A blue fuel burnt steadily under her cooking pot recently, making Jane Onyango, a resident of Kitengela, south of Nairobi, smile.
She had bought a liter of biofuel at a local supermarket when she went shopping for various household goods.
To use the fuel, she poured a little in a specially made container, then lit the fire using a matchstick and put her cooking pot (sufuria) to begin the cooking.
“This fuel is good, it has no smoke or smell,” said Onyango, who runs a salon in the suburb and learnt of biofuel eight months ago through their 16-member women’s savings group, popular known as chama in Kenya.
Through the chama, herself and others were able to acquire a one-cooker burner which uses the biofuel.
Onyango is among Kenyans in rural and urban areas who are steadily embracing biofuel (bio-ethanol), which has become a worthy alternative as firewood, charcoal and kerosene, once dominant cooking fuels in Kenya, become expensive.
A survey on Wednesday showed a bundle of firewood in the country is currently being sold for about 4 dollars while a 90kg bag of charcoal is going for 38 dollars, with prices having more than doubled in the last one year following a ban on logging by the government to protect forests.
On the other hand, the government increased tax on kerosene last year to curb adulteration of diesel and petrol.
A liter of kerosene in Kenya is currently going for 1.1 dollars, a rise from 0.80 dollars before the taxes were slapped on the fuel.
Similarly, the lowest-priced liquid petroleum gas cylinder goes for 10 dollars, making it a little costlier for low income earners.
The circumstances in the cooking energy sector in Kenya have, therefore, provided a gap that biofuel service providers are moving in to fill.
Increased competition has seen dealers pack their products in smaller quantities that are sold in supermarkets and other readily accessible points, some going for a dollar to make them accessible.
The biofuel dealers are also targeting women groups in both urban and rural areas to increase penetration.
“You can use half-a-liter of biofuel for long that you even forget you need to refill, but this is not the case with kerosene,” said Gilbert Wandera, a computer seller in Nairobi, who introduced his aging parents in western Kenya to biofuel.
He buys the fuel for them in Nairobi, where it is cheaper, and sends via courier to their home in Busia, western Kenya.
Greg Murray, the chief executive of Koko Networks, one of the firms that retails biofuel in Kenya, said that uptake of the cleaner cooking fuel is on the rise, with the company having installed over 700 selling points in the capital Nairobi only.
“Many people are beginning to realize that biofuel is cheaper than kerosene and charcoal in the long run because it does not produce harmful smoke which affects health,” said Murray, whose organization operates across East Africa and India.
He noted that increased uptake of biofuel in Kenya would help the country achieve its target of raising forest cover to at least 10 percent and curb respiratory diseases. Enditem