This paper reviews the experience of a for-profit firm in Rwanda promoting biomass pellets and a fan micro-gasification improved cookstove as a clean cooking alternative to charcoal. Consumers purchase locally produced biomass pellets and receive the improved cookstove on a lease basis. The cost of the pellets and stove(s) is lower than the cost of cooking with charcoal in the urban setting where our study takes place. Inyenyeri has been piloting its business model since 2012. Using data from an ongoing quantitative impact evaluation study, focus group discussions, and a series of key informant interviews, we chronicle the firm’s experience with stove choice, pellet production, and marketing, highlighting lessons for the design of private sector led clean cooking interventions
We find that 38% of households marketed to as part of our ongoing impact evaluation study adopted the pellet and stove system, but that approximately 45% of those who adopted suspended contracts after signing up. The firm’s experience with stove choice, pellet production, pricing structures, and customer service strategies have influenced implementation, adoption rates, and scale-up. Customer preferences for specific stove attributes and willingness of stove manufacturers to modify stoves for local conditions have influenced both the firm’s choice of stove and customer satisfaction. In 2015 the firm transitioned customers from the Philips stove to the Mimi Moto, a decision which created confusion among consumers, and affected adoption rates. Despite the challenge of establishing and scaling-up pellet production in central Africa, the firm increased production 400% between 2014 and 2017 to reach 800,000 kg/year. Importing and maintaining pelletizing equipment in Rwanda is costly, the supply of feedstock, and undercapitalization of the firm have affected production. With respect to marketing, after experimenting with a sign-up fee and a minimum monthly purchase of pellets, the firm has decided to transition to a pay-as-you-go system to reduce perceived risk by consumers. A high-level of customer service including in home visits, free in-home repair, and home delivery of pellets are major innovations. The long pilot phase and the evolutionary nature of the firm’s activities illustrate both the complexity of building a market for clean cooking, and the time required to understand nascent markets and consumer demand.
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