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The arid desert of Nkando. Left to Right:  The husband from one household we worked in that day, and Salome, one of my supervisors.
ClimateSense in Kenya

It is a hot day in Kenya. The temperature reads over 30 degrees, and the equator sun blasts dry heat over us like a furnace. The gypsy, a Indian-crafted relic of the ‘90s popularized for its off-roading capabilities, bucks back and forth as we drive over the igneous space rock that litters the dirt roads sprawled throughout Nkando. Pencil cactus and euphorbia trees tower over us like a scene straight out of the sandy dust bowls from Mars.

 

 We are working in the Nkando region of Central Kenya, a few hours north of Mount Kenya, the titular mountain from which the country was named after. Nkando is characterized by its extremely dry climate, which has been exacerbated by a recent drought of over 2 years. People here live in subsistence farming households, and typically grow maize, beans, and potatoes. Those lucky enough to access water through CEFA, an Italian-led water management project, may have enough crops to sell and make some money to tend to their homes or pay school fees for their children.  The maize plants that have managed to persevere through the drought have yellowed leaves and shrivelled stalks. Life here is hard.

The interns and I cramped inside the back of the gypsy. Left to right: Katie (nutrition), Kelsey (nutrition), Me (climate), Emma (AVC), Gill (nutrition), and Gikundi (supervisor).

My name is Nolan, and I am in Kenya as part of a three-month internship by the UPEI School of Climate Change and Adaptation and non-governmental organisation (NGO) of Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF). FHF has been working in Kenya since the 1980s with the principal mandate of helping farmers through providing crucial equipment, training, and education. I am joined by a veterinarian student from the Atlantic Veterinary College, and three nutrition students training to be dietitians.

My research project is to study the impact of new improved stoves that have been implemented by FHF to improve the livelihoods of women and families in the kitchen. Typically, women cook with a three-stone stove, which is, quite literally, a pot balanced over three stones and a fire. The three-stone fire is used by women for a variety of reasons, but is popular for its ease of use, maintenance, and ambient heating it provides in colder months. However, the three-stone stove comes with a litany of negative health and environmental impacts. Smoke from the fire is heavy and affects the respiratory and eye health of women within the kitchen. A lot of firewood is needed as well, which means women have to chop and carry more wood to cook everyday things. The wood usage contributes to deforestation and high carbon emissions.

A three-stone cook stove cooking rice and beans.
The back of one of the new improved stoves at its place of manufacture. Left to right: Patrick, the creator of the improved stove, Me, Em, a 3-week volunteer studying climate change impacts, and Colleen, one of our supervisors.

The improved cookstove is designed to reduce wood usage through its brick, insulated stove chamber as well as indoor smoke through the implementation of a chimney. Anecdotally, most women using the stove report positive impacts on their wood usage and reduction of smoke entering the kitchen. My job is to quantitatively test that impact and ensure that the improved stove is having a positive impact in the community. The methodology is quite simple, and there is a wealth of research out there from other scientists studying the same sorts of questions. We visit a woman’s home and measure how much wood their stove consumes to cook the dish of githeri, a Kenyan staple food consisting of maize, beans, and water. We then compare the wood usage in households with a three-stone fire versus an improved stove. We also test the quantity of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emitted into the room during the cooking process, which tells us about how much smoke is entering the room and the combustion efficiency of the stove.

We hope that this research may be used to help understand the impact of improved cooking stoves on families' livelihoods, and change that impact to be more positive in the future. The people here are enormously kind and gracious; always offering tea, bread and their time upon our visit. I can not express my own gratitude and thanks to everyone who helped me throughout the internship.

I hope that the research and partnership between UPEI, FHF and the people we work with can continue and be productive in the future.

This research would not have been possible without funding from the UPEI School of Climate Change and Adaptation and Queen Elizabeth Scholars (QES) program. If interested in learning more about the internship or the work of Farmers Helping Farmers, please feel free to contact the author at nrkressin@upei.ca
or FHF at farmershelpingfarmerspei@gmail.com.

A family in the Destiny women’s group and Em and I posing after a successful stove test.
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