Helping Malawians clean up their household air

The climate and me: Conor Fox’s business has provided 150,000 homes with more efficient cooking stoves

 

Lake Malawi’s water levels are at a ten-year low, forcing hydro power stations to operate below capacity, causing power cuts and pumped water shortages, despite recent hikes in water charges. This is our climate change reality in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe. For those in the villages, living off rain-fed farming, erratic rains and hot dry spells have more precarious implications.

Since 2008, I have been working with Hestian, a company that I set up with an Irish friend, John O’Connor, for carbon financed cleaner cook stoves.

Three striking facts prompted us to start the business: household air pollution is Malawi’s number-one risk for diseases; most Malawians won’t access electricity for many decades; and firewood will continue to be Malawi’s main fuel for energy, mostly used in the home for cooking and heating water. It is astonishing that throughout rural Malawi, where cell-phones prevail, most people still cook on smoky open fires.

With a simple $2 clay cook stove, made by thousands of people locally, a household can save about 1 tonne of wood and 2-3 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent every year. This is good for our climate and, more importantly for Malawians, people spend less time collecting scarce firewood and possibly most importantly people are less exposed to smoke from cooking. To date we have reached over 150,000 households with this simple stove.

After surviving for three years on our own meagre resources, we got our first payments from two “market-making” contracts in 2011, one which offset ministerial air travel by the Government of Ireland. Since 2013, we have had the post-Kyoto blues in terms of near zero carbon sales, despite the stove taking off in popularity in Malawi.

Our business model involves sharing “carbon” revenues with local social enterprises that link stove producers with customers; often well off the main road. Our focus is very clear - the more people who cook cleaner, the better. Once the carbon revenues tap is not flowing, however, it is not easy for us to motivate local partners to keep implementing costly carbon certification activities.

It is estimated that 650 million Africans will still cook with biomass in a hazardous way by 2040, which would represent a failure of humanity in an era of such social and technological evolution. Our business vision is to reach as many of these people as soon as possible with cleaner cooking solutions.

hestian.com

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