A small Irish development NGO, Vita, has recently been making waves on international carbon capital markets. In 2016, it realised that Ethiopian households needed to change the method they were using for cooking food and boiling water.
When you enter an Ethiopian house you’re immediately struck by the strong smell of smoke and the darkness of the interior walls which are covered in soot.
The traditional cooking method, known as sost gulicha, consists of three stones on the ground located in a hole in the centre of the hut with firewood dispersed between the stones. When cooking is taking place smoke engulfs the entire hut and exits through a hole in the tip of the roof.
It’s clear that this environment is unhealthy, especially for women and children. The open flames result in high incidences of eye, heart and chest disease as well as burns and miscarriages in some cases. For little children the open fire is extremely unsafe.
But there is another negative consequence. Wood is scarce in Ethiopia and in many parts of Africa, and open fires are hugely inefficient and thus have a high carbon footprint. Women are also burdened with the drudging task of collecting wood. Gathering wood is back-breaking work and leads to chronic back pain for many women in their early 40s. Younger girls often miss school and women sacrifice time at the expense of income generation or family care.
Two cookstoves were chosen to replace the traditional open fires, namely, the “mirte” and “tikikil” stoves. The mirte stove is used for cooking food such as the national delicacy injera, which is a sour pancake, and the tikikil stove that is used for boiling water, making coffee and the traditional Ethiopian spicy stew, “wot” which is always accompanied by injera.
The mirte stove is made with mortar with an enclosed cylinder in which the fire is lit and the baking trays sit on top. The tikikil stove is modelled on the more familiar “rocket stove”. Vita has supported local engineers with testing and getting approval from the Ethiopian government for locally designed stoves
These stoves use approximately 60 per cent less firewood, reduce deforestation and time spent cooking or collecting wood. The new stoves use a diversity of fuel and thus are not as reliant on the burning of wood. With the new stoves, for some women it’s reckoned that up to 12 hours per week in gathering wood is being saved.
The challenge is to scale the adoption of these improved stoves and to ensure that stable financing is in place. Vita’s response has been to imbed the initiative in a community-based approach to development that is led by women. Women, with the appropriate training, the provision of the basic infrastructure, and through appropriate organisational structures, can be empowered to build, utilise and maintain these more fuel-efficient stoves.
The need to ensure the financial sustainability of the initiative has resulted in the most innovative aspect of Vita’s approach. A reduced carbon footprint can be objectively measured and hence can create potentially tradable carbon credits. For every new stove installed, it is estimated that the carbon footprint is reduced by about 1,810kg of carbon, and thus the income generated from carbon trading can fund the stoves, the training and maintenance costs, and other forms of development support and environmental regeneration.
Earlier this year Vita led the establishment of a separate entity, FinanCarbon Impact Ltd. This entity was successful in securing investment of €10 million from investors in the US, the UK and Ireland. These investors will benefit from the sale of the carbon credits. Once investors have received the return on their investment, approximately 90 per cent of the residual revenues will revert to the communities that generated the environmental benefits in the first place.
The globally innovative nature of Vita’s fuel-efficient initiative has been recently recognised through its receipt of one of 10 global awards (worth $50,000), known as, the Keeling-Curve Prize, sponsored by the Global Warming Mitigation Project (GWMP).
GWMP is based in the US and comprises a diverse partnership working toward a shared goal of building a liveable planet for future generations. Prizes are awarded to entities that demonstrate the ability to reduce, replace or remove greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The project considers that the initiatives that have received prizes to date are projected to reduce 3.27 gigatons of CO2 equivalent emissions in this year alone.
Gerry Boyle is former director of Teagasc and pro bono director of FinanCarbon Impact