Kenya: Nairobi Startup Pushes Cleaner Home Cooking Fuel

Women sit next to their cooking stoves at the sprawling Kibera slums in Kenya's capital Nairobi (file photo).

Catherine Mutua she has always used charcoal and gas to cook for her young family.

But, the source of energy she grew up with was becoming too expensive. She found out that she can also cook with another kind of fuel, ethanol.

"Before I was using the gas and charcoal,” Mutua said.  “I shifted after I was educated how the fuel is cheap, safe for the kids, for the environment."

Mutua gets the ethanol from a filling station set up by the Koko Networks, a Nairobi-based start-up. The company also sells ethanol stoves that cost a customer about $70.Regina Anyango runs a food kiosk in Kangemi neighborhood in Nairobi. She says she no longer battles black fumes spewed out of her charcoal stove.

"So far it has been very economical, no fume faster to use when you are cooking, Anyango said. “And it's easy to control."

According to health experts, fumes from charcoal and kerosene contribute to respiratory diseases. They also produce carbon emissions that are heating up Earth's atmosphere.

Ethanol, by contrast, is made from food sources like sugar or corn, and is considered carbon-neutral.

Some officials believe this kind alternative source energy can help reduce the number of trees cut down for the use of charcoal or firewood.

because of the nature of fuel that we used to cook — kerosene, charcoal — you will be forced to cook outside because of the harmful fumes that we have,” Wakoli said. “But we are giving you an in-house solution, which is 200-300 meters away, you can get for a very small bundle."

Wakoli said the filling stations are in parts of Nairobi with huge populations that are usually neglected.

"So we have typically targeted dense market — Kawangware, Kibera, Kitengela area, Embakasi, Kahawa West — where we can reach many people as possible and because knowing the need of people and being near to them."

Koko Networks says its customer base has been growing and now serves up to 3,000 people.

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