Rwanda: Tackling climate change, one kitchen at a time

A short drive outside the Rwandan capital Kigali, squeezed between a busy motorway and the river Nyabarongo, sits the Ruliba Clays factory. Here, among the huge stacks of roofing tiles, bricks and paving blocks, a quiet revolution is taking place - one which could transform the lives of thousands of women whilst reducing Rwanda’s chronic deforestation problem.

Dozens of fuel-efficient cooking stoves are lined up ready for distribution to households around the country. Using a special insulating clay made from waste coffee husks and clay, these stoves use around 60 percent less wood than traditional open fires. In a country where more than eight out of ten households rely on wood or charcoal for cooking, that’s a significant saving.

Clean fuel cooking stoves at the Kigeme refugee camp, Rwanda
 @UNHCR/Eugene Sibomana

The government of Rwanda has pledged to phase out the use of charcoal by 2030 - not only to protect the country’s famous rainforests but to improve the health of the women who suffer from cooking and living in homes often filled with toxic smoke. According to some estimates the fumes are worse than inhaling second hand smoke from hundreds of cigarettes per day. The EU’s flagship climate programme GCCA+ is funding a new €5 million programme starting this year, aimed at creating a sustainable production and distribution supply chain for clean and efficient cook stoves. 

“I am very satisfied with the stove. Now I need less wood and there is significantly less smoke in the kitchen,” says Veneranda Mutuyimana who from the Mayange district of Rwanda, who benefitted from a cookstove project run by a local NGO. “We are encouraging other families to use this cooking stove to cook more healthily and to protect our forests.”

Mother-of-four Beátha Uwitije from Nyarugenge district agrees. “I now use only a third of the amount of firewood for cooking. This saves me a lot of money. On top of that, I can help preserve the surrounding forests. By using the stove, there is also less smoke. The preparation of the food has become easier and meals taste better now.”

The new GCCA+ project, which runs until 2024, aims to dramatically increase the manufacture, availability and use of clean cookstoves across Rwanda. The vast majority of women still suffer from the daily drudge of collecting firewood and cooking over smoky, unhealthy open fires.

The new project is called “GCCA+ - Reducing Climate Impact of cooking in Rwanda through improved cooking systems” and aims at supporting a nation-wide shift towards more efficient cooking energy systems. This is done through a two-pronged approach, targeting both efficient cooking devices (cook more with the same resources) and fuel supply side (cook with less primary energy from sustainable sources).

Claudine Nyirambabazi lives near the Volcanoes National Park, home to the famous mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. “My eyes are not good at all. Sometimes I can’t see anything any more because of all the smoke in my eyes,” she says. “I have to cook for my children, I have no choice. I can’t let my family starve just because of my eyes, but I am really worried about them.”

Supplying clean, cheap cooking stoves to a rapidly increasing urban population as well as remote rural communities is a major challenge. Innovative models such as Inyenyeri, which aim to replace Rwanda’s dependency on charcoal and firewood with stoves fuelled by wood pellets, could be one solution. Inyeneri leases its stoves for free, but charges customers for bags of biomass pellets, which are up to half the price of charcoal and use 90 percent less wood.

Challenges are there, but the signs are hopeful that the GCCA+, working together with local communities, NGOs and businesses can - in the words of Inyenyeri’s founder Eric Reynolds - “build a cleaner world, one kitchen at a time.”


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