A collaborative effort of stakeholders to ensure a switch from kerosene to Liquefied Petroleum Gas was flagged off at a summit in Abuja last week where issues of deforestation and desert encroachment set the tempo for discussion
In spite of years of campaigns against deforestation, many Nigerians could not come to terms with the dangers inherent in felling of trees until the recent devastating flooding which ravaged quite a number of states, with attendant loss of lives and property.
The crippling effect of the flood was profound in states like Kogi and Delta, where thousands of people were sacked from their homes by reptiles and other aquatic animals set loose by the deluge which rendered many homes inhabitable.
Amidst the flurry of rescue efforts of both the government and private sector operators, experts warned that the twin problem of severe flooding in the South and Middle Belt areas and desertification in the Northern part of the country are mere signs of greater catastrophes looming as a result of the wanton destruction of forest.
Switch to LPG
Experts lamented that despite the ease with which some rural dwellers adopted some technological driven ways of live, quite a number of people still depend on firewood and charcoal for their domestic cooking.
Statistics show that in Nigeria, 112 million people still cook with fire wood, kerosene, and traditional bio fuel with more than 90% of this number made up of rural dwellers.
Data also showed that 90% more wood than necessary is burnt which has contributed to the build-up of green house gases and deforestation.
Even more worrying, according to The World Health Organisation (WHO), is the fact that 95,300 annual deaths occur in Nigeria as a result of diseases and complications that arise from smoke inhalation and tens of thousands of young people and women are at risk of suffering serious health consequences as a result of their direct contact with traditional biofuel and wood smoke, sometime inhaling smoke particles 20 times higher than the maximum recommended amounts advised by the WHO.
Research shows that because rural dwellers cannot afford cleaner cooking fuels, they therefore turn to traditional bio-fuel, kerosene and firewood. It is thus not surprising that rural areas record the highest use of traditional and wood fuel stoves.
With less than one kilogramme per capita consumption, Nigeria ranks among the lowest liquefied petroleum gas consuming states in Africa despite its huge gas resources.
Nigeria currently consumes about 70,000 MT per annum and has about 130 LPG plants and 7,000 retailing outlets scattered across the federation.
The United Nations Environment Programme, however, shows it is within the power of individuals to tackle the problem and minimise the damage to health and environment caused by use of unwholesome cooking fuels.
Various initiatives are being led in countries around the world, but Nigeria remains highly vulnerable due to lack of cohesive nationwide initiatives to reduce our carbon footprints and reverse the arms being done to our ecosystem.
This was the scenario painted at a stakeholder summit on clean cooking energy solutions and the switch to LPG Nigeria Project held in Abuja last week.
The summit, with the theme, LPG as a climate control tool in Africa: The Sustainability Agenda was organised by ACCESS Africa Initiative, in conjunction with other stakeholders including Oando Marketing Plc. Addressing participants, which included women representatives, at the International Conference Centre, former First Lady Justice Fati Abubakar said time had come for the stakeholders in the Nigerian project to save Nigerian women the risk posed by reliance on firewood and charcoal for cooking.
According to Mrs. Abubakar, Nigeria has the highest rate of deforestation. She therefore warned that the Sahara Desert is already advancing southwards at an alarming rate posing a serious threat to food production. This, according to her, also has health implications, as cases of cancer and asthma are on the increase especially among rural women who are usually exposed to cooking with firewood and coal.
Managing Director, Oando Marketing, Mr. Yomi Awobokun, said his company decided to partner with ACCESS Africa Initiative in order to avail Nigerians, the opportunity of effectively switching unto a cheaper and healthier mode of cooking.
"The product is cheaper than kerosene. Today, kerosene is sold for up to N120 per litre and when you look at the efficiency of kerosene, not looking at the health implications in comparison to LPG, you will still find out that the latter is much cheaper and better."
However, in order to give the project the needed financial backing, Oando Marketing Plc is working in conjunction with microfinance banks in order to empower people to handle the distribution and filling of the LPG.
Awobokun explained, "We are working with the National Association of Microfinance Banks. Oando will give the microfinance banks some capital for them to use as loans to entrepreneurs to allow people buy and sell this product.
"What we were trying to achieve is that every corner street, down the road you live, at every junction, there should be an entrepreneur there selling LPG instead of selling kerosene. This will enable people to have access to the product, when it is close to their homes and those entrepreneurs will have access to capital so that they can stock up.
"We have started in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Warri and it is creating new jobs. We give out the capital and the products are made available. People were initially cautious because of safety but I believe it is an awareness issue.
"The effort is nationwide. Nigeria is a massive country. We have been in Abuja, Kaduna, Sokoto, and Yola. We are in Lagos, we are in Portharcourt, and we are in Asaba and in the east and in Akwa Ibom. My dream is to see that every corner of the country has our presence."
Microfinance Bank to the Rescue
His position was corroborated by President, National Association of Microfinance Banks, Mr. Jethro Akun, who explained that microfinance banks have the capacity to respond to this challenge.
According to him, the fact that the banks are regulated in a way to discharge their duties effectively has positioned them as ready collaborators in the quest to empower the rural women to switch to LPG from firewood and charcoal.
He said, "Microfinance banks are ready so long as they are regulated, all they require is funds which will be given out at interest rate that is affordable. I'm assuring you that we have the capacity to meet the challenge.
"There are a number of other service providers that are working together with us in terms of making payments through mobile phones very easy and providing point of sales facility. We have made it in such a way that people can have access to loan facility easily and to ease repayment, a number of them are working together as a team/"
He noted that a number of people have been excluded from access to funds from financial services particularly those who work at rural areas.
"This programme has an enormous opportunity of value chain, for example many levels are involved in the LPG project. Money will exchange hands from the company to even the distributors. If you have LPG refilling plants in the 774 local governments, you are already providing jobs. Even those responsible for taking the cylinders from one place to another will earn money in the process. Money will also be earned by those who will produce oxygen into the cylinders and for welders. Let us encourage other people into the business.
Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) president, Abdul Waheed Omar, urged the facilitators of the programme to ensure the sustainability of the projects.
In view of the huge losses suffered to deforestation and the recent flood disasters in some parts of the country, the labour leader called for a legislation to curb deforestation.
Former Minister of Labour, John Odey said Nigeria is faced with energy crisis amidst its enormous resources.
Some of the figures reeled out at the summit by ACCESS Africa Initiative include the fact that subsidies on kerosene will cost the federal government N310 billion in 2012.
It was also gathered that a loss of 81 percent of our forests was recorded in just 15 years because of uncontrolled subsistence agriculture and collection of firewood. Similarly, over 351,000 hectares of land are lost annually in the northern part of the country as a result of desert encroachment.
More pathetic is the fact that over 1110,000 of annual deaths that occur in Nigeria can be attributed directly to the inhalation of smoke from kerosene and coal cooking stoves while 148 dead and over 64,000 displaced due to flooding, primarily in eastern and southern Nigeria.
Nigeria is said to possess Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) with gas reserves estimated at 185 trillion cubic feet as experts explained that LPG cooking fuel is superior to almost all available fuels with a 85% energy efficiency rate.
Access Nigeria is therefore partnering with Oando Marketing Plc to drive the availability and supply of LPG across Nigeria, with a focus on low income households and rural areas. Oando Marketing currently has 500 LPG refilling points and in the next two years, in partnership with ACCESS Nigeria, the distributor points are expected to increase to at least 15,000.