Lack of access to clean cooking poses economic, health and environmental challenges for households, businesses and the country. For more than three decades, the international community has grappled with the seemingly daunting task of reducing the number of people using traditional fuels such as solid biomass for cooking. In the period 2010–2018, the global access deficit has remained almost the same, declining from 3 billion to 2.8 billion people (IEA et al, 2020).
This situation is not much different in Nigeria. Statistics show that progress towards clean cooking has been very slow in the period 2011–2018. Clean-cooking access has moved from a very low level of under 5% to about 10% due to new efforts to promote LPG (NBS 2020). From all indications, Nigeria is lagging behind other sub-Saharan African countries in providing clean-cooking solutions for households and businesses (World Bank, 2018).
As part of the measures to address the cooking-energy challenge, a debate on the important drivers for the uptake of clean cooking-energy services has raged on. Analysts have sought to understand energy transition, especially from traditional fuels to cleaner alternatives. The dominant thinking has focused largely on socio-economic factors as key determinants for the transition to cleaner cooking solutions (Treiber, 2013). Energy transition is thus seen to be driven largely by socio-economic changes rather than a desire for modern fuels.
One school of thought has focused on the so-called “energy ladder”. It reasons that, as household incomes increase, a linear shift in cooking-fuel use ensues from solid biomass fuels to transitional fuels like kerosene, LPG and, finally, to electricity (Leach, 1992). Inherent in the energy-ladder thinking is the assumption that, although consumers may base their preferences on non-economic factors such as cleanliness, ease of use, cooking speed and efficiency, fuel switching occurs as a result of household economic welfare relative to the costs of various energy sources and their appliances (Hiemstra-Van der Horst & Hovorka, 2008).
An inherent assumption in the linear thinking on energy transition is the characterisation of wood fuel as an inferior economic good, used mainly by low-income households. The use of wood is not necessarily understood as a choice by households but rather a necessity borne out of economic circumstances. However, various other studies confirm that wood fuel is used across all the income brackets. In fact, households make wood fuel their first choice depending on a variety of reasons that range from easy availability, type of meal to be prepared and the occasion prepared for. This is important for our understanding of energy transitions and the willingness of households in Nigeria to switch from one cooking fuel or technology to another.
While this study will look at the impact of incomes and poverty on household choices of cooking fuels, it will also explore the hypothesis that fuel substitution is not necessarily perfect and that households often use multiple fuels together (Schlag & Zuzarte, 2008). Though household income or poor socio-economic status are barriers to clean-cooking adoption, it may not be the main or only restraint (Jewitt et al., 2020). The so-called “energy stacking” school of thought rejects the linear simplification of the energy ladder and suggests that households, rather than moving up the ladder and completely abandoning less-efficient cooking solutions, slowly integrate more efficient fuels into the household energy mix and use all the different fuels in their mix (Masera et al., 2000; Ruiz-Mercado & Masera, 2015).
Understanding the various ideas that shape government interventions is important in initiating reforms on cooking energy in Nigeria. Therefore, to analyse the most important factors that shape the demand for clean-cooking solutions, this study will explore variables including income, availability of fuels, awareness of alternative solutions, issues of accessibility and the role that cooking culture can play.
The study will draw its evidence from interviews with important stakeholders such as policy makers and representatives of the clean-cooking industry and NGOs. To complement their views, the study adopted a bottom-up approach by organising four semi-structured focus-group discussions among user groups. In all, about one hundred women and men participated in the focus-group discussions. In the next sections, the study will review cooking-energy demand in Nigeria and then analyse the main barriers to access expansion through the lenses of both supply-side actors and users. From the barrier analysis, it will draw conclusions and implications for reforms in clean-cooking policies and actions in Nigeria.