We should have an international day on clean cooking

Blog by Jean Marc Sika, March 9, 2018

As we celebrated Women’s Day this week, the story of my teenage years spent with my grandmother in a village in the highlands of western Cameroon came back to my mind. We lived in a sundried brick house with very small windows and a living room that was used as a kitchen at the same time. From a distance you could spot a thick column of smoke escaping from the house when my grandmother cooked. In addition, the living room/kitchen was always dark despite the daylight that found its way through the central door and the small and unique window. Although it was difficult for me to stay in the living room for a long time when we cooked our meals because of the smoke, I found nothing abnormal in the fact that we used firewood or agricultural residues to prepare our meals.

A few years later, I left the village and my grandmother, to join my parents in Douala, a city situated 300 kilometers away. My mother cooked using gas, her kitchen was bright and utensils were easy to clean. Although I had already become a teenager, I did not realize at that moment the meaning of the relief that I felt while staying in the kitchen with my mother, able to do my homework at night under the electric lights. All I understood was that life in the village was not pleasant. For me, this difference in the quality of life was part of the normal order. In our imagination, urban centers were synonymous with ease and good life while the rural areas were then logically doomed to have a bad life.

Later, after 12 years at a bank in Douala, I joined the development industry. My journey to understanding the structural causes of poverty and its consequences in terms of the deprivation of human rights began. I have now been working in the field of renewable energy for nine years. My efforts focus on improving the accessibility of peri-urban and rural households to clean energy sources for cooking, lighting and for productive activities. For the last ten years, the unprecedented development of renewable energy is to be applauded with both hands. Unfortunately, progress is still very slow in the field of clean cooking. Despite the relative success of improved stoves using charcoal or pallets, attention and investments in the use of biomass in the form of clean cooking is still in its infancy. The gasification technology for clean cooking is still unreliable and expensive in Africa.

Today, many grandmothers and mothers still use the traditional three-stone to cook with wood fuel. They seem to be the forgotten majority of development! To attract more attention and to accelerate investments on this issue, the United Nations should think about instituting a day on clean cooking or even a whole week as the phenomenon is of paramount importance. The current review process of the Sustainable Development Goal number seven (affordable and clean energy) should also consider the development of an explicit goal for clean cooking!