Clean Burn: Can a Stove Save Lives, Forests, and Africa's Economy? Clean Burn: Can a Stove Save Lives, Forests, and Africa's Economy?
Business

Clean Burn: Can a Stove Save Lives, Forests, and Africa's Economy?

by Alex Goldmark

September 27, 2011


To make large-scale cassava farming profitable, enough Maputo residents have to ditch their smoky culinary habits and switch to the company's ethanol stove. Cooking over an ethanol stove is a different experience, and many families resist the switch. Plus, the stove costs $30, a pretty steep price for families earning a few dollars a day.

"In a country with a per capita GDP of around $1,000, users cannot be expected to pay $30 upfront for a stove," says Muthiah of the Cookstove Alliance. "At the same time, substantially cheaper stoves are not likely to provide substantial health or environmental benefits." That's why she says public education must be included in plans like this one, so users are aware of better options. Innovative financing for customers is also crucial considering the high price, she says. That could mean discounts earned from carbon offsets, microloans, or other access to credit for businesses along the supply chain, especially women-run enterprises.

Novozymes and CleanStar are working with one such company, Zoe Enterprises, a female-founded local firm charged with distributing, marketing, and generally persuading the mothers of Maputo that cooking with ethanol is worth the extra cost. The pitch? It's cleaner, faster and, in the long run, might even be cheaper. Charcoal is getting more expensive as the forests near Maputo dwindle. As transport costs for charcoal increase, so does the price. 

That's part of why Nagy is optimistic Novozymes can scale up. By 2014, the partnership hopes to have 3,000 farmers, providing fuel for 80,000 households. The total market for alternative cooking fuel in sub-Saharan African, he says, is around $10 billion. That's big change, and big business. "Our hope is that we can show to the world that this is a very very sustainable business model," Nagy says. "Not only sustainable for [the] environment, deforestation, and health issues, but also that the joint venture is actually able to make money."

Photos courtesy of Novozymes

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Clean Burn: Can a Stove Save Lives, Forests, and Africa's Economy?