The majority of households in sub-Saharan Africa – some 700 million people – rely on traditional biomass for cooking, and while in other regions, biomass use is decreasing, in Africa it continues to rise. If current trends continue, almost 900 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to cook with traditional biomass in 2020. Efforts to bring modern energy access to all – electricity and clean fuels – are far outpaced by population growth.
Traditional biomass use has multiple negative impacts, most notably on health: 600,000 lives are lost each year in sub-Saharan Africa due to exposure to biomass smoke. The economic costs of high reliance of biomass for cooking are also substantial, about 36.9 billion USD per year, or 2.8% of GDP, including 29.6 billion USD from productive time lost gathering fuel and cooking. The impacts are particularly severe for women and girls, who are typically responsible for these chores.
There is a growing body of knowledge and experience about how best to achieve a shift to cleaner and safer cooking fuels and stoves. Numerous cookstove interventions across sub-Saharan Africa are beginning to reach scale, with benefits to household health, livelihoods, environment and economies. There is an urgent need to ramp up these initiatives, tailoring them to the specific conditions in each country. The prize is market transformation to clean stoves with clean fuels, sold, supported and ideally even produced locally. Not only would such a transformation produce huge health improvements, but it would also create multiple business opportunities and jobs.
However, most cookstove markets in sub-Saharan Africa are still quite far from that goal. This means that transforming markets is likely to require several intermediate steps, starting with stoves that use the fuels currently used by households – such as wood and charcoal – but burn them more cleanly and efficiently. Given how rapidly the region is urbanizing, and how widely charcoal is used in urban households, it is also crucial to regulate charcoal production and ensure it is as efficient and sustainable as possible. While these measures cannot solve all the problems associated with traditional biomass use, they can move markets in a better direction and bring benefits.
This paper presents an overview of household energy trends in Africa, presents the latest evidence on the health, environmental and socio-economic impacts of traditional biomass use in sub-Saharan Africa, and highlights where interventions to provide access to clean and improved cooking options are having a positive impact, drawing on case studies in Mali, Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia. It concludes with recommendations that were refined and further developed at a consultative workshop in Nairobi in April 2015.
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Note: This paper was prepared for the New Climate Economy project as an input to the 2015 Africa Progress Report Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities, produced by the Africa Progress Panel. The APR draws on the best research and analysis available on Africa, and the Panel makes policy recommendations for African political leaders and civil society. In light of the continent’s dynamic links with the rest of the world, the APR also highlights critical steps that must be taken by leaders in the international public and private sector.