Patience Uwera heard about the Envirofit charcoal stove for the first time from a colleague at work.
A credit analyst at the Banque Populaire du Rwanda, Nyamirambo branch, Uwera was told of this fuel-efficient stove that would cut her expenditure on charcoal by almost half. And when she decided to give it a try, it was largely on account of that.
It is coming to three weeks now since she bought the stove to replace the traditional one she bought from a roadside metal smith, and about which she says: “With the old stove, we could use one sack of charcoal for two or three weeks, depending on the quality of the charcoal. We buy each sack at Rwf 7,500, so that would mean at least Rwf 15,000 each month.”
Nicholas Nkurunziza, the founder of Energy Saving Stoves Ltd, the local supplier of Envirofit stoves speaks of a similar experience:
“At my home we are five people and we were consuming four sacks of charcoal per month, with a sack going for Rwf 7,000-8,000, so every month I would spend Rwf 28,000 -32,000 which is very costly.”
That was his major problem with the traditional stove, but there were others, and he explains:
“In addition to that huge cost, I realised that the traditional stoves emit a lot of smoke causes respiratory diseases and cancer to our dear mothers, not forgetting the little babies on their backs.”
What is Envirofit?
It is a technologically improved and factory-made version of the metallic cooking stoves locally called imbabura, in Kinyarwanda, and sigiri in Swahili. So just imagine that the Imbabura you bought at the roadside metal smith’s workshop came out of a factory assembly plant.
Or imagine the rich, smooth texture and stainless steel kitchen ware you find in the typical modern kitchen.
For Uwera, it is the fuel-saving aspect that was her main draw: “Ever since I switched to the new stove, my charcoal is going nowhere,” she says. Typically, she uses seven average-sized pieces of charcoal to get her morning fire started.
“With this, I or the maid will prepare bath water for me and my husband, breakfast, and then immediately after, the maid embarks on cooking lunch before making the first refill.”
But reduced spending on charcoal is just one of the many benefits Uwera has since reaped from acquiring the stove:
“It is designed for use with small, medium-sized and big saucepans, unlike the traditional stove. Also it’s smart and you can bring it to the dining table to cook from there because it’s smoke-free. Actually from home, I cook from the kitchen table.”
Perhaps the most striking difference with the traditional stove is the fact that this one generally comes with an air-tight format.
It has a vent at the bottom that is controlled by a lever to regulate air intake. One can choose to set the air intake at maximum, medium, low, or turn the air off completely.
Once the air is completely cut off, and the live coals dusted of any ash, the fire can keep burning for about four times longer, at average heat.
For Uwera, this discovery was another welcome relief, and she credits her maid for it.
“The thing that always bothered me about using a charcoal stove was the part of lighting it in the morning. With this new stove, after cooking dinner, we just shake off the ash from the remaining charcoal, lock the wind vent and the fire will burn till morning. It’s my maid who first told me about it, and I had to prove it myself.”
Once the wind opening is shut, the stove becomes completely air-tight at the base, meaning there are no emissions of ash from the burning fuel.
A lot of its strength is derived from its appeal to the eye, the reason someone compared its outward appearance and texture to that of an apple.
For Uwera, this has meant having to carry out several demonstrations for inquisitive visitors.
“Some people can’t believe that this stove relies on charcoal for fuel. They think it is either powered by electricity or something else, so I have to carry out experiments to show them how it works.”
I talked to a few other owners of the stove, and overall, they generally expressed satisfaction with the improved stoves, citing benefits like lower charcoal consumption, better cooking speed, safety, convenience, durability, quality of food produced and reduced smoke emission.
In all, it is clear that, as a percentage of total annual income, poorer families can gain a marginal but all the same significant reduction in overall expenditure by using improved stoves. Small as this percentage may appear, it is a significant saving for the average low and middle income household.
To put it more graphically, it is the kind of savings to be spent on food and groceries, more fuel, and clothing.
Yet environmentally speaking, if this stove can reduce individual family fuel use by almost half, then it can cut national charcoal consumption by the same amount—assuming all families that use charcoal acquire one. By extension, this means that the number of trees felled for charcoal burning per day will also decline in equal measure.
Nkurunziza also supplies firewood cook stoves for domestic and institutional use.
The most popular of these is the M-5000 with features like handles orientation and locking pot skirts adapted for the traditional cooking pot.
The institutional wood stove is designed for schools, hospitals, and for hotels and restaurants.
“Now my family enjoys healthy life as the smoke is reduced almost by 80%,” says Clarisse Uwimana, a house wife and user of M-5000 wood stove.
Through his company, Energy Saving Stoves Ltd, Nkurunziza supplies the US-made stoves to the Rwandan market. He shared his journey to entrepreneurship:
I was born in a typical African family in Uganda, being brought up by an enterprising mother who had a business of selling bales of second-hand clothes. I can say that this is what triggered the entrepreneurial spirit in me.
Another person who inspired me a lot when I was growing up was my elder sister, who unfortunately passed on, but who was a voracious reader. One day she sat me down and told me something that later changed my life: she told me to train myself in reading books of all kinds, and that reading is similar to travelling, So from that day I got hooked to reading, but later I took interest in reading business related books of authors like Robert Kiyosaki, Napolean Hill, and many others that have harnessed my entrepreneurial spirit.
After attaining my first degree in business administration (accounting option), I decided to get employed and master the skills of trade at corporate level. I was lucky to get employment, and being the introvert that I am, I would sit quietly in management meetings but with my eyes and ears open to everything happening, and mastering of business rules like negotiation, and financial management, but I soon realised that it was a rat-race that never interested me. I had known at an early stage of my life that I belonged in the world of business.
After working and mastering managerial skills for the company where I worked for almost four years, I had to throw in the towel and hit the road to do my own ventures.
After handing in my resignation, all I did was to write down five questions that have guided most successful people in the world: Who am I? Where am I from? Why am here? What can I do? Where am I going?
Having read a lot of books and magazines about environment, and being a keen watcher of environment documentaries around the world I realised I’m in love with the environment, so I decided that I needed a business that is not going to make me rich, but one that would help my people and my country in conserving the environment .
The government is doing a great job in putting in place policies to conserve our environment.
One day, as I cooked on a traditional charcoal stove, I asked myself why it consumed so much charcoal, which is dangerous to our environment.
I did some research on cooking stoves in Rwanda. I visited some places where they are made, checked on some users and I realised that they were not helping much. I was looking for something that was going to conserve the environment through reducing the number of trees that are cut for wood fuel. I was also looking for ways of reducing charcoal consumption—hence enabling people cut expenditure and save money.
I checked on the map and felt in my heart that India, though being an Asian country, still faces all challenges as we face in Africa.
It’s in India that I found the best testimonies from users, and soon I started engaging in talks with friends in India. When I travelled to India I realised that this stove had made great improvements in people’s lives, saving money, and conserving the environment through reducing the cutting of trees for fuel.
It is this friend in India that connected me to an American Company that manufactures both charcoal and firewood stoves that are environmentally friendly.
So when it proved right for my family, I said this is going to work for my people and also for my country in conserving the environment. It’s from there that I formed a company called Energy Saving Stoves Ltd, with the motto, Save Money, Save Lives, Save our Forests. Its aim is to help our government and all stakeholders who are working hard to conserve the environment of our beautiful country.
For now, the task at hand for Nkurunziza seems to be that of developing the full commercial viability of a popular energy efficient charcoal stove that should easily appeal to all income classes.