Kenya’s Koko Networks plans ethanol-cooking expansion in Africa, Asia

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Tuesday, 5 April 2022 11:49

Household air pollution from dirty cooking fuels kills 4 million people a year globally.
Household air pollution from dirty cooking fuels kills 4 million people a year globally. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Kenya’s Koko Networks aims to roll out its clean-cooking solution in five new countries in the next three to four years following recent expansion to Rwanda, CEO Greg Murray tells The Africa Report.

Government policies to encourage clean cooking in poor countries will help determine which destinations are chosen. The company  will “prioritise based on the enabling environment,” Murray says.

Charcoal-based cooking has heavy costs both for the people who have to rely on it, and for the environment. The World Health Organization says that globally about 4 million people die prematurely each year from illnesses caused by household air pollution from inefficient cooking practices.

According to the Dalberg consulting firm, Kenya loses 10.3 million cubic metres of wood from its forests every year due to firewood and charcoal consumption, which is a major contributor to the country’s 0.3% annual deforestation rate.

Wood and charcoal fuel use contribute about 40% of Kenya’s total greenhouse gas emissions, Dalberg says. The rural poor who need to gather wood for cooking fuel face a heavy time penalty of up to four hours per day which could be reduced with ethanol use, the research adds.

Koko’s platform for the low-cost delivery of ethanol cooking fuel supplies 1.5 million Kenyans daily. Murray is now in discussions with the governments of poor countries worldwide. The aim is to “find  a government that wants to use all the tools” to level the playing field with charcoal, he says. “There has to be a partnership with government.”

  • There has been “encouraging movement” in Uganda with the removal of excise tax on ethanol, and a partial VAT exemption for local ethanol production, he says.
  • Uganda is “plausible candidate” for entry and the company would also love to be able to enter Tanzania, he says.
  • Governments need to be “proactive” in cutting taxes to encourage ethanol cooking use, Murray says.
  • There is a need for “common sense” solutions such as exempting ethanol for cooking from taxes levied on alcohol consumption.  “The standards haven’t been written yet for ethanol fuel.”

Economic advantages

About 60 countries worldwide need networks to provide clean cooking fuel, Murray says. African countries which interest him include the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Outside of Africa, Murray is also interested in Haiti, Cambodia and the Philippines. The plan is for Koko to raise debt for each new network as it enters countries.

Koko and Rwanda in March agreed to develop the world’s first nation-wide renewable cooking fuel utility. Rwanda is targeting universal access to clean cooking by 2030. The company’s wider expansion plans have been held up by travel restrictions resulting from Covid-19, as well as interruptions to supply chains, with ethanol also being needed for hand sanitisers.

Murray argues that the economic advantages of using ethanol for cooking over fossil-based gas are overwhelming.

  • Pressure on healthcare systems would be reduced, and setting up a new gas distribution system would require vastly more capital expenditure than ethanol.
  • And even if a new gas system was built, users would still need government subsidies for the gas, as historically was the case in Europe, Murray says.
  • Ethanol, in contrast, creates an opportunity to “crowd in private capital to solve the problem. That’s the point that governments are starting to realise. We are building a whole new industry.”

Bottom line

Koko is confident that governments in poor countries will embrace the cost-benefit case for ethanol-based cooking.

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