Our societies are facing multiple economic, social and environmental challenges and denying them is no longer an option. For LadyAgri, women are essential in the transition we must undertake. The Kenyan women entrepreneurs in the clean energy sector, supported by our ASBL, are the proof.
The Kenyan energy sector is faced with the challenge of transitioning to a more environmentally friendly and healthier energy production and consumption. Today, fuelwood remains the main source of energy in Kenya, providing an average of 70% of the cooking energy (and 92% of that used in kitchens in rural areas) (CCAK, 2019). Its exploitation is partly responsible for the massive deforestation of Kenyan forests, with an estimated loss in 2019 of 10.3 million m3 of wood per year (Ministry of environment and forestry, Republic of Kenya, 2020). Its burning also contributes to the country's CO2 emissions and is officially recognized as a major cause of household air pollution which, according to the Kenyan Ministry of Health, causes more than 21,560 deaths annually. Women are at the frontline of this ongoing public health problem. Traditionally in charge of cooking and domestic chores, they are overexposed to the harmful smoke generated by the firewood burning in often poorly ventilated homes.
Although the situation is alarming, solutions exist and women are at the center of them. Present in all links of the clean cooking energy value chain, women have a crucial role to play in the energy transition that Kenya must undertake. Beatrice Despioch and Dorothy Otieno, CEOs of eco-briquettes companies in Kenya, are examples. Eco-briquettes or biomass briquettes are an efficient alternative energy source because they burn longer and emit less smoke, greenhouse gases and other particles than charcoal or firewood.
Contacted by LadyAgri in November 2019, Beatrice Despioch has since become a convinced "LadyAgri entrepreneur." Trained as an agronomist, she founded an SME that produces clean, safe and healthy biomass briquettes as an alternative cooking fuel. By favoring pruning over cutting down trees, planting indigenous trees and using the waste from cassava cultivation as a binder, Eco-charcoal's production model is exemplary in terms of respect for the environment.
Dorothy Otieno is the CEO of Nyalore Impact, a social enterprise that produces and distributes stoves and eco-briquettes in rural areas of Kenya's Nyanza Province. Approached in March 2021 by LadyAgri for its intentionally inclusive model, Nyalore Impact makes it a point to promote the financial empowerment of women as producers, processors and distributors. Through a sustainable circular economy approach, the raw materials needed for the SMEare all purchased from rural women. In this case, sugarcane waste is used as a binder. Through awareness campaigns, Dorothy Othieno advocates in rural areas the importance of using clean energy sources in their households and the economic opportunities that this sector represents for women.
The lack of government support makes it difficult for most of these clean energy SMEs in Kenya to achieve economic viability. Indeed, the 16% VAT on their sales, the influx of illegal coal dumps, and the increase in illegal deforestation during COVID-19 prevent them from being able to compete with non-green fuel alternatives. Making them competitive would require a radical shift in thinking and a commitment from governments and regulators to accelerate the transition to clean energy through policies and incentives. LadyAgri believed that this was possible by supporting these SMEs to access adequate financial services, technical partnerships and by continuing to advocate their economic, social and environmental potential to institutional actors.