Nigerian entrepreneur’s award-winning clean energy project ensures cooking does not kill

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Left to right: Femi Oye, Co-Founder and CEO of SMEFUNDS-GEB wins the first-ever WAFCEF award in 2013; Joao Duarte Cunha, Coordinator, Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa; and Olukunle Odebunmi, former COO of Oye’s company. 

Femi Oye, winner of the first-ever West African Forum for Clean Energy Financing (WAFCEF) award in 2013, is living his dream of contributing to women’s health in Nigeria and beyond, through the provision of clean, safe and affordable energy.

He was motivated by his grandmother, Mama Kike, and many other women who succumbed to respiratory illnesses due to inhalation of black carbon while cooking. His grandmother, who raised him, died when he was nine years. She was diagnosed with lung cancer and kidney damage, suffering a prolonged attack before she died.

Reportedly, more than 80 percent of the population – low-income households – are cut off from the power grid in Nigeria. An estimated 84 percent lack access to quality cooking and lighting fuels, and 95,000 women die annually from indoor air pollution. “Our women cook with dangerous, dirty and expensive kerosene, charcoal and firewood. I thought I could do something about this,” said Oye, who grew up in Southwestern Nigeria.

He also wanted a solution that would prevent women from walking over long distances in search of fuel for cooking. He recalled how, with many other children in his community, they would travel miles in search of firewood in order to make a meal every day; sometimes he was forced to skip school.  

He added: “Five years ago, I went to the laboratory and came back with a BioEthanol Gel, a safe, clean and affordable simple solution used in cookstoves. It replaced the dangerous and expensive kerosene, firewood and charcoal. I am motivated to give hope to millions of women and ensure that cooking does not kill them like it did my grandmother, Mama Kike.”

It is this gel and cookstove ‘project’, a pilot of his SMEFUNDS-CEB (Small and Medium Entrepreneurship Fundamentals-Green Energy and Biofuels) firm, that won Oye a US $580,000 WAFCEF grant in 2013 to expand its activities of promoting green energy. Oye’s project was selected from among 10 finalists from the region. The award was co-sponsored by the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa, which is hosted by the Energy, Environment and Climate Change Department of the African Development Bank.

The biofuel gel, made from biomass waste (water hyacinth and sawdust), is safer than fossil fuels which emit more carbon dioxide, a gas linked to global warming. About 350,000 households in Nigeria, Ghana and Benin are now using Oye’s cookstoves and clean ethanol gel for their cooking needs. “The project has replaced harmful kerosene with more than four million litres of biofuel cooking gel equivalent,” noted Oye.

Interviewed on the eve of the Second West African Forum for Clean Energy Financing awards ceremony (WAFCEF2), Oye said he is proud of his contribution to green energy and to witness the involvement of local communities. “We have demonstrated how commitment, technology and investment can play a major role in solving the energy crisis, strengthening food security, with people and environment at the centre.”

Oye also indicated that the active participation of small holder farmers and an expanding network of youth and women entrepreneurs was key to the success of his mission. These individuals not only supply feedstock to his factory, they also raise awareness about safe, clean and affordable biofuels as they distribute his products to customers.

To date, SMEFUNDS has supported over 25,000 green businesses earning approximately US $200 to US $1,000 monthly through distributing its clean improved cook stoves to clients. “We have built a company that supports people, the planet, and earns profit. This is sustainable development,” Oye said.

The Second West African Forum for Clean Energy Financing awards ceremony (WAFCEF2) takes place on Thursday, September 17 at the African Development Bank headquarters in Abidjan, one of several events being organized by the Bank and its partners during Energy Week.

On September 17 and 18, a High Level Stakeholder Consultative Meeting on a New Deal on Energy for Africa will explore opportunities for scaling up renewable energy on the continent. The high level event will be hosted by AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina at the Bank’s headquarters in Abidjan.