Kenya Ceramic Jiko

Martin Mbugua
Originally appeared in African Technology Forum
February/March 1992
Vol. 5, №1
Assembling jiko stoves in Kenya

Just outside Nairobi is one of the largest jua kali centres in the country. The Kamukunji Blacksmiths and Tinsmiths Association’s workshop is a hive. As hundreds of artisans put in another day’s work shaping, cutting, bending, and riveting, the din continues unabated from dawn to dusk. The small scale informal manufacturing sector is fast dispelling the notion that small scale industries can not compete with multinationals and parastatals. This thriving industry, run by men and women artisans popularly referred to as jun kali, includes tinsmiths, blacksmiths and motor vehicle mechanics.

The most popular and distinct product at Kamukunji is the Kenya Ceramic Jiko (KCJ), an improved version of metal charcoal stoves widely used in Kenyan homes. In 1982, under the auspices of the Ministry of Energy, the Kenya Renewable Energy Development project (KREDF) embarked on research to improve the stove design. The project, which is situated at Kamukunji, on the outskirts of Nairobi, was funded by the US government ($4.8 million) and the Kenya government (Kshs 1.7 million).

Schematic of the ceramic jiko

The project’s aims and objectives were:

• to design, test, develop and disseminate fuel efficient stoves and charcoal making techniques 
• to promote charcoal making techniques through training and technical assistance for the stove and kiln artisans
• to promote tree planting that would replenish the wood used to produce charcoal fuel

Wood fuel provides at least 65% Of Kenya’ s house-hold energy requirements. The current rate of deforestation, estimated at 19,000 of 300,000 ha of forested land every year, emphasizes the need to conserve and expand wood fuel resources. The manufacture and sale of the improved stoves would create jobs for low income groups, in addition to alleviating the depletion of resources and countering the effects of rocketing energy prices.

The stove incorporates a number of important features — the metal cladding was retained but redesigned. The base and top are equal in diameter, 30–50 cm, while the middle is smaller. The shape is designed to hold the clay liner on the inside of the metal cladding. The liner is both the fire-box and the insulation.

The most important feature of the jiko is its thermal efficiency which is estimated at 30% in comparison to 20% of the traditional jiko. Wood fuel saving is 50% and the emission of poisonous gases is reportedly reduced. An additional insulating vermiculite (cement layer between the clay cladding and the metal cladding) enhances the jiko’s safety and keeps outside wall temperatures below 600 C. Cooking time is shorter and the heat retained by the clay lining can be used to warm water. From the outset, the development of the KCJ was based in the informal sector- Specialists have evolved to make various components of the new stove. A team of four people can make 200 units of the KCJ in one day. The ceramic lining is made in several centers around the city and supplied to the artisans in bulk. The metal cladding is cut out from used steel drums, hammered into shape and assembled at the Kamukunji workshops. In the first stage the different parts of the metal cladding are assembled. It is then fitted with the clay lining. The last stage is cleaning off the excess insulation material and painting the sides of the KCJ black.

The KCJ has generated a new series of jobs and a new concept in domestic energy saving. The KCJ has become so popular in Kenya that meeting the local demand alone keeps the artisans fully occupied. But as more artisans and groups enter the business, the Kamukunii Blacksmith and General Metal Workers is exploring the potential of exporting the KCJ and other products to neighboring Tanzania. Besides the KCJ the Kamukunii artisans also make a variety of metal tools and utensils. Scrap motor vehicle bodies and galvanized steel waste from larger industries provide the principal raw materials for the artisans. Mr. Mwangi Wandaka, a tinsmith who has worked at Kamukunji for eight years, explained how he gets some new ideas. He said that students from the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University and technical institutions in the city frequent the workshops to order specific custom designed items for their academic projects. Mr. Wandaka and his colleagues pick up new concepts from the students work, try them out and modify them to what Mr. Wandaka refers to as “practicality”.

Apart from the individual artisan’s efforts to discover new ideas or improve on existing ones, the Ministry of Technical Training and Applied Technology (MTTAT) has embarked on a continuous technology transfer program for the jua kali industry. The MTTAT funds regular seminars, each lasting between one and two months for jua kali artisans at the new Centre for Research Training & Technology in Karen. These seminars are intended to introduce new ideas to the artisans. They also provide a forum to promote existing concepts, since the field officers from the MTTAT cannot impart such know-how during their routine rounds in the workshops. The new ideas include those that have been tried, tested and proven in other African countries.

Another item that Wandaka is improving through research is the barbecue. Nyama chom (roast meat) is a popular food in Kenya. The new barbecue is globe shaped with a lid that covers the meat as it cooks over a charcoal fire. Moisture is retained and the cooked meat is more tender. Cooking time is reduced by 65% and less fuel is needed for a meal. The barbecues can also be used for heating water in a tank built around the fire cradle. It is made from durable high gauge iron sheets and steel rods.

The traditional barbecue is a piece of wire mesh placed on four stones over a charcoal or wood fire. It consumes more energy as heat escapes rapidly; the meat takes longer to cook and about 85–90% of the energy is lost.

Sales are quite low for the improved barbecue due to poor advertising and high building costs. They retail at Kshs 5,000 (US$ 166) which is too expensive for the average Kenyan.

- Martin Mbugua is a Nairobi based journalist with the Executive magazine.