Between 2000 and 2010 deforestation in Kenya took an estimated 3,000 square miles of trees, depriving the country of 20 million gallons of water per year.
While 24 years ago, Peter Scott, the chief executive at BURN Manufacturing – a clean cookstove business in Nairobi – could not have predicted the severe environmental impact on the nation, he realized something needed to be done when he arrived in the country.
Scott didn’t have the idea for BURN’s Jikokoa – a fuel-efficient charcoal cookstove – for another seven years, but following its widespread success and new Kenyan manufacturing facility opening later this summer, the concept could eventually save 123 million trees, reduce carbon emissions by 21.3 million tons and save families $1.4 billion in fuel costs in the next 10 years.
“I went to Africa in 1990, saw the deforestation from charcoal production, and literally got down on my knees and wept,” said Scott, who first arrived in Africa in the mid-1980s to participate in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
“It takes seven to 10 tons of wood to make one tone of charcoal, and the people were just hacking up the forests to keep their livelihoods going.”
After learning cookstove design in Oregon, Scott had a mission: to bring the fuel-efficient kitchen wares to South America and then Kenya. In 2013, following many blueprint drafts, BURN Manufacturing introduced the Jikokoa, which reduces fuel consumption by 50 to 70 percent from a traditional open fire pit.
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The company first African production facility in Nairobi will allow the company to manufacture 99 percent of its components in Africa. The Kenya factor will also employ skilled local workers to construct complete cookstoves, as well as cookstove kits for assemblage in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.
Before BURN created the Jikokoa, the company produced an array of other cooking products, ranging from industrial stoves for larger-scale baking, to a top-lit updraft gasifier stove, which reduces black carbon and greenhouse gasses and produces biomass fuel for additional cooking use.
The stoves then go from the design lab to the field to gain input, which can include how a woman in Ethiopia lights a stove, carries it, cooks before she received it and even how she gathers wood for it.
BURN Manufacturing has an impressive list of multinational companies invested in its concept, with private investment from General Electric at $1 million in debt, the U.S. State Department Global Partnerships Initiative at $100,ooo for operational expenses and U.S. Agency for International Development, in concordance with Winrock, for $650,000 for the cookstoves’ distribution.
The company’s revenue primarily comes from selling stoves wholesale for a margin and it uses those earnings to continue development on new products and to expand them across Africa.
Although the United Nations has been a strong proponent of using innovation firms to further its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – and BURN has received a grant toward that end – Boston Nyer, BURN’s chief product officer, says BURN has always moved forward with and necessarily without the UN’s blessing.
The BURN stoves can save people more than $200 per year, or 25 percent of their annual budget.
“Our products help people with regard to all eight of the MDGs either directly or indirectly although we’re not specifically focused on them,” Nyer told AFKInsider. “Our priorities are: Protect the forests and the environment; help people alleviate the burden of poverty; and improve health.
Deforestation deprived Kenya’s economy of 5.8 billion shillings ($68 million) in 2010 and 6.6 billion ($7.8 million in 2009, far outstripping the roughly 1.3 billion shillings ($15 million injected from forestry and logging each year, according to a joint 2012 study conducted by the United Nations Programme on Environment and Development (UNEP) and the Kenya Forest Service.
The rise of malaria infections as a result of deforestation also cost the Kenyan government an estimated 237 million shillings ($3.7 million) in 2010 health costs and significant losses in labor productivity.
Furthermore, nearly three billion people in the developing world cook food and heat their homes with traditional cookstoves or open fires, which will kill and estimated four million people, including 600,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa, in 2014. By 2030 – unless something is done – the annual death toll from smoke inhalation in the region could surpass malaria and tuberculosis combined.
Though the Jikokoa is still relatively new to the market, the Paradigm Project, a social venture company that invests both business and philanthropic capital in ventures within the developing world, chose the Jikokoa as a top stove in terms of price, performance, and user satisfaction in East Africa.
Scott says the company cannot offer hard numbers yet, but the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming in his eyes – and to the local investment banks, which sell the $40 Jikokoa out of its local branches.
“An equity bank we use in Kenya has many, many people coming in for their stoves and we’re the only stove in which they invest – and which they actively sell,” Scott said. “They have activated merchandisers to come in and sell the stove to the people, who can just march in there and get one.
“When you actually have a bank investing in your stoves and then using their managers to sell them directly to the people – about 10,000 stoves per month – it’s probably the most gratifying moment an innovator can have.”