A wise man once said, “The wallet is the most effective change agent”. Seventy-two per cent (I’m not too shocked by this figure) of Kigali’s residents use charcoal. A sack of charcoal goes for between Rwf6000 and Rwf8000 and this more than adequately meets the cooking needs for a 3-1 month in a midsized family of 5-8 persons.
Electricity easily would cost RF50, 000 on cooking alone, while 12kg of gas for a medium-sized family costs Rwf23, 000 for approximately the same period – three weeks to one month.
Charcoal is very affordable for the majority and creates local business chains, from charcoal burner to middlemen to transporter to dealer to re-seller to charcoal stove producers to end user. This puts government in a difficult situation.
Electricity is scarce and expensive, not to mention the cookers are expensive to buy hence would not be a solution to reduce its taxes. Besides, we need the electricity more for the factories and high-end usage that will have greater impact on the economy. Cooking gas is also out of reach for the poor. That said on a personal note, the use of charcoal is extremely messy, inconvenient and tiring.
My opinion is that this needs serious discussion with all stakeholders in the government on this issue. A good lesson learned is the use of energy-saving bulbs. With government interventions of subsidizing cheaper bulbs, uptake went up and this practice was entrenched yet I believe the bulbs are still relatively expensive.
Several interventions are needed:
1. Key behavioural change management is needed to have those who can afford move to other alternatives;
2. Avail the other alternatives in a cheaper, more affordable way. Cut the taxes on other fuel sources and lower prices;
3. Encourage use of energy saving stoves for those who have to use charcoal (again behaviour change is needed) and/or discourage/ban non-energy saving stoves. For the rural poor, start change management behaviour (for energy saving stoves in kitchens…);
4. Government should encourage private sector to step in with innovative solutions. For example, by lowering taxes on new technologies and innovations...
Looking forward for a powerful lead agency to take this seriously and help address the issue.
Reaction to the story, “Local leaders allay fears over charcoal-burning” (The New Times, February 5)