In March and April, our international development content focuses on Sustainable Development Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy. More specifically, it focuses on clean cooking. So, who better to talk to than our very own clean cooking expert Bianca van der Kroon.
Meet Bianca van der Kroon. Bianca is a clean cooking expert. She has been working on this theme since 2010. She studied for a PhD at the VU Amsterdam. There, she looked at how to stimulate consumer use of clean cooking. After this, she became an assistant professor in energy economics. And right now, she works at the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, where she deals with anything and everything linked to clean cooking in developing countries. Specifically, she works with the programmes Energising Development (EnDev), SDG 7 Results and the Higher Tier Cooking Component (HTCC).
Why clean cooking?
"The 'dirty cooking' situation, and with it, the transition to clean cooking, is a difficult problem to solve. But that is what makes my work so interesting and challenging. Changing consumer behaviour is extremely complicated. People stick to what they know. And in this case, it is charcoal and wood. Availability and affordability of clean cooking technologies and fuels and social-cultural factors such as the preferred flavour of food cooked over charcoal make it difficult to get people to step away from traditional cooking methods. So, how can entrepreneurs serve consumers in new ways? How can we unlock the full potential of clean cooking products and services, turning new ideas into sustainable market solutions? These challenging aspects of this theme really interest me.
Besides this, I really believe in the impact clean cooking has. Every year, 4 million people die from smoke-related illnesses. Clean cooking saves lives! Clean cooking solutions produce little to no smoke, improving the health of women and children who often spend hours in the kitchen. Clean cooking also positively affects the climate, as it releases less black carbon into the air. And by using alternatives to charcoal, we reduce deforestation and forest degradation. Another impact clean cooking has is on gender equality. Women are usually the ones that cook, and they also gather the wood to cook on. This costs a lot of time! By switching to clean cooking, women have more time to focus on business, work and rest."
Can you tell us more about clean cooking?
"I am glad you asked. The image that most people have in their minds is entrepreneurs making basic clay cookstoves that have limited impact. But, in the last 5 years, the sector has rapidly evolved. There have been countless initiatives that have turned the market upside down! It is no longer a small-scale, artisanal market. It is a sector where new, innovative and modern solutions are successfully entering the market."
What do you do at the Netherlands Enterprise Agency?
"I work as a clean cooking expert for our energy access programmes EnDev, SDG 7 Results and HTCC. In this role, I give advice, support strategy development, develop new components, and provide support to companies in our portfolio. With SDG 7 Results, we support Dutch and international businesses in clean cooking and decentralised electrification, offering results-based financing. Before we pay out a subsidy, a verification agent has to check whether the company has achieved the claimed results; I manage this process.
And for HTCC, I am the programme coordinator. The programme focuses on Cambodia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Uganda. It aims to help entrepreneurs professionalise and scale businesses that incorporate cleaner solutions. By doing this, we help increase access to cleaner cooking solutions for consumers."
What are you the most proud of?
"I am really proud of the HTCC programme that I helped develop. Why? Because it is a programme that focuses on getting small and medium-sized enterprises involved in the cleanest cooking solutions. Often, you will see improved cookstoves on the market. But it would be great if we could expand the market for the cleanest cooking solutions. If we can get more entrepreneurs to offer the cleanest cooking solutions, we can help even more consumers make the switch. And clean cooking saves lives!"
Anything else you would like to add?
"There are so many great initiatives. And there are many ways to get involved. Take a look at KOKO Networks, for example. KOKO is an ethanol business in Nairobi that offers households an alternative to charcoal and kerosene. We support KOKO in reaching poorer households via SDG 7 Results. And KOKO really knows how to reach and convert consumers that may not easily come into contact with the product.
Another example is Grean World, a company that manages small-scale entrepreneurs in Ethiopia. The entrepreneurs make improved injera stoves. For those not familiar, injera is similar in some ways to a pancake, and it is a common food in Ethiopia. To cook it, you need a lot of wood. But with improved stoves, you do not need as much. Yes, this is a less advanced solution than the one KOKO Networks offers, but we see transition possibilities at Grean World. Switching to an improved cookstove is easier and more accessible for a much bigger portion of the population. You cannot expect everyone to switch to the most modern solution in one go.
These are just 2 examples, but there are many more. I am excited to see how the sector will change in the next 5 years, especially when I look back at how much it has already."
Clean cooking and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency
Would you like to learn more about clean cooking? Visit our page: What is clean cooking?
Would you like to contribute to access to clean cooking? If you have an innovative project idea or would like to get involved in a project, contact our advisors.