In Uganda, more than 28 million people in the country are without electricity. To put that into perspective, the entire population of the beautiful landlocked east-central African nation is less than 38 million people.
To tackle energy poverty, many entrepreneurs are increasingly devising innovative solutions to explore feasible alternative power options. One of them is Rose Twine. Having grown up in both urban and rural areas of Uganda, Twine knew first hand the challenges faced by many homes when it came to cooking a simple meal. A passionate environmentalist, she decided to do something about it.
In 2009, she teamed up with her brother to found their Kampala-based company with their flagship product: the “eco stove.” The siblings’ green oven uses a type of volcanic rock combined with solar power to act as the fuel for the kitchen appliance.
Cook food, charge your phone
“The whole point was to … reduce deforestation, as well as the chores involved in finding firewood for the local person who can’t access electricity or gas,” explains Twine.
The stove has an internal air system that helps heat up the volcanic rocks, which are ready to cook when they turn bright red in color. When the device is switched off, the rocks cool and return to their natural state until the next use.
Meanwhile, solar panels on the appliance charge up and help provide additional heat to the stove.
Alternatively, Twine explains, the appliance can also be used to provide an additional light source, charge cell phones, play a radio or even iron clothes through steaming.
At the moment, the most common solid fuels for cooking and heating homes in Uganda are firewood and charcoal, both of which release thick, acrid smoke into the household. This exposes residents to a number of respiratory health problems — the World Health Organization estimates that 4.3 million people die annually as a result of hazardous household air pollution.
As the Ugandan capital of Kampala continues to flourish more people are choosing to relocate to the city. But an increasing population also means more man-made health factors. Societal problems include extra trash and traffic, which in turn add to the worsening air pollution.
Outside of the city, in rural areas, the once green and fertile forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Deforestation has seen the country lose two-thirds of its forests between 1990 and 2005 making it harder for villagers to find wood for burning.
Twine hopes her product will provide users with immediate environmental, social, health, and economic benefits once they have upgraded their existing kitchens with her eco-alternative.
Part businesswoman, part eco-warrior
She says: “Everybody says I want (the eco stove) because charcoal is expensive, firewood is hard to find, electricity is very expensive and it’s not reliable.”
Surrounded by countless families facing these hardships of accessing sustainable energy every day, Twine made it her mission to provide a reliable fuel source through her social enterprise startup.
It’s a vision that has proved fairly popular as more Kampala residents adopt this eco-friendly way of cooking. But Twine explains it usually requires a live demonstration of the product to clinch the sale.
“This is a new innovation in the continent that a lot of people need more understanding. It’s not something that you can go on TV and say ‘this a stove here that will solve all your cooking challenges.’ No!
“That’s why we are always cooking beans (outside the store). You need a lot of stuff on-site to be able to demonstrate for anybody who comes in because it’s not something somebody is going to read about it and say ‘a stone that cooks and lasts two years and believe in it. No they want to see.”
It’s still early days but the sustainable business has seen some local success in promoting renewable energy — a cause of great importance to Twine. And it’s this passion that spurs the environmental entrepreneur onwards.
She explains: “Belief in the dream (and) I think you’ll go all the way. Once you believe in it it’s easy to transmit the same passion and the same conviction to the person who is going to buy into it.
“Once you believe in what you’re doing, don’t be distracted and don’t even be discouraged.”
CREDIT SOURCE via Lauren Said-Moor house and Florence Obondo | CNN
The founder of Eco Stove, Rose Twine, says the firm has employed 17 women’s groups, each with a membership of 12 in the Kisoro District, to extract the rocks.
The groups are given start-up capital and trained in extracting the rocks from the hillsides. The stones are transported to Kampala and stored at the company factory in Bujjuko, on Mityana Road.
Here, the rocks are cut into different sizes to suit the end-users stove size. For instance, the rocks destined for use in institutions are normally bigger compared with those for domestic use.
The blocks are then dipped into hot water for a few minutes and left to dry for at least one week, a process that prevents them from emitting sparks when they are finally lit.
Ms. Twine said the rocks only work in the solar-powered Eco Stove, which comes with an internal air supply system that helps heat up the rocks.
The stove is also fitted with an on-off switch that enables the rocks to burn when turned on, and cool and return to their natural state when turned off. The stove comes with a radio, phone charger and has two lights.
Unlike charcoal which burns down to ash, these rocks can be used multiple times without losing their power or texture.
Domestic stoves retail at Ush200,000 ($53) together with the rocks while a “bag” of the rocks alone sells for Ush35,000 ($9) for domestic use and can last up to six months.
Ms. Twine says since the stove does not emit smoke, those using it are protected from indoor pollution.
“They [rocks] do not produce smoke, burn for a long time and you do not need charcoal anymore,” she adds.
“We seek to help groups that utilize these rocks. The law does not stop people from extracting surface rocks found in places such as Karamoja, Mbale, Kisoro, and Rukungiri districts for home use,” Vincent Kendi, an official from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development said.
“If their activities are regulated, this can be an alternative source of energy. You see what charcoal and fuelwood extraction has done to our forests,” Mr. Kendi added.
Christine Akello, National Environment Management Authority deputy executive director, said the authority does not regulate volcanic rock extractions.
Ministry of Water and Environment data shows that natural forests outside protected areas declined by 35 percent (from 3.46 million hectares in 1990 to 2.3 million hectares in 2005).
A 2017 Joint Water and Environment Sector Review Report estimate the country’s forest cover at nine percent.
The decline has been blamed mainly on the country’s dependency on fuelwood to cook and power small industries.
More than 90 percent of the households in the country depend on firewood and charcoal as their source of energy for cooking.
CREDIT SOURCE via PAUL TAJUBA | The East African