One of the biggest silent killers in the world causes more than twice as many deaths than traffic accidents across the world in one year. Yet, cooking with wood or charcoal is generally viewed by most of us from modern urban areas as something without great consequence.
But when you are standing over wood three times a day that takes you hours every week to collect and prepare — suddenly cooking with wood has a whole different meaning. This is the reality for an estimated 2.9 billion people across the globe and has immense impact on health and time. Here are two key statistics:
- Cooking with biomass (wood, charcoal, dung) kills an estimated 4 million people per year, the majority of whom are women. It is effectively like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and it kills more than twice the number of people who die from traffic accidents globally.
- Cooking with wood takes an additional 20 hours per week compared to clean cooking — and again, such a task falls mainly on women and girls. This is equivalent to spending half your working life cooking with wood.
Once you are aware of such facts, it becomes exceptionally difficult to not do anything. But what can we do about it? Clean cooking is obviously the solution, but for the majority of the rural poor, having access to liquefied petroleum gas or electric cooking is not realistic.
It is either highly expensive (imagine spending up to 30 per cent of your annual income on gas for cooking), or a dangerous endeavour (due to low-quality, rusted bottles that have a tendency to explode).
- Renewable biogas for cooking
- Renewable organic liquid fertiliser
- Australian design, manufactured in Cambodia
- Flood-resistant up to 1.5 metres
- Can be installed in a variety of conditions
- Installation and training in half a day
- Estimated 112 tons of carbon abated (based on average Cambodian use, waste dependent)
- Can be moved
- Can be sty-connected
- International patent-registered design
- Savings on gas and fertiliser; for an average Cambodian family this equates to US$512/year
Thankfully there is an alternative that is both safe and has no ongoing cost: biogas. Biogas utilises methanogenic bacteria that exists in waste (manure, agricultural waste, kitchen waste) to convert waste into biogas — which can be used for cooking — and organic fertiliser that can increase agricultural yield by up to 35 per cent.
The great news is that around 30 per cent of the world’s rural poor have more than enough waste to vreate enough gas for daily cooking needs. That is why we created the social enterprise ATEC* Biodigesters International — to bring this technology to developing communities across the world. We have installed over 1,000 systems in Cambodia that are supporting farming households to receive free gas and fertiliser, which will improve their income by US$512 per year. To put that in perspective, for an average rural household, that is an annual income increase of 50 per cent. This is a huge change in the lives of households that subsist on three to five dollars a day.
Progress at what cost?
The 2021 Social Progress Index data demonstrates that sustainability does not have to come at the cost of social progress – at every level of development, there are countries that have been highly effective at improving living standards and quality of life while emitting more modest levels. Photo: Jason Blackeye / Unsplash
And it is not just Cambodia. The global market potential for biodigesters is 205 million households. That is an estimated one billion people across the world who could switch from cooking with wood to clean, healthy cooking with no ongoing cost. We see this potential and know that we and others can make a huge difference.
But to change the lives of millions is not going to be easy. ATEC* is working with a customer base that experiences some of the most challenging conditions in the world (such as seasonal flooding, hurricanes and earthquakes), lacks access to decent infrastructure (quality roads and the Internet), and has limited cashflow to be able to purchase assets that will improve their lives.
We cannot make this change alone. We need help at a global level and must think outside the box at scale. We need people around the world to be aware of about the gravity of these issues and motivate their networks and governments to use their influence and expertise to solve this problem.
We are very open to those who want to contribute to this change, which could be in the form of doing something local to raise awareness or using finely-tuned business skills and networks to help us grow internationally. All these are gold dust for a social enterprise looking to change the world.
In closing, it is easy to forget that it was only a couple of generations ago when all households were cooking with wood or charcoal; and easy to take for granted that not everyone has access to modern, safer solutions today. But we now know that there is a solution for everyone, regardless of income, and we all have a responsibility to stop the biggest silent killer in the world from taking more lives.
Ben Jeffreys is the CEO of ATEC* Biodigesters International. ATEC* is a start-up social enterprise that produces, sells and distributes patented biodigester systems for small-scale farmers globally. ATEC* is a joint venture between Engineers Without Borders and Live & Learn.