How 5 Star’s stoves transform women's livelihoods
The first thing you notice about the large squatter settlement at the edge of Soweto, bordering Johannesburg’s mining belt, is the unbearable heat and the prevalence of abject poverty. The settlement has been built solely with tin shacks, without windows to let air in - and without safe means for cooking or using fuel. But not anymore.
Hope is there in the form of the 5 Star Stoves project, an urban pro-poor enterprise, designed to provide economical and less hazardous cooking stoves to this energy-deprived community, and particularly to its women. Mind you, having a ventilator or a fan, a gas or electric cooking stove is a luxury for most Africans!
Roles and resources
The cooking and gathering of fuel is a clearly gender-assigned role and the responsibility of African women and girls, which connect them closely to natural resources and also make them vulnerable by depletion of resources. For them, a clean cooking stove means there is less struggling to find enough fuel, increased safety, better health, less harm to the environment, more money and time for other matters, and more employment.
Along with other journalists at Suomi/Africa, I was fortunate to witness, recently, how homes in the Soweto settlement use clean stoves. Dikeledi Sekadi, 52, a mother of two grown children, is an owner of a small bar in the settlement. For her, the stoves are heaven-sent. She said, “I started using the stove five months ago. The stove came to me at the right time when my health was suffering from the paraffin I used for cooking. Every day, to cook one meal, I used to spend R12.50 for a litre of paraffin sometimes more. Now, with onekg of pellet, I am able to cook two meals with the cost of only R3.50. Now, I use 20-22kg of pellet per month which costs about R110. I am able to save money and time. Top that with no eye and lung burning smoke, smell and less combined heat. Above all, I am not afraid of sudden fires from the paraffin anymore.”
Mamoshosho Sefatheme, 67, earns her income selling local beer. Lunch was steaming on the 5 Star stove – probably, meat, the most favoured meal of Africans - when Suomi/Africa journalists visited her shack. Ms Sefatheme said she had been using the stove for a few months, and had been able to save money and time.
“I used to spend a lot of money on paraffin. The stove is very economical with no smell and smoke,” she reported.
Business services, projects and networks
5 Star Stoves targets women’s employment and entrepreneurship opportunities besides tackling the existing energy challenges. Margaret Mosiroe, 38, is a member of one of the 200 cooperatives operating under the Blue Disa Agricultural Project banner, which are growing and supplying pellets for use on the stoves.
Ms Mosiroe said, “I am a single mom. I support myself and able to send my two children to school selling pellet I harvested from my own one hectare. The project also provided us and the workers, training, advisory services to become better entrepreneurs as well as business networks.
“I see our enterprise grow to a big business. I went to high school and studied agriculture but never to college because my parents had no money. I make sure that my children get education and life benefits.”
At this point, I must note the words of Anna Tarvainen, Natural Renewable and Energy Counsellor, expressed at a briefing at the Embassy of Finland in Pretoria, attended by myself and my colleagues at Suomi/Africa.
Ms Tarvainen said, “Gender equality is one of the main criteria considered for the approval of grants.”
Finnish funding for fuel and food preparation
Finland is a champion of gender equality and the sustainable use of natural resources initiated by the Energy and Environment Partnership Programme (EEP) funded by Austria, Finland and the United Kingdom. 5 Star Stoves Project Director Willem Malherbe said, “In the first round of funding, we secured around 28,000 euro from EEP, and produced 100 stoves. The second round is worth about 200,000 euro, and will help us to roll out more than 1,000 stoves.”
According to the project designers, the economic and health benefits afforded by using the stoves are not the only advantages. The stoves also represent a carbon-neutral fuel source, collectively saving tonnes of carbon dioxide, or Co2.
Mr Malherbe said, “In the long run, this kind of initiative can help to save the planet with reductions in Co2 and other particulate matter, at an estimated 2.5 tonnes of Co2 per stove, while there might be a net reduction of five kilotonnes of Co2 per annum from switching fuels, with an equivalent 16.8 MW that can be taken off the grid daily during peak demand periods by a franchise of just 2,000 stoves.”
As a journalist and a student of gender issues, I am glad to have had the opportunity to see this innovative project, which offers the potential to change women’s lives. I hope the project will come to Ethiopia, my home country, in the near future. For certain, the 22 million women out there every day who collect firewood and animal dung for fuel will make good use of the stoves, and will benefit from the clean energy value chain business - and will help to preserve the environment.