This article written by Jessica Alderman – Envirofit International Director of Communications – for Next Billion.
Within the past decade, greater alignment between international development solutions and consumer earning and spending habits has revolutionized access to essential goods and services in emerging markets. Most families living at the base of the economic pyramid (those earning less than $2.50 a day) remain dependent on day labor, and both earn and spend their wages daily. However, some corporations and social enterprises have adapted their solutions to match these spending patterns and thus overcome affordability barriers that previously prevented the scale of new technologies with higher price points, such as clean cookstoves and solar lighting products.
The clean cookstove industry has faced a strategic turning point in the past few years which has left investors, policymakers and other industry players in a state of confusion. After over a decade of promoting clean cookstoves programs, the industry’s attention has recently shifted away from cooking stoves themselves, and refocused on the cooking fuels these stoves utilize.
Though long-term health studies remain limited, these findings have sparked an international debate on where the industry should channel its resources and funding. Should it focus only on the cleanest solutions that have the potential to create the greatest health impacts? Or should it continue to fund and promote cookstove programs that have proven social and climate impacts, but that may only meet the second or third tier in terms of cleanliness of burn – as measured by the industry’s performance targets, which range from zero (dirtiest and highest emissions) to five (cleanest and lowest emissions).
The stakes of this debate are high: The wrong decision could leave millions behind.
THE FUTURE DEPENDS ON THE CLEANEST SOLUTIONS
At Envirofit, we are partial to cleaner solutions. In our 12 years working in the clean cooking industry, we’ve seen that consumers want clean, high-quality, affordable cooking solutions that improve their lives. While there are some studies that show people are highly influenced by the cultural aspects of cooking with biomass, if they’re given the option to light a stove at the push of a button and cook and clean in half the time, the choice is obvious. That’s why stoves that utilize liquified petroleum gas (LPG), ethanol, biogas and electricity are their aspiration. The challenge with these technologies comes down to affordability.
Pay-as-you-go solutions are beginning to grow in the industry, in an effort to make these fuel and cooking technology options accessible. But these business models are still being proven – and in the meantime, lack of affordable solutions means market penetration has suffered. Access to clean cooking has only increased by 0.5 percentage points per year since 2010. This is both slower than population growth, and far behind the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That’s why, if the industry is going to meet these goals, significant and continued investment is needed – for both future technologies and solutions that can be scaled today….
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