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Households in Kenya empowered for clean energy shift

SEI partnered with an off-grid community in Kenya to co-design a 10-year roadmap towards electricity-powered cooking.

Workshop participants discuss the road map over a cup of tea. Photo: Fiona Lambe / SEI.

Date published
5 December 2022
A story from
Kenya

This impact story is from our 2021 annual report .

SEI partnered with an off-grid community in Kenya to co-design a 10-year roadmap towards electricity-powered cooking. Local people set out their vision and a roadmap for change and are using it as a touchstone for action – and to call on decision-makers for the support they need to make the transition happen.

Providing clean energy for cooking for the 3 billion people globally without it is among the most pressing development challenges. A heavy reliance on fuelwood, charcoal and kerosene leads to 4 million premature deaths every year from exposure to smoke. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people without access to clean cooking technologies increased from an estimated 750 million people in 2010 to 900 million in 2017, or about 80% of the population, most of whom live in rural areas.

Cooking with electricity is quickly becoming cost-effective and feasible for households in both urban and rural sub-Saharan Africa. But little work has been done to understand local people’s views on large-scale transitions like rural electrification programmes and the role they can play in them.

Community members developing the roadmap

Community members developing the roadmap. Photo: Fiona Lambe / SEI .

Imagining cooking with electricity in 2030

In February 2020, SEI ran a two-day workshop with 30 community members in Kitulu Village in rural Machakos County, Kenya, to understand how people think about transitioning to electrical cooking by 2030.

The team used backcasting, a participatory method of considering future outcomes, as the tool to build the transition road map. People of different ages who did not use electricity for cooking were asked to imagine that it was 2030 and everyone in the community now cooked with electricity. After that, they discussed what would need to happen to get there, and by when.

By the end of the two days, the participants had developed a detailed map for a transition to cooking with clean energy that set out key actions, who needed to take responsibility for what, and what targets and local resources were needed.

Action in the community

At the end of the workshop, one of the older participants said, “NGOs sometimes come here and ask what we would like them to do for us. Sometimes this is a difficult question to answer … so many things are needed. But now we have a roadmap, we can use it to remind ourselves of where we would like to go, and what help we should be asking for.”

Six months after the workshop, SEI carried out a follow-up study with participants to see whether it had led to change, and interviews showed that the community was using the roadmap to take action. Participants had gathered a list of households and asked their local government representative for access to a financial programme for “last-mile” electricity connections. The community had also set up a local savings scheme to cover the costs of wiring up houses for electricity connections and had begun to invest in clean energy appliances like solar lanterns.

"NGOs sometimes come here and ask what we would like them to do for us. Sometimes this is a difficult question to answer ... so many things are needed. But now we have a road map, we can use it to remind ourselves of where we would like to go, and what help we should be asking for."
– A senior community member describes the workshop in Kitulu Village, Kenya

Building trust

Trust-building activities helped to put people at ease so they could speak openly during the workshop. By discussing the research and expectations early on, the team learned that the community expected to have a coherent and practical plan as an outcome. The community also wanted to make sure that the project report wasn’t shared externally until it had been approved by a village consultation. Local facilitators ran the workshop in the local language, Kamba, and held it in a church, where community matters are typically discussed.

Backcasting enables speculative yet structured thinking on complex change processes: the act of imagining and describing a desirable future was a positive and joyful experience for both the community and the research team. As one participant said at the end of the session, when arriving back in 2020, “It feels like coming from a dream, or from the moon, and crashing down to earth.”

Involving communities from the start

Typically, participatory scenario building is carried out by established experts. Instead, our findings suggest that rather than being involved after the fact, communities should be involved right from the start in making decisions on long-term programmes that will have an impact on their lives.

Strategy in action

Priority for change

Energy transitions that address inequality, poverty and political economy

Kenya plans to transition households to clean and modern cooking energy by 2030, which supports the country’s policy ambition to scale up access to modern energy by 2030 and addresses one of the most pressing development challenges.

Type of outcome

Enhancing capacity, improving decisions

By using backcasting to facilitate the co-design of an energy transition plan, the study highlighted the co-benefits of cooking with electricity in rural sub-Saharan Africa. It also underscored how vital it is to understand local perspectives in the energy transition. Six months on, the community members had begun to implement actions described in the plan.

Delivering on our priorities