Clean Kitchen study to reduce household air pollution

Martha coughs as she kneels on the dirt floor to stoke the wood in the open fire pit of her inadequately ventilated one-room cooking hut. Her 2-year-old baby is cocooned to her back as she prepares to make the day’s ugali, a traditional Kenyan corn-based staple.  What Martha doesn’t know is she has been exposing herself and her child to Household Air Pollution (HAP) as she prepares her family’s daily food. According to the World Health Organization, in Kenya more than 15,000 deaths per year are attributed to HAP. Like Martha, 84% of the Kenyan population uses solid fuels such as firewood for cooking—this means the health of 36 million Kenyans is affected by HAP exposure each year. Cooking with solid fuels releases pollutants such as black carbon and soot which can potentially cause pneumonia, stroke, heart disease, chronic pulmonary disease or lung cancer.

To help reduce HAP-related illnesses, AMPATH is piloting a clean kitchen study in the Nandi region. The study is a community-led intervention in which the women were educated about HAP and asked to design and build their own cook stove. The Nandi women created a stove made out of clay that has two holes in the top to place the pots that cook over the open fire. The ability to cook with two pots at the same time was just one novelty of the design.  The stoves are built elevated vertically so the woman doesn’t have to bend over the fire while cooking. The key factor to the new clean kitchen air is the installation of the chimney for proper ventilation, another unique feature to the rural Kenyan kitchen. In addition to the improvements on the cook stove, there is also an entrepreneurial aspect to the cook stove design. Coops were built under the stoves to act as an incubator to raise chicks. The idea being, once the chicks are raised it would only take three chickens being sold at the market to earn enough money to buy another chimney to make clean kitchen for another woman in the village.

Brandon Boor, PhD, from AMPATH Consortium partner, Purdue University’s Global Engineering Program traveled to Kenya through an International Development Lab (I2D Lab) grant to evaluate the efficacy of AMPATH’s Clean Kitchen Study. Brandon said already the women have reported improvements in their ability to cook more efficiently, but he is also hoping the test results show the air pollution is indeed reduced as well.

“If we would have come in and designed something for them, it wouldn’t have worked out so well,” said Brandon. “They designed it based off what works best for them and their unique cooking needs.”