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An assessment of a project in Rwanda’s Kigeme Refugee Camp details potential impacts and challenges of using cleaner cookstoves and fuels in humanitarian settings.

The report, developed by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the Alliance, shows that users experienced several social and health-related benefits from the project, which featured stoves that burned biomass pellets. The benefits included significantly reduced cooking time, fewer burns, less coughing and eye irritation, and an overall feeling of improved safety. However, customers reported the cost of fuel as a barrier to more consistent use, feedback that UNHCR is using to develop a cash-based assistance program that could enable refugees to more-easily afford cooking fuel in the future.

Kigeme refugee camp in Rwanda is home to some 18,000 Congolese refugees, most of whom rely on a combination of charcoal, agricultural waste, and UNHCR-distributed firewood in three-stone fires and basic stoves. In partnership with UNHCR Rwanda,  social benefit company Inyenyeri set up operations in Kigeme camp in September 2016 with an innovative idea: refugees could use the cash transfers they received from the World Food Programme to purchase packets of Inyenyeri’s biomass fuel pellets for cooking. In exchange, each customer household would lease a Mimi Moto fan-gasifying stove from Inyenyeri. Together, the stove and fuel would lead to improvements in fuel efficiency and reductions in smoke.

With support from the Government of Finland, the Alliance and ICRW conducted an independent assessment of the social and economic impacts of this cooking solution on Inyenyeri’s refugee customers in Kigeme. Using the Social Impact Measurement System developed with the Alliance, ICRW surveyed 50 of Inyenyeri’s (then) 120 customer households and a comparison group of 50 non-customer households – first in December 2016 and again in March 2017. Focus group discussions were also held with subsets of Inyenyeri customers, as well as refugees that Inyenyeri hired as customer service representatives, to understand what users liked and did not like about the cooking solution.

The study’s results are telling. Inyenyeri’s cooking intervention resulted in significant social and health-related benefits for its refugee customers, including: 

  • Among customer households, the Mimi Moto was used as the primary cooking device for all cooking tasks except for cooking beans.
  • Compared to non-participating households, Inyenyeri customers experienced nearly a five times greater reduction in cooking time across all cooking tasks except for cooking beans. One survey respondent described the impact of this change, saying “I used to spend much time and energy on cooking but now I have time to breathe. I also have time to visit friends.”
  • Customer households experienced an average 83% decrease in burns and health-related quality of life indicators experienced while cooking, including as eye irritation, coughing and sneezing, and shortness of breath.
  • Customer households experienced a 72% decrease in cooking-related drudgery (the amount or level of effort needed to complete a task).
  • All Inyenyeri customers reported feeling safer during cooking, and 96% noted feeling safer during fuel procurement, as they are no longer required to venture out of the camp to collect and purchase fuel.  “We stay in the camp, [so there is] no risk of being beaten looking [for] fuel out of the camp,” one female respondent said.

While it is clear that Inyenyeri’s refugee customers appreciated the benefits of the clean cooking project, cost remained a significant challenge for them. “As poor as we are,” one respondent explained, “what is important is the price rather than benefits.” Monthly household expenditure on fuel increased among the majority of Inyenyeri customers during the project. Most families could not afford more than the minimum amount of pellets per month to remain customers, and some were unable to regularly pay for their subscriptions. Consequently, these households had to resort to their traditional cooking methods, with all of the accompanying risks and challenges.

UNHCR and Inyenyeri have already begun to put the study’s findings to good use. Berkeley Air Monitoring Group is currently finalizing a study that determines the amount of pellets each refugee household would need to meet all of its monthly cooking needs. UNHCR will use this information to implement a new cash-based program in Kigeme, ensuring that each household will have enough funds to use Inyenyeri’s system for all of their cooking needs, if they so choose. In addition, with support from the IKEA Foundation and the Alliance’s Humanitarian Clean Cooking Fund, Inyenyeri is scaling up its operations in Kigeme, with a goal to reach all households and eventually open up business to the host community.

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Inyenyeri Clean Cooking Pilot in Kigeme Refugee Camp: A Social Impact Assessment was commissioned from the International Center for Research on Women by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. It was authored by Allie Glinski, Kathryn Farley, and Shelby Bourgault of ICRW with Dr. Dieudonne Uwizeye of the University of Rwanda and edited by Kathleen Callaghy and Krista Riddley of the Alliance. The authors thank Suzanna Huber and the staff of Inyenyeri for their collaboration, as well as the Rwanda country office of UNHCR for their guidance in enabling ICRW to collect monitoring data within the camp.