My name is Benson Kibiti from Kenya, currently the Africa Regional Coordinator of the Caritas Internationalis SDGs Working Group. Caritas is the humanitarian arm of the Catholic Church — reaching out to the poor, vulnerable and excluded, regardless of race or religion, to build a world based on justice and fraternal love. In Africa, Caritas operates in more than 46 Countries and almost every country of the world. My work involves supporting Caritas organizations on regional advocacy work and connecting with citizens’ realities and aspirations on Agenda 2030.

Mrs. Lucy Mwangi explains to me why she no longer uses the rocket stove and why she prefers the traditional method of cooking

Among the 17 SDGs, I have had a keen interest on SDG 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all). Among the many questions I ask myself is…why is Goal 7 important? Beyond the obvious reasons, human consumption of energy is ever increasing. How do we best localize and facilitate the adoption of this Goal to rural communities specifically looking at the role of women at household level keeping in mind that, a woman is always understood to be a household energy manager. The need for clean energy solutions to carry us into the future while mitigating the impacts on climate change have never been more important. In Kenya, indoor air pollution attributes to more than 14,000 deaths annually from inefficient burning of biomass for cooking energy and lighting solutions. Not surprisingly, women tend to suffer the most. They are disproportionately likely to be injured or killed by these unsafe cooking methods.

I have been traveling in various parts of my country Kenya to try and understand the dynamics in adoption and usage of clean cook stove technologies. Access to clean cooking continues to be a major gap. In the year 2015, nearly 36 million people in Kenya lived without access to clean cooking ad majority of the said population live in rural areas. Reasons for this include limited awareness of health impacts of traditional biomass use for cooking and opportunity cost of potential time saved in fuel collection, among others. There is also the significant issue of policy commitment at both the National and Local government level. Although the energy landscape in Kenya is evolving and creating more options, the low hanging fruits in energy access have been plucked. What is left is the rural, remote, poorest and socially disadvantaged whose energy needs are far from being met. Those without access are also those without resources and these resources are not just financial, but also have to do with skills, capabilities and social collateral. While we have 45 Counties in Kenya, only a handful of Counties have policy commitments towards access to clean energy in their 5-year plan County Integrated Plans (CIDPs), and more importantly, targets and investments backing them.

In my field study on adoption of clean cook stove technologies by rural communities, the access question is not how to bring these technologies and ensure clean cooking to more people. Rather, the question is how to reach energy access in a socially just manner and how to help communities to maximize the gains from energy access. Affordability and accessibility to the last mile are mostly viewed by majority as the main barriers to adoption of these clean cook stoves. Technology is another part of the equation. Solutions must be demand-driven.

Communities must be viewed as partners and integral part of the designing and thinking through of the solutions regardless of their education level. It is important to note that in designing and building of these stoves models, women’s knowledge and needs are rarely taken into consideration. Consequently, it is that important that their views be integrated and fully included in the process of designing and modeling these products to facilitate easy adoption and usage. They are much more likely to embrace new technologies if the technologies come with a perceived benefit and if they do not require significant behavior changes.

Nonetheless, the need for scaling up cannot be overlooked. Scaling-up happens in at least two ways: helping communities use energy technologies more meaningfully, or in ways that help them extricate themselves from poverty; and reaching more and more people with energy access. As I anticipate to join fellow UNLEASHERS, I believe, if we are to achieve access to cleaner, affordable and more efficient energy, the way forward is clear: It is time to invest in solutions that consider the needs at a household level specifically to communities living in rural areas. It’s time to invest in individuals that can change their own households and in their own languages and cultures. It is time to invest in the power of women by looking at their typical roles and responsibilities. It is time to help change the way they manage their energy to cook.