Deforestation is partly to be blamed for the rising global environmental crisis. According to Africa Forest Information and Data, the continent lost 10% of its forest between 1990 and 2010. In Uganda, a large chunk of that wood goes into the production of cooking charcoal. The statistics changed with the invention of the eco-stove.
The eco-stove makes use of unconventional volcanic rocks for cooking. Uganda’s eco-stove came to life in 2009 when Rose Twine teamed up with her brother to form Eco Group Limited. Eventually, they created their flagship product.
The stove uses a combination of volcanic rocks and solar power to burn. The company’s goal is to produce user and eco-friendly stoves that are efficient for cooking. Speaking of her motivation, Twine said,
“I am pained whenever I see people cutting down trees simply for firewood and charcoal. Some of those trees are indigenous and decades of years old. I want to reduce deforestation as well as eliminate the stress of finding firewood among the locals who don’t have access to gas or electricity.”
Benefits of using volcanic rocks over charcoal
All over the world, it is estimated that 2.4 billion people (representing one-third of the world’s population) cook using inefficient stoves or open fires. The World Health Organization estimated that 3.2 million people lost their lives in 2020 due to household air pollution.
The mortality figure includes more than 237,000 children below 5 years. Besides death, household air pollution has also been implicated in several noncommunicable diseases including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and ischemic heart diseases.
Apart from helping to fight deforestation, the eco-stove developed by Twine presents other benefits to Ugandans. While charcoal easily turns to ash after a few hours, the volcanic rocks can burn for days and still produce heat for cooking.
In 2018, it was estimated that Kampala spends as much as Shs600,000 every month on charcoal. That was when the country had a population of 38 million people. In 2020, the country’s population was estimated to be 45.74 million. The spending on charcoal should have grown with the population.
Also, the heat from the volcanic rocks when lit is usually hotter compared to the heat from charcoal. This allows Ugandans to cook their meals faster. The flames are also cleaner and produce fewer environmental pollutants compared to charcoal ash.
Features of the eco-stove from Eco Group Limited
Twine maintains that the motivation to produce the eco-stove was born from the desire to use energy more effectively. Many Ugandans are going for the eco-stove because charcoal and electricity are expensive and firewood is getting harder to find.
Just like the charcoal stove, the eco-stove is filled with volcanic rocks broken down into the size of charcoals. Pieces of pine trees or other flammable materials are placed in the middle of the rocks. The flammable materials are then lit.
The eco-stove comes with a fan that is solar-powered which blows a continuous stream of air that keeps the volcanic rocks burning hot. The solar panels also charge up in the process to provide more heat to the stove.
In addition to cooking, the stove can be used for charging phones, ironing clothes through steaming, light bulbs, and powering a small radio. Once the fan is turned off, the volcanic rock will stop heating and gradually cool down.
Unlike the charcoal stove, the eco-stove burns without producing smoke. This protects the user from indoor pollution like soot from kerosene stoves or ash from charcoal stoves. Volcanic rocks are produced by the solidification of magma on or below the surface of the earth.
Eco-stove has provided employment for the local women
According to Rose Twine, 17 women groups in Kisoro District with 12 members each have been employed by the company. Their job is to extract the volcanic rocks which the company buys from them. Prior to heading to the field, the women are trained on how to dig up the rocks and given startup capital.
The women mine the rocks from mountain surfaces in Kisoro. Twine sends trucks to the district to transport the mined rocks to Kampala. In the capital city, the volcanic rocks are stored at a factory in Bujjuko, located on Mityana Road.
The company cuts the rocks into sizes suitable for the stove. Rocks used in institutions are usually bigger than those for household use. During the processing, the rocks are dipped in hot water for several minutes and removed to dry. This dipping technique prevents the sparking of the rocks when lit.
The eco-stove is sold for Shs200,000—and they come with free rocks. However, those that want to buy more rocks will have to pay Shs35,000 for a bag. However, a bag full of rocks can last up to 6 months for domestic use. Those that live near the volcanic rocks can extract the rocks and use them on the stove.
Limitations of the eco-stove
While the eco-stove seems to be the future of domestic cooking, it has a few limitations that may hinder its widespread adoption. For a country where one-third of the population lives below $2 a day, spending $100 on an eco-stove feels like a luxury they cannot afford.
According to Rose Twine, it is the cost of the fan, battery, and solar panel that pushes up the price of the stove out of the reach of most Ugandans. Sadly, these are key components that cannot be removed from the stove.
Since the poor communities are the ones that patronize charcoal for cooking, the benefit of the eco-stove can only be actualized if the stoves are made affordable. The point was further emphasized by David Illukol, a Uganda Industrial Research Institute senior mechanical research engineer.
“We need more research to find ways of reducing the production cost and on maintaining the eco-stoves. That is the only way to achieve the stove’s environmental benefits.”
Apart from the cost, not all parts of Africa have easy access to volcanic rocks needed for operating the eco-stoves. This can limit the penetration of the stoves to other parts of Africa. Nevertheless, the company is already exporting them to Rwanda, Kenya, and Somalia.
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