Sullay Conteh is still frail from the health issues that he has had recently but plans to soon start making charcoal stoves again. He showed us the scrap metal sheet he had bought that morning for Le 50,000 (about 5 US$) which he plans to use as raw material. Few years ago, he learned to make charcoal stoves from his brother-in-law and since then has made 100s of such stoves. He does not have a workshop or covered area for making the cookstoves and does it in an open space behind the Kingtom police barracks in Freetown. Sullay also does not sell most of the stoves himself and uses shopkeepers like Fatmata sell the cookstoves to households. Rosaline gets a commission for the stoves she is able to sell. The prices for stoves vary and Fatmata is able to sell stoves for a higher price on a profit but most often the price just about covers the costs. So for Sullay and Fatmata the cookstove business is just about helping them to continue the business with limited profits as the customers they cater to are very price conscious and not aware of the importance of efficiency of stoves.
Macauley on the other hand has been in the efficient cookstove business for several years and used to manufacture stoves with his partner previously but is currently on his own. He has been to Kenya and also Ghana reviewing charcoal stove technologies in those countries. He does place and emphasis on efficiency of stoves and uses his understanding of the technology to guide his firm. His firm operates from a room in partly finished building abandoned building next to old railway line. He employs four technicians trained by himself who fabricate the efficient charcoal stoves. Since he is not too far from the road the cookstoves are stacked next to the road and on top of street-side shops for passers-by to stop and buy the stoves. The customers he finds also do not know much about differences in efficiencies of stoves but are interested in the appearance of stoves. He has been encouraging good quality finish and good exterior paint to attract customers.
Hannah Max-Maccarthy and Tapsir N’jai represent a new wave of clean energy entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone and have together run Westwind Energy for the last 7 years, since 2012. They are both returned back after being based in Europe in accounting and human resource spaces for several years and are now taking forward the stove business that Tapsir’s dad started over two decades ago. Their manufacturing facilities in Wellington Industrial Estate look very professional and workers wear uniforms and protective gear. Westwind energy makes ‘Wonder Stoves’ which have higher efficiencies that have been independently tested and verified for higher efficiency by international partnerships like GIZ Endev. WestWind also employs young mothers like Aishatu Yillah and Zainab Tourey who are among eight women being employees that fabricate efficient stoves. Both Aishatu and Zainab like their work making efficient cookstoves and were trained in-house on fabrication techniques. They also hope that the volume of work they do at the cookstove factory will increase in future. The factory supervisor also confirmed that women employees are easier to train, are more committed to work and easier to supervise! Hannah is the managing director of Westwind and has a clear vision of Westwind’s continued focus on quality and engaging more women particularly on the marketing side.
Macauley, Sulley and Westwind are among the 70 odd cookstove manufactures that make charcoal stoves in Sierra Leone. Almost 80% of these fabrication workshops are owned by individuals like Sullay and Macaulay and are not formally organised, established and registered like WestWind. About half of these operate outdoors like Sulley or in temporary shelters and often the fabricators are trained in house and skillsets required to make efficient charcoal stoves are not always imparted. Also, only about 8% of the cookstoves sold are tested and certified like wondestoves from Westwind and rest are likely to be inefficient and result in increased charcoal use. Also, most of the workforce consists of men and Westwind’s women employees seems to be an exception
To put these enterprises in the national context, charcoal use has been increasing steadily and current trends in 2019 indicate that charcoal is fast replacing firewood as the cooking fuel and currently over 2/3rds of urban households in Sierra Leone use charcoal for cooking. This increased demand for charcoal by urban households is fuelling large scale destruction of forests in Sierra Leone for charcoal production. The twin challenge posed by increasing charcoal use and majority of the manufacturers not focussing on efficiency of stoves will need to be addressed. There is a need to provide training and capacity building of cookstove manufacturers to encourage better manufacturing practices and to manufacture efficient charcoal stoves that can reduce charcoal consumption. There is also a need to test and certify efficient charcoal stoves and create awareness about efficiency so that consumers could distinguish efficient stoves over the inefficient ones.
These are some of the challenges being addressed by a Global Environmental Facility (GEF) financed project – Energy Efficient Production and Utilization of Charcoal through Innovative Technologies and Private Sector Involvement in Sierra Leone (EEPUC) supported by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and implemented by Ministry of Energy. The EEPUC project is providing training to local charcoal cookstove manufacturers on design and production of efficient stoves. The project will also be establishing a stove testing and certifying facility at Renewable Energy Centre, Government Technical Institute which will be able to test and certify locally produced efficient cookstoves. Awareness campaigns will also be carried out on the benefits of efficient charcoal stoves. It is expected that these initiatives by the EEPUC project will move the local manufacture of cookstoves to be more capable to produce efficient charcoal stoves and also encourage urban households to purchase efficient charcoal stoves, influencing the market. Such a transition to a more efficient charcoal value chain will result in climate benefits in terms of greenhouse gas mitigation and maintaining the forest cover in the country.