2.8 billion still cooking with biomass

Photo credit: Ken Robertson and Light Up The World

Reality check on cooking in low income countries

Many cooks and diners around the world take their cooking appliances, and often meals, for granted. Inhabitants of high income economies (that are not at war) may not reflect on the effort involved in preparing food where there is no electricity or a handy propane tank and barbecue.

However, some 2.8 billion people on the planet, mainly women and girls, remain responsible for collecting biomass, primarily wood, to fulfil their accustomed duties as cooks. Preparing meals indoors in a confined space is a major global health hazard for the lungs and eyes of women and small children. Collecting the wood itself poses risks for the safety of women and girls in conflict zones, refugee camps and remote areas.  Finally, all of the hours spent acquiring fuel and cooking remain unpaid duties in a day’s work. It is a loss for the individuals, their communities and the larger societies in which they live, given the misallocation of labour to an inefficient practice when time might be spent more profitably in other activity. Addressing the injustice that is posed by outdated and risky cooking practices falls under the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 – Gender Equality. SDG5 is the primary objective toward which we are mounting an action initiative at OLi-works which is described on our OLi workshops page .

Access to energy is another one of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDG7). Although there has been interest in improving cookstoves for decades, progress has not been substantial enough to bring about the needed change. Today there is a growing momentum among development funders to propel a shift to modern energy services such as electricity. Electricity may be supplied by renewables such as solar power in combination with energy storage solutions in areas not served, or not served reliably, by the grid. It may be deployed not only for cooking, but for cooling, too, which suggests less food waste, less CO2 released while improving economic activity and sustainability. A number of trends are occurring at once to make the goal of electrification for cooking a reality where for so long it seemed unattainable.

If you are working or following the effort around modern energy cooking services, feel welcome to be in touch by contacting us. From a Western Canada base, where there is critical mass in energy expertise, we are taking our first steps into the global clean cooking ecosystem.

Men come forward for a paid chef’s gig in Tanzania, 1988. © Meg Barker


Dec 12th, 2020

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