This month marks over one year since many of us switched to home-based work to stay safe
and help slow the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has drastically changed our daily
routines, with many of us spending more time in our kitchens than ever before. For those with
access to modern cooking techniques and fuels, this translates into more meals prepared in a
comfortable environment. But what about the estimated 4 billion people around the world who lack access to effective, hygienic, convenient, safe, affordable, and reliable cooking solutions? Has the pandemic had rough effects on households lacking access to such solutions? Will COVID-19 further slow progress toward universal access to green cooking — a key target of Sustainable Development Goal 7?
With these questions in mind, we designed a focus group discussion in rural Kenya as part of a larger field study funded and supervised by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management
Assistance Program (ESMAP) and the Carbon Initiative for Development, (Ci-Dev). In October
2020, when the research communities were under a partial lockdown, two all-female focus
group discussions were held: one for the intervention group that had purchased and installed domestic biodigesters; the other for the control group that mainly use wood, supplemented by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and charcoal. Below are some findings.
Has COVID-19 changed cooking practices?
Participants in both the intervention and control groups reported almost similar
pandemic-related factors affecting their cooking behavior. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated lockdown
as a result, both groups reposted reducing consumption of dishes that require more expensive ingredients.
“The economy is bad … and the price of oil is high, [so] we reduce cooking chapatti. Those
meals that spend more money, we reduce their consumption.” — a Participant in the intervention group
Participants in both groups also reported changes in the amount of food they cooked and the number of times they cooked each day, as more members of the household are at home during the day rather than at school or work.
“School-going children are now at home… I was cooking half a kilogram of rice, but now I had to add so that they can have something to eat. They also take tea and a snack at 10:00 am in
school, which I have to provide now… We are spending more on food…” — another Participant
in control group
Are the intervention and control groups affected differently?
The households with access to biogas cooking-energy service reported relatively less fuel
stacking, the practice of using more than one cooking fuel. By contrast, fuel stacking was
reported as common by participants in the control group. Independent access to biogas
insulated participants in the intervention group from COVID-19’s impact on fluctuations in fuel
prices and limits on access. On the other side, participants in the control group reported
increased use of wood and reduced use of LPG. Few reported paying for a tree to be cut, split,