Jikos, Swahili for cook stoves, are used in just about every household in Kenya. Traditionally, they use large quantities of firewood and heavily pollute indoor environments. Luckily, the jiko also happens to be one of the biggest success stories in Kenyan appropriate technology. Dr. Maxwell Kinyanjui, Founder of Musaki Enterprises, invented an energy-saving stove called the Kenyan Ceramic Jiko (KCJ) in 1982. The idea was to change the shape slightly and add a clay insert to the scrap steel housing to insulate the jiko and use less firewood. Great design, true, but so many great appropriate technologies have been developed and rusted. Here’s what was so brilliant about the Kenyan Ceramic Jiko:
- It was a very simple switch from the traditional metal jiko (see photo, back) to the clay insert (front)
- Kinyanjui educated artisans on production of the housing and community groups on the ceramic insert
- Kinyanjui also educated consumers on the cost savings that would accrue over time from reduced energy
Today we met with Alexander Varghese, Kenya Country Director of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) at the UN Headquarters in Nairobi. Interestingly, two UN organizations are headquartered in Nairobi: UNEP and UNHABITAT.
UNIDO has a new program called Lighting Up Kenya, whose mission is threefold: clean energy generation and provision, productive use of that energy, and resulting social empowerment. Kenya is enduring a huge energy crisis, with its tree cover diminishing from 12% at independence to just 1% today. UNIDO wants to develop small kilowatt-level plants to supply power locally using alternative energy sources like solar, wind, and biomass. It will use the power to supply new Community Development Centers (CDC), which will promote small enterprises by employing small-scale equipment like welding machines and the assembly facilities for LED lamps with very simple, yet imported, designs. They have signed a huge deal with Equity Bank to offer microfinance opportunities.
Varghese is a straight shooter. He says that for every dollar he invests, he wants a dolar twenty back. He is a rare and refreshing personality in the industry. He is very interested in partnering with ACESS, which would be able to create income generating facilities and activities at UNIDO’s CDCs. In return, Varghese will both fundraise for us and ensure that the villages we are already working in be some of the pilot locations to receive power and CDCs! He has hired us to perform research in these villages and write feasibility reports based on the potential in the surrounding areas.
Some interesting points that came up in discussion with Varghese:
- 90% of Kenyan homes have no electric lighting, creating a 700m USD market for kerosene lighting.
- By manufacturing LED lamps locally, the cost can be reduced from 30 USD to 15 USD. The fact that these very simple LED lamps, which comprise an LED, a simple printed circuit board, and a battery, are revolutionary for Kenya says a lot about its current manufacturing capacity.
- Power lines from traditional megawatt-level plants run straight through the villages to the cities, mostly Nairobi. The villagers can’t access the power because they can’t afford transformers to step down the voltage (we’ve heard this before). This is where decentralized kilowatt-level plants come into play.
- In one of the pilot CDCs, a jua kali was brought in to use the welding machine. He only used the machine a few hours a week when he received orders for doors and windows, confirming my hypothesis on competitive disadvantage.
- These small entrepreneurs don’t just need the technology, but they need ideas to develop new products and markets. That’s why Varghese is so excited about ACESS starting small enterprises to manufacture farming tools—it’s something besides doors and windows.
I’m starting a new segment on this blog called Steal This Green Idea. So many things you see everywhere in Africa would be touted as innovative and green in the US, but are done here out of necessity. It’s kind of funny.
Electricity is so expensive here that every single outlet I have seen throughout the country has switches. Imagine how much power we’d save in the US if it were this convenient. I have yet to see a power strip with individual outlet switches either.
Though the area surrounding Arusha is largely electrified, many can’t afford the electricity or access the power lines. A new trend in the area is household-level solar panels, which can be purchased in Arusha for about 500,000 TSH/500 USD, though they are coming down in price. Installation costs another 500,000 TSH/500 USD, making solar panels a huge investment for rural households. But for some, it is worth it to save up over a period of time to make this purchase. It powers about 6-7 light bulbs (about 500 TSH/0.50 USD each), which can be life-changing for a family that has never been productive after dark. Solar water heaters are also available, though they are considered more of a luxury (I respectfully disagree).
Living on the grid presents its own set of challenges. Power is expensive (even more so than in the US) and can be unreliable. I talked to a man who lives in Arusha who said he pays about 220 TSH/0.22 USD per watt. He has a landline, which cost about 95,000 TSH/95 USD to install, as well as a desktop, television, radio, and small refrigerator. He washes his clothes by hand.
Making Do is an investigation into systems of innovation in Kenya's informal economy. Learn more and read the book online or in print here.
I'm Steve Daniels. I study the transformative impact of technology on individuals and societies. I am the founder of the Better World by Design conference at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design and Analogue Digital, a publisher of content related to global cultures of technology. Currently, I work at IBM Research, where I study mobile social computing in emerging markets.
I am particularly interested in how people create, adapt, and use technology in resource-constrained environments, which I have written about in Making Do: Innovation in Kenya's Informal Economy.
- Emerging Futures Lab
- Future Perfect
- Information Aesthetics
- Maker Faire Africa
- Smarter Planet
- Timbuktu Chronicles
- White African