The practice of burning charcoal to service household cooking and heating needs, common in urban and peri-urban Lusaka as in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, creates an array of health, livelihood and environmental problems. In this paper, we examine the drivers of current energy use practices, the capacity of households to change current practices, and the needs and wants of users that might motivate or hinder such a change.
Fifteen low- and middle-income households in Lusaka were interviewed and observed. Virtually all showed some attachment to the traditional mbaula stove, which uses charcoal as fuel, but when asked about observed shortcomings, they recognized these – especially in terms of cost and health. They also expressed a willingness to explore alternatives, but cannot afford one appealing option, cooking with electricity, because it is deemed too expensive for many low- and middle-income households. The livelihood constraints of local tinsmiths who produce mbaulas, meanwhile, prevents them from investing time in exploring improvements to their stoves.
The study suggests three actions might help to significantly reduce charcoal use in Lusaka: introducing more efficient cookstoves which closely resemble the mbaula and are locally made; promoting simple and inexpensive solar water heating devices to reduce charcoal demand for water heating; and electricity price restructuring to lower tariffs for the poor. Specific design elements for an improved charcoal stove are also suggested.
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