One of the fun parts about a Kiva Fellowship is the chance to pick up new skills that may come in handy down the road. I’m happy to report that thanks to my work with Kiva partner ASA Initiative, I have not only mastered Clean Cookstoves 101 but can now add welding to my resume under “miscellaneous skills.”
In addition to offering business and agriculture loans, ASA is leading efforts to bring green energy to Ghana’s Central Region. Elsa clean cookstoves are locally made, powered by locally produced fuel pellets, and have many benefits including eliminating indoor air pollution (which improves health), preventing deforestation, and reducing the cost and time of collecting wood or charcoal needed for more traditional cookstoves. In addition, the residue after charring (biochar) can be used by local farmers to increase soil fertility and crop productivity. When my colleagues at ASA asked if I wanted to see the production side of the Elsa Stove project, I jumped at the chance.
On Friday afternoon, I took a 30 minute taxi ride to the village of Abura Enyinabrim and arrived the home of Paul, a Kiva borrower who allows ASA to use his shed for the fuel pellet production. My colleague Wisdom was already there, applying what looked like peanut butter to the gears of a machine (turns out it was just grease, which makes a lot more sense!) After the machine was reassembled, it was time to see the pelletizer in action.
Elsa Stove fuel pellets are made from readily available waste materials such as palm kernel shells, sawdust, corncobs, and other biomass. There’s no specific formula or ratio — whatever you have lying around can go into the mix, and today we were working with ground-up corn cobs and sawdust. At first Wisdom added the entire bin of raw materials, which was a bit too much for the pelletizer to handle, but after unclogging the machine and adding small quantities of the inputs slowly, we were rewarded with hot-off-the-press fuel pellets (and I mean that literally — those suckers were toasty!)
One kilo of pellets sells for 1.70 GHS, and will provide two hours or cooking fuel. A full day’s work should yield 200-300 kilos; when you consider that most of the ingredients are free, that’s a tidy profit for these entrepreneurs! The pelletizer I saw was the smallest model — there are two larger versions that can increase the output substantially, which will come in handy as the Elsa Stoves project scales. ASA provides training and financing for local farmers and entrepreneurs on how to process and distribute palm kernel shells, produce and sell the fuel pellets, and build and maintain the pelletizer machines.
The fourth job creation-element of the Elsa Stoves project is the manufacturing of the stove itself, which ASA also supplies training and loans for. On Monday afternoon we headed to nearby metal shop owned by Mr. Aidoo, a Kiva borrower with a booming laugh and more than 20 apprentices and master apprentices working for him. The shop was bustling with activity: Metal pieces being measured and cut, sparks flying from small blowtorches and sanding machines, and two sewing machines stitching together huge pieces of vinyl for the tents that would go on the metal frames being constructed. I asked Mr. Aidoo how long it takes to build a stove, and he told me between 30-40 minutes.
It would be four visits, three days, and 10+ hours before we had a finished product. (Note: When they’re being produced in larger quantities, as is usually the case, it averages out to a lot less per stove!) Wisdom and I moved our chairs around the outdoor shop, trying to follow the progress of our stove while avoiding sunny patches and hot sparks. I was riveted by all the different machines, especially one that resembled an enormous three-hole punch for cutting sheets of metal, which took two men jumping up and down on it several times to slice through the sheet. Much of the initial work was conducted by Kofi, also a Kiva borrower, who dutifully held up each individual piece as it was completed for me to snap a photo.
But the highlight of the experience had to be when Mr. Aidoo decided I needed to be put to work, and insisted that I take a turn at welding. Not the scariest thing I’ve done in Ghana, but probably in the top ten, especially since I suspect my “safety goggles” were just regular old sunglasses.
Once all the various pieces were built and assembled (there were a lot more than I would have imagined!), it was time to paint, which was subcontracted to another business across the road. Compared to the rest of the project, the painting was a breeze, and when it was done, we had a brand new shiny Elsa Stove.
I learned a lot that week, not only about clean cookstove production, but also about patience. Sure, these stoves could be mass produced in some factory in China faster, and maybe even cheaper. But in addition to providing clean energy for more than 4,000 (and counting!) households in Ghana’s Central Region, the Elsa Stoves project is providing work for more than 100 people in the local community, a number that should continue to increase. And that seems like something worth waiting for.
To make a loan to an ASA Initiative borrower click here.