Developmental Association for Renewable Energies (D.A.R.E) is the Partner of the Month of November. In this very interesting and detailed interview, they share their activities in the clean cookstoves sector.
What motivated you to start your business?
I have a passion for finding solutions to practical problems. I was lucky to be part of a team that developed and tested the Save 80 prototype stoves, back then in Germany. During one of my visits to Nigeria at that time, I realized that desertification has taken a very large part of the North, where I come from. I felt something had to be done to stop and if possible reverse this trend. As most of the trees chopped down in this part of the country were mainly used for fuelwood, it became clear to me that the Save 80 can contribute a lot to reduce the uncontrollable felling of our few remaining trees. Thus after the final version of the Save 80 was tested and certified, I decided to come back home and start disseminating it – at a time when only very few people were even aware of what an improved cookstove was.
What does your company seek to achieve in Nigeria’s cooking energy market?
To create awareness to such a level that, improved cookstoves will become the norm of every household and thus firmly establish the cooking energy market as a sustainable means of livelihood and new income opportunities for many, while at the same time reducing the health hazards of indoor air pollution which thousands of women of this country are daily exposed to. What are the opportunities in the business environment that have supported your business over the years? When we started some 10 years ago, there was almost no real opportunity around. Banks didn’t even understand what we were aiming at. So in order to really take-off, we had to resort to carbon financing, which really helped us get foreign investors to provide the necessary funding. In the past 5 years we’ve seen some little improvements, even after the arrival of the Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves on the cooking energy scene in Nigeria. The impact of the Global Alliance on the Nigerian cooking energy market is yet to be felt. In my opinion, a lot of resources are being wasted on publicity and noise making, than really helping cooking energy entrepreneurs to run solid businesses.
How are your customers reacting to your products in the market – benefits of using your product?
Really, our customers are highly impressed with the quality of our Save 80 cooking system. Despite the relatively higher price, compared to other stoves on the market, users continuously tell us they have value for their money and are very satisfied with the stoves. Recommendations by users alone account for ¼ of our sales volume.
What has been your experience in the carbon market and what are your major challenges in the market?
In principle, the carbon market is a very good platform for disseminating improved wood stoves and it provides some good funding to cushion the effects of some drawbacks one encounters while doing business. However, the rules and regulations attached to the CDM scheme are so tedious that, one really has to be vigilant all the time and go the extra miles to meet the requirements of the Monitoring and Verification exercises being carried out by the international monitoring authorities, in order to obtain issuance of carbon credits by the UNFCCC Executive Board. When the carbon credit prices were good, it was easy to quickly forget the toils of the Monitoring and Verification exercises, for one is really gratified and satisfied with the ensuing credits. With the near collapse of the carbon market, the main challenge now is how to maintain one’s head above water until hopefully things get better, if at all.
Will you recommend other clean cookstoves businesses in Nigeria to subscribe to the carbon market?
In the present state of things, NO! Maybe if some new acceptable and implementable schemes are agreed upon at the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris, then it might be worth giving it a trial, after carefully studying the conditions. But as at now, the carbon pricing is so low that, one will definitely not break even by subscribing to the carbon market. It will be better to try to establish oneself through market forces, than to resort to carbon subsidies, where one is no longer certain of the prospects of a good return on investments.
Job creation and the empowerment of women seem to be increasingly important. How can your company help drive employment generation and the empowerment of women?
Since the commencement of our activities to date, we have trained and empowered almost 400 youths and women across the country, predominantly in the North. We have trained people in stove assembling and dissemination. Some of these are directly contracted by our organization to distribute stoves and others are free-lancers. We strongly believe both Federal and State Governments have a big role to play here, by drawing up and supporting programmes of dissemination of clean cooking solutions in households across the country. Apart from the environmental benefits, the sector can generate thousands of jobs and skill acquisition for the youths, as well as empower women to set up clean cooking businesses. We have the know-how and vast experience in the field. Tapping into these by both Federal and State Governments can enormously help scale-up what we and other entrepreneurs have been doing and really impact on the lives of thousands of hitherto jobless youths and women.
If you are asked to advise the new government in Nigeria on policy options, what are the three most important things the government can do to expand the market?
1) Enact policies and laws to discourage the use of 3-stone fire place in households.
2) Encourage wider dissemination of clean cookstoves by providing un-bureaucratic and easy access to funding possibilities for clean cookstoves entrepreneurs.
3) State and Local Governments should implement policies and enforce national as well as provide incentives to their staff to use clean cooking energy solutions.
If an enabling environment is not created by government, what future risks do you envisage?
The clean cookstove market will collapse and we will have increased maternal health hazards and deaths due to indoor air pollution, unemployment and worsening of environmental degradation and desert encroachment, among others.
Where do you envisage being in the next 5 years in terms of production?
Decentralize our production center in Kaduna and establish at least 10 production centers in strategic states across the country.
Is there any other thing you would like to share?
Apart from the business point of view, I think it is our collective moral responsibility to stand up to face the challenges posed by climate change and give our contributions to mitigate some of the effects of this hazard. The Nigerian Alliance and clean cookstove actors are doing a great job in this regard and I believe they deserve the full support of the Government and all well-meaning citizens of our country, Nigeria.