Large blue boxes have been popping up across Nairobi in Kenya. They look like cash machines, but instead of money they dispense a clean cooking fuel that is good for the environment and much better for your health.
In Kenya, most people use wood or charcoal to cook in small homes without proper ventilation, and exposure to charcoal smoke causes a myriad of health problems for users and their families. Furthermore, charcoal use is also to blame for deforestation, another contributor to the climate crisis, but many communities don’t have access to clean fuel and have no choice but to continue cooking in this way.
Enter Koko, a startup with an efficient and effective solution: ATMs that dispense bioethanol, an affordable and eco-friendly fuel, rather than cash. The idea is to make choosing bioethanol, which is made from sugarcane, just as convenient as charcoal. Currently, there are 700 Koko ATMs in Nairobi.
“We want to convert more and more Kenyans to bioethanol as a clean cooking fuel,” Sophie Odupoy from Koko Networks told the BBC. “Our target market… [does] not have the luxury of having a lot of money. So, we’ve endeavored to make sure that whatever the denomination of money that they have, they can quickly run to the ATM fill [their] canister, come back, and continue cooking.”
One Koko user, whose young son was previously ill due to charcoal smoke, explains why he is happy with the switch. “I like the Koko stove because, number one it cannot cause damage to my family,” he says. “Two, it does not consume a lot of money.”
The good news is that the idea is catching on as word of its benefits spread. Last July there were 42,000 Koko users in Nairobi. Now there are 170,000.