Can you provide some background on Hivos and explain how the organization has helped contribute to the growth of the clean cooking sector? 

Hivos is a Dutch broad-spectrum development NGO celebrating its 50th birthday this year. Some 10 years ago Hivos became active in the field of access to renewable energy and climate change mitigation. One of our first activities in this area was an improved cookstoves project with partner TATEDO in Tanzania. They built a couple thousand efficient stoves with chimneys and also received emission reduction revenues for them. From then on, Hivos has funded and worked in many improved cookstoves (ICS) projects in Timor Leste, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kenya, and Zimbabwe, supporting local ICS producers to improve their businesses, professionalising promotion, marketing and sales, and developing finance options. Along the way, our focus changed from fuel efficiency to clean cooking. Parallel to that, with partner SNV, we started working to promote household-sized biodigesters in five African countries and Indonesia. To date some 90,000 biodigesters were deployed with small-scale mixed farming households, bringing them, among many other benefits, the cleanest cooking technology biomass can offer.

The Africa Biogas Partnership Programme is a great example of leveraging the expertise and resources of a range of partners to promote cleaner energy and cooking options for households. As the other main partner in this program with SNV, what are some lessons that Hivos can share with stakeholders about developing and managing a partnership-based, multi-faceted approach to promote and implement an energy option? 

What has been very successful with the Africa Biogas Partnership Programme (ABPP) is the approach we took from SNV’s experience in Asia. We call it the multi-actor market and sector development approach: developing supply (digester builders and installers) and demand while involving existing organisations in their core business: vocational training institutions for mason training, financial institutions for credit provision to customers, government extension services, and rural development NGOs for training in the use of bioslurry (the digested manure, which is a high-quality organic fertiliser better than raw manure). Although the market parties still receive a wide range of support, the biodigester markets in the ABPP countries are reaching the market establishment level, where market dynamics start taking over and digester dissemination continues even if support were withdrawn. 

Of course, we still face challenges, the biggest one being the price of digesters. We have not yet been able to mobilise credit for all regions, and the capital that some of the financial institutions require to scale-up their biodigester financing can be hard to get. A second challenge is the reputation of the technology. If a digester is not working, that news spreads very fast. So we have organised after-sales services and engaged a call centre that calls regularly to newly commissioned digester owners, which helps maintain a very high percentage of functionality of the digesters. A working digester and good services are appreciated by the customers, and that message also spreads and attracts new clients. With a new generation of cloud-connected data loggers emerging, we should soon be able to monitor systems remotely to see if a digester is operating properly. This capability, however, is not yet a reality. We would recommend ICS programmes  make use of call centres for monitoring and follow-up of stove sales, enabling organizations to give advice and establish good client relations. This approach is far more efficient and effective and in the end, much more trustworthy and affordable than any other way of monitoring and after sales service delivery.

Even though biogas is a clean cooking fuel and households generally have enough gas to cater all of their cooking needs, we still see some stove stacking. Households, for example, use the traditional three stone fireplace for animal feed preparation, as well as to cook particular dishes and for larger events. But at the same time, we see proud women as well as clean kitchens, some of which people are starting to paint. In a way, the farms become more modernised and the biodigester is a life changer, helping improve the dignity of women!

What is the most striking lesson you have learned while working in the clean cooking space? What are some promising developments that have come about in the sector in the past few years? 

With the ICS, we see that progress is slow and intermittent. It can be hard to convince people to buy expensive, higher tier stoves, particularly where renewable biomass is still abundantly available. These stoves may be out of reach for many people and also require a lot of attention during cooking. They also don’t have the additional benefits on the agricultural side that biodigesters have. Therefore, many governments are now opting for LPG for clean cooking. However, Hivos feels that fossil fuels can, at most, be a transitional solution in the era of climate change. 

Hivos is now starting to experiment with a new approach to promote clean cooking. In Uganda, we will try to create a smoke-free zone through an area-based approach, where all relevant actors are brought together to eliminate dirty cooking and promote high-tier ICS, ethanol stoves, and biogas. This approach would also seek to eliminate the burning of agricultural waste and forest. It is still in its early stages, but we expect to enhance our outreach efforts and to offer clean cooking at reasonable prices for everyone living in the area. If we can demonstrate the approach’s potential, we plan to take it to other regions to scaleup even faster.