Cooking gas on US$2 per day

I walked through a shanty town recently. It is a residential area with an intricate maze of interconnected shacks; improvised homes that are inhabited by low-income earners. It is iron sheets put together over a couple of rows of cement blocks and wood in other places that hold up the window. It is littered with small petty goods shops and wandering community pets.

It is a large sprawling community where everyone knows everyone else no map or addresses work here – you must be led by another. It is a world within another world, confident in its right to belong there, yet lacking the structure of proper town planning. Most of the trade was in coal for cooking and no one could be bothered to keep up the pretence that cooking with kerosene was still an option. Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) or cooking gas was non-existent.

LPG is a derivative of the crude oil and natural gas refining process. It is usually all Butane (C3), all Propane (C4), or a combination of both. Butane is used predominantly in tropical climates due to its stability in hot weather, and propane is the natural choice in temperate regions. Nigeria’s LPG is about 80:20 butane to propane.

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Why is there so much noise about LPG being the better cooking fuel? Charcoal and firewood come from felling trees that help keep the earth’s ecosystems stable. Deforestation is the leading cause of climate change, desert encroachment and wildlife depletion. Worse still are the negative effects on human health – respiratory problems and eye damage. What about kerosene? It has a few issues – it doesn’t burn as efficiently as some other cooking fuel sources, is often scarce and LPG on the other hand burns more efficiently, does not produce any smoke, and the by-products of burning the gas are carbon dioxide and water. It needs to be stored in a pressure-controlled, leak-free cylinder and can be used with a variety of cooking appliances.

The downside is that all this equipment can be expensive. A check on shows that a 6kg cylinder fixed with a burner retails for about N10, 000 (US$26), or 30 percent of the current minimum wage of N30, 000 in Nigeria. Add this to an estimated poverty rate of 48.40 percent representing people who live on $1.90 a day.
How do we hope to make LPG affordable to people who live on N760/day?

How do we hope to sign on the poorest of the poor to LPG?
One way would be to increase their earnings by tangibly growing the economy. Alongside this, we need to provide economic incentives – tax rebates on the cost of cooking equipment and encouraging the development of refill depots to increase accessibility. The long-term advantages are tangible – healthier families and the environment and saving on cooking fuel costs.
It is not enough to say that the poor do not know these things – reality will always trump any information in your head. If you had N760 to care for yourself and family for one day, what buying choices would YOU make? A N500 LPG refill, or N100 coal, so you can buy some actual food with the change? What LPG solution would make the most sense to you?

Chinenye Nwosu has worked in the oil and gas industry for over 10 years. Her current work is targeted at improving energy accessibility and security in the West African region, and ideas for the increased utilisation of existing energy resources.