Nestled in the embrace of the Mount Kenya Forest Reserve, in Nyeri County lies the scenic Hombe village. This village is an agricultural hub, with lush landscapes and a close-knit community. Yet, beneath this scenic beauty lies a less visible threat; a silent killer in the form of toxic cooking methods that jeopardize the health and welfare of women and children in the community.
According to IEA, about 2.3 billion people worldwide rely on traditional cooking methods as the cornerstone of their daily lives due to a lack of access to clean cooking facilities. Hombe Village exemplifies this challenge.
Navigating the Challenges of Traditional Cooking Practices
Jecinta Njoki Wanjira, a lifelong resident in Hombe, experienced the impact firsthand. The three-stone fire was at the heart of Jecinta’s kitchen life for as long as she can remember – both in her childhood and more recently, as a family woman with children and grandchildren. Sitting on a low stool at her hearth, Jecinta would cook one pot at a time, alone, in her smoke-filled kitchen. Her two youngest boys had quickly learned to avoid the smoke-laden kitchen.
To keep her kitchen fire burning, Jecinta’s routine included regular visits to the nearby forest three times a week. Although the forest is a short distance from her home, Each visit demanded about three hours of tireless foraging for firewood. On a global scale, this practice has far-reaching economic consequences. The World Bank estimated $0.8 trillion in lost productivity tied to the aftermath. Encounters with wildlife during firewood collection add another layer of challenges. The small Hombe Forest, close to human settlements, exposes women to encounters with wild animals.
The Hongera Cookstove Project
Launched in 2021 and powered by the collaboration between Dutch Green Business and the Akili Group, The Hongera Cookstove Project responds to the pressing needs of women in Mt. Kenya and the Aberdares region. The project seeks to mitigate over 1.7 million tons of CO2 throughout its lifespan. This not only provides a practical solution for individuals like Jecinta but also contributes significantly to global climate change mitigation. Akili Group adopts a group-centered approach, collaborating with small-scale farmers through registered groups for long-term impact and holistic transformation.
Jecinta is a member of the Hombe Community Forest Association (CFA), a group focused on conserving and protecting forest resources. Under this umbrella, the Upendo Women’s Group, of which Jecinta is a member, participates in the Hongera Cookstove Project. The group-based model aids Akili Group in addressing the challenges facing rural communities.
A Group-Centered Approach for Community Empowerment
Jecinta is one of 2,000 members of the Hombe Community Forest Association (CFA). The group conserves, rehabilitates, and protects forest resources and operates a tree seedlings nursery as part of its initiatives. Under the umbrella of Hombe CFA, exist many sub-groups including the Upendo Women’s Group, of which Jecinta and her neighbors are members.
“As a member of Upendo Women’s Group, I have been able to be part of the Hongera Project and I have benefited from training, cookstoves, and expecting much more,” says Jecinta. The group- based model of community development and uptake of new technologies has aided the Akili Group in its mission of addressing the myriad challenges facing rural communities.
Impactful Outcomes Through The Hongera Cookstove Project
The impact is evident. Jecinta and others in the Mt. Kenya and the Aberdares region, testify to the positive changes brought about by the Hongera Cookstove including time savings and improved health and wellbeing. Jecinta notes: “Since acquiring the Hongera Cookstove, I find myself at ease. The health of my family has notably improved with reduced smoke emissions. Additionally, I now have more time to care for my livestock, tend to my land, and enjoy moments with my children.”
Abednego Kassim, the Hongera Cookstove Project Manager, echoes these sentiments, emphasizing the transformative impact of the cookstove. He states, “The Hongera cookstove is a game-changer, reducing the time women spend collecting firewood and significantly cutting Indoor Air Pollution. This results in improved health for many families.”
Beyond immediate benefits, the Hongera Cookstove Project represents a larger movement toward sustainable practices and community empowerment. By addressing interconnected challenges, including health, time constraints, and environmental impact, the project stands as a beacon of holistic change in the communities it serves.