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Firewood burns out gas, power

Fred Aminga @faminga

Forget gas and electricity, firewood remains the most commonly used fuel energy in Kenya, gobbling up 66 per cent of fuel rural folks and low-income earners spend. Not surprisingly, the second most popular alternatively fuel for these households is charcoal, compounding pressure for the country’s rescinding green cover.

The ongoing push by government to increase forest cover is set to increase the cost of living for most vulnerable Kenyans as the commodities become scarce. Already, firewood in most areas next to forest covers have been deserted as dealers evade arrest while the cost of a sack of charcoal has increased by between 20 and 50 per cent across the country.

Scarcity of charcoal in the country is being felt even in Nairobi particularly in the low income areas where most traders People Daily spoke to indicated prices had nearly doubled since the beginning of the month to trade at an average of Sh2,400 per sack. But alternatives such as LPG will find it difficult to fit according to a GeoPoll survey, conducted in January, on cooking fuels which notes that ‘modern fuels’ play a modest role in rural areas and low income households.

Therefore the more than 75 per cent of Kenyans who reside in rural areas will continue using solid fuels particularly firewood and charcoal to meet their daily cooking needs. Apart from logging for timber therefore, demand for firewood and charcoal remains the most dangerous habit to Kenya’s forest cover.

The government suspended logging in government forests to seek lasting solution to the drying of rivers and rescinding forest cover in the country. This will also go along way towards helping government’s ambitious project to increase the country’s forest cover from the current seven per cent to 15 per cent by the year 2022. But the fight to entrench what is considered environment friendly energy sources including government sponsored liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) initiative by National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK) must be re-energised to help even the rural folks.

Currently servicing what was an ambitious multi-billion shilling project to fast track uptake of LPG among low income earners, the project has barely scratched the surface four years later despite offering the lowest rates in the country. Dubbed Project Mwananchi, the plan entailed introducing some 4.3 million cooking gas cylinders to low and middle income households.

To deepen uptake, NOCK was to acquire 720,000 cooking gas cylinders and refill plant machinery through State-owned fuels dealers. Going by the GeoPoll survey, observations that these households do not switch to modern fuels such as LPG or paraffin, but instead tend to consume a combination of old and modern fuels with firewood making it difficult for a complete transition.

If Treasury’s suggestion to increase the cost of petroleum products by 16 per cent succeeds, this could in hindsight enhance uptake of LPG particularly for those using Kerosene which is going to be more pricey by an extra Sh10 per litre.

But if LPG prices will not be affected by the VAT charges, as currently indicated, and the prices of Kerosene go up, there could be an increase in demand for LPG. “Thus, for Kenyans living in the rural areas, firewood is more readily available, cheaper and more convenient.

In the urban areas, LPG gas and charcoal are the most preferred due to their availability, with cost and convenience being secondary determinants,” says the report, adding that there are stark differences based on where households are located, their access to different fuel sources, and their monthly budget.

Barring prohibitive costs and availability locking out rural folks and poor households from LPG, uptake should be higher, particularly if NOCK and other private players change tack and use available resources to reach out to the target group more aggressively.

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