Appetite for charcoal threatens ‘lungs of Africa’


Recently, an article was published in the Special Report Managing Climate Change section of the Financial Times and focuses on businesses that are developing alternatives to unsustainable, dirty and polluting cooking fuels. The article mentioned how the African Development Bank (AfDB) is supporting investment funds that invest in projects to replace firewood, charcoal and kerosene with clean biomass fuels, biogas, ethanol, electric stoves, and liquified petroleum gas (LPG), and our very own Spark+ Africa Fund was one of them.

In cities throughout much of Africa, where nearly half of the rapidly growing population now lives, charcoal and wood are the main cooking fuels. Only the wealthiest people use gas or electricity. “In sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 950mn people rely on wood and charcoal for cooking — a number that is expected to reach 1.7bn by 2050 — and 50 per cent of residential emissions are from cooking, a shift to clean cooking could be transformational,” McKinsey, 2021.


The Spark+ Africa Fund is a joint venture between its exclusive advisor Enabling Qapital (EQ), and the Netherlands-based foundation Stichting Modern Cooking (SMC). Through Spark+, we invest in a new crop of companies that are seeking to develop alternatives to charcoal such as Kenya-based BURN Manufacturing, which was also mentioned in the special report. BURN is an enterprise that is innovative, socially-responsible, profitable and sustainable. Its founder, Peter Scott, managed on a shoestring budget to turn his dream to save the African forests into the only vertically integrated modern cookstove manufacturing company in Sub-Saharan Africa. Through its first modern manufacturing facility in Kenya, BURN has proven that cookstoves can deliver transformative social, financial, and environmental impacts and with the investment from Spark+, we are helping them achieve their goal of expanding their footprint across African, launch new products, and increase production capacity.


The special report mentions how the destruction of forests for charcoal and firewood is not just a direct source of carbon emissions. It also endangers rain patterns that are regulated by forest systems and leads to loss of topsoil — as has happened in parts of Madagascar. Moreover, charcoal is dangerous to those who use it. The AfDB estimates that some 300,000 women and 300,000 children die each year from inhaling damaging indoor air pollution from cooking.


However, Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, and others have complained that western banks, including development finance institutions (DFIs), are reluctant to fund LPG projects because of government policies which ban fossil fuel investments. “What we don’t talk about, but should talk about, is avoided emissions,” he says. “If I am using gas for cooking, I am avoiding having to cut down trees.”


If deforestation is a regional problem for countries like Malawi and Madagascar, it is a planetary threat in central Africa, home to the Congo Basin rainforest, the world’s largest forestry system after the Amazon. Sometimes referred to as the “lungs of Africa”, the rainforest, which covers at least 240mn hectares according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, forms a carbon sink equivalent to six years of global carbon emissions.


You can find the article mentioned on FT’s website here and read more about this topic and Spark+ on the fund’s website at

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