waiver is per consignment, requires the minister’s approval and tax reimbursement is cumbersome.
This frustrates business. Also last year, the government cut import duty on stoves from 25 per cent to 10 per cent under the East Africa Community Common Market Protocol.
Kenya now needs to go the whole hog and zero-rate stoves.
Importantly, we need to empower our artisans and manufacturers with the skills to produce stoves for domestic use and for export.
With 70 per cent of our energy demands biomass against a wood deficit of 10 million tonnes, set to hit 15 million tonnes by 2030, we are headed for an energy crisis.
We also need more effort towards alternative fuels, which can easily be developed from biomass waste — such as biomass pellets and briquettes.