By: Lillian Nseula, Energy and Development Economist, Founder of Womenergy 265

Transitioning from Carbon emitting to clean cooking fuels

Energy poverty is still one of the biggest challenges of our time. A majority of Africa’s population, still rely on solid biomass for preparing their meals. Women are among those that are disproportionally affected by energy poverty due to the roles that they play in most societies (Vigolo, 2018). They travel for long distances to procure firewood and other forms of biomass fuels. This limits them from engaging in leisure and income generating activities. The traditional fuel gathering methods cause deforestation, exacerbate climate change, and exposes countries to many social and economic challenges (Kapfudzaruwa 2017).

In most low-income households, cooking is done using carbon emitting fuels and inefficient cookstoves in poorly ventilated kitchens (Vigolo, 2018). A practice which exposes women and the rest of their families to toxic household air pollution (HAP). According to the World Health Organisation, this causes serious respiratory illnesses and premature death (United Nations, 2018).

To break this vicious cycle of poverty, we need to go with the business-unusual approach and look for other innovative ways to address the energy challenges in Africa and beyond (Stevens et. al, 2020).  By doing so we will be able to eradicate energy poverty, build inclusive, resilient and equal societies while tackling climate change.

A report by World Health Organization indicates that, behavioural change, preference, cost, and cultural beliefs are among some of the key barriers to the adoption and sustained use of improved cookstoves (United Nations, 2018). Most of the cookstoves used in low income households vary according to design, performance, efficiency and can either be basic or advanced (Stevens et. al, 2020). To achieve multiple socio-economic benefits from the transition, the WHO suggests that future policies should ensure inclusivity of women, the poor, and vulnerable groups to have their voice heard (UN, 2018).

Improved cooking solutions (ICS) can be defined as a way of cooking that improves adverse environmental, economic and health outcomes as opposed to traditional cooking practices (Stevens et. al, 2020). These cookstoves are fuelled by Petro-chemical fuels (LPG, natural gas) or renewables such as biogas, solar, ethanol and other plant-based gels. The aforementioned ICS can generate numerous socio-economic benefits such as time saving for women, generating attractive fuel savings, and job creation opportunities (Vigolo, 2018). Additionally, the transition to clean fuel use will speed up the achievement of Sustainable Developmental Goals 3, 5, 7,10,12 and 13 (UN, 2018).

My work on improved cooking stoves in Malawi

Malawi is considered as one of Africa’s energy poverty hotspots. Most of the household energy needs (99%) in Malawi are met by solid biomass fuels, particularly charcoal and firewood. Currently, the market for modern cooking services is small which calls for well-developed efforts to increase the uptake and use of improved cookstoves.

To help address the poverty challenge in Malawi, I founded a sustainable enterprise which seeks to bring meaningful change to poverty-stricken communities. At Womenergy 265, we design and manufacture cookstoves that are made from recycled car wheel rims and scrap metal. Kuphika kwaphweka (Cooking made simple) cookstoves are locally manufactured for poor households which will ultimately help reduce deforestation and help save up to 64% on fuel expenses. The cookstoves can be fuelled by LPG or biogas. They are made from 100% upcycled car rims; meaning that they are durable, have an almost zero carbon footprint, and also save the environment from pollution. From an economic point of view, they are 50% cheaper than imported gas stoves and therefore avoid the expenditure of FOREX by poor countries.  Rims and scrap metal of varying sizes can be used to make a range of goods to suit both domestics and commercial needs. Upcycling and manufacturing of the stoves can also improve low-income livelihoods. The stoves are aesthetically pleasing and are thus appealing to the wider society. The simplicity of the design allows for transferability of knowledge across cultures and countries.

Below is an image of the Kuphika Kwaphweka cookstove made from recycled materials for low income households.

Image of the Kuphika Kwaphweka cookstove made from recycled materials for low income households
Lillian Nseula
Lillian Nseula

Results-driven professional, with interest in Energy Management, Research, Governance, Social and Economic Development, Climate Change, Policy and planning issues-particularly in Emerging Economies. Passionate about applying my skills and training gained through working with a diverse portfolio of clients that aim at developing and financing innovative solutions to development challenges.


1.UN, 2018. Policy Brief # 3, Achieving universal access to clean energy and modern cooking fuels and technologies. Available at:

2.Lucy Stevens, Edoardo Santangelo, Kennedy Muzee, Mike Clifford & Sarah Jewitt (2020) Market mapping for improved cookstoves: barriers and opportunities in East Africa, Development in Practice. Available at:

3.Vigolo, V., Sallaku, R. and Testa, F., 2018. Drivers and barriers to clean cooking: A systematic literature review from a consumer behavior perspective. Sustainability, 10(11), p.4322. Available at:

4.Clancy, J.S., Skutsch, M. and Batchelor, S., 2003. Finding the energy to address gender concerns in development. UK Department for International Development DFID Project CNTR, 998521.Available at:

5.Kapfudzaruwa, F., Fay, J. and Hart, T., 2017. Improved cookstoves in Africa: Explaining adoption patterns. Development Southern Africa, 34(5), pp.548-563.Available at:

6.Putti, V.R., Tsan, M., Mehta, S. and Kammila, S., 2015. The state of the global clean and improved cooking sector.Available at:


Mohamed Alhaj

Dr. Mohamed Alhaj is a young energy leader, a competent sustainable energy consultant, and an expert researcher. He is the founder and managing director of Terra Energy - a Rwanda-based clean energy consulting firm.

Leave a Reply