We are sitting inside a small business with potential to change the landscape dramatically for Zambia. Emerging Cooking Solutions started in 2012 with a goal to make cooking safer. With a loan from the UN Foundation Marion Peterson and Mattias Ohlson are changing lives for the better in Zambia.
This is our first site visit in a five day tour of Zambia. We are here to see the impact of vaccines on the lives of children. I am traveling with a group of journalists who have each received a Shot @ Life fellowship to write about what’s happening in Zambia. The journey was a long one and the heat in Lusaka is unlike any heat we are used to in North America.
Inside this Lusaka business place, there are no children being vaccinated. So how does this business tie into the narrative of child health improvements in Zambia? Well, in fact, this business has a dramatic impact on child and adult health. That is worth understanding.
“Our vision started with the idea that we could replace charcoal,” says Mattias Ohlson, CEO of Emerging Cooking Solutions.
Burning charcoal is bad for the environment and for people’s health as well. Many North American and European countries are striving to make the switch from charcoal to cleaner solutions. But in developing areas of the world the challenges are often related to poverty. Cooking is not negotiable as a huge amount of food must be cooked to be eaten. But charcoal and other BioMass fuels create extreme health hazards. The World Health Organization has identified this indoor air pollution from cooking as a huge issue impeding health and progress in developing areas of the world.
- Inhaling indoor smoke doubles the risk of pneumonia and other acute infections of the lower respiratory tract of children under five.
- coal use doubles the risk of lung cancer among women.
- women exposed to indoor smoke are three times more likely to experience COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema over women who cook with gas, electricity or other cleaner fuels.
Emerging Cooking Solutions – Zambia Ltd (ECS) is an alliance of United Nations Foundation‘s Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. They are working to educate Zambians and penetrate more households and businesses with clean cookstoves. ECS is a private company founded in 2012 and started in Sweden. ECS uses sustainable fuel pellets to power their cookstoves.
“We knew it would be a better performing solution. We knew we couldn’t use health arguments, or environmental arguments. We knew we had to make the financial arguments work.”
And that’s what they have done despite many obstacles, including a fire in their factory that required them to essentially start over with a new factory build. And despite the psychological shift required, along with the very real marketing and sales hurdles.
“Our challenge is how to get this into more homes.”
Many people in Zambia do not understand the issue of air pollution and respiratory disease related to cooking with charcoal. ECS uses sustainable fuel pellets made from forest waste and it is powered by a solar panel that can also be used to provide energy for the entire home. In Zambia shedding happens daily due to power outages. Every day the power is shut down for a couple of hours to conserve. With ECS and the solar powered energy source Zambian families can power through.
“This really is a home energy system,” says Ohlson.
When I first landed with the group of journalists here in Zambia, we were driven to the Taj Pamodi in Lusaka. Lusaka is the capital of Zambia and it houses many of the head offices of NGOs like UNICEF and USAID. Shot @ Life and The UN Foundation work together supporting all of these NGOs. So we visit many of their offices on our first day.
What strikes me first about Zambia is the amount of solar energy in use. Solar panels are on many homes, and I see the same thing when we briefly speed through South Africa and Johannesburg. Solar energy is harnessed even to charge iPads used at medical clinics and other facilities throughout Zambia. Solar is also being used here at Emerging Cooking Solutions. In fact it is a huge piece of the business. The use of solar power is impressive and many areas of SubSaharan Africa are doing this much better than most of North America.
Later in the day after leaving Emerging Cooking Solutions we visit Lusaka and Jubilee Ministries. The laneways are narrow and this area of Lusaka is densely populated. All along the side of the road are women and children selling big bags of charcoal. This section of town smells smoky. The air is thick with pollution and garbage lines the highway.
I’ve had bronchitis and I have been traveling on antibiotics, so the discussion of respiratory health impact for me is timely and topical. I cook with electricity and gas like many Canadians. Canada, and the US, can do better than we are presently. Here in this area of Lusaka people make a living burning charcoal and selling charcoal and it’s easy to see the impact on respiratory health even driving around in a bus with windows closed.
The air is not good quality in this neighbourhood and that’s not the only detrimental part of burning charcoal. Over time there are more burns that happen to children and adults burning charcoal as well. It is a dangerous means of cooking.
The ECS system doesn’t pollute the air. “You have to have a natural circulation of air inside homes,” Ohlson says.
Emerging Cooking Solutions has built a product that can help tackle energy use, health, sustainability and more. But first people need to understand it and buy it. Success has been found selling to groups, women’s groups in particular see the importance of health and many also understand that it saves money, while often cutting down their work time. ECS is used in orphanages and schools.
The cooking system and fuel pellets by ECS save women and children time which can in turn be spent with family. Children who don’t have to cook or search for fuel might be better able to go to school or do homework. The pellets and stoves save Zambians money reducing their costs 30 to 40 % over coal. That has a dramatic impact on quality of life for many Zambian families.
ECS is one impressive innovation we saw changing the quality of life for families in Zambia.
I travelled with Shot@Life and the UN Foundation as a recipient of the Zambia Fellowship in October. I received transportation, accommodations, excursions, and meals while visiting Zambia. My opinion is my own and my stories are truthful. If you want to help children in Zambia join Shot@Life.org.