How epileptic power supply, hike in gas price, push many Nigerians to harmful cooking practice

EPILEPTIC power supply and soaring gas prices have forced several households into harmful cooking alternatives, with some Nigerians finding themselves stuck between having to choose their health or using firewood for cooking.


On a sunny afternoon in Orisunmibare community in Ilorin, Kwara state, a woman, Rasheedat Muhammed, was seated on a small stool beside an open firewood, cooking an Iftar meal (an evening meal for fasting Muslims) for her family. 

Wiping away sweat with the hem of her wrapper, Rasheedat said she is just adjusting to using charcoal and wood to cook for her family since she got married.

Rasheedat, while trying to use her hand to direct the direction of the smoke heading to her face, said she battles coughs and sometimes

Firewood and charcoal arranged for sales in Ilorin, Kwara state. Photo: The ICIR
Firewood and charcoal arranged for sales in Ilorin, Kwara state. Photo: The ICIR

chest pain every time she is cooking with a coal pot. 

 

She explained that the incessant increase in the price of Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), also called cooking gas, coupled with the economic hardships and the poor supply of electricity since the beginning of the year, has made life more difficult for her family.

“Before now, we used kerosene stoves, gas and hotplates to cook our meals most of the time. The only time we used coalpot to cook then was when we wanted to cook beans. But now, since about few months ago, we have been using coalpot to cook almost all our meal.”

“Compared to buying kerosene or filling of gas, you can easily buy charcoal for N100/150 that will be enough for you for that cooking but that is not possible again with gas.”

For Rasheeedat and some other women across the country, cooking with firewood and charcoal is not just a tradition but a harsh reality dictated by the country’s energy crisis and worsening economy. 

Charcoal
A picture of charcoal packaged and prepared for sale. Photo: The ICIR

The unreliability of the electricity supply has left some of them with little choice but to turn to primitive cooking methods despite the health risks and its climate impact.

Surge in Gas price 

According to data obtained from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the average retail price for refilling a 5kg Cylinder of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Cooking Gas) has increased from N4,962.87 recorded in December 2023 to N5,139.25 in January 2024, representing 3.55 per cent on a month-on-month basis. 

This means that a kg of cooking gas, as of January 2024,  costs an average of N1,027.8, contrary to the N992.6 per kg in December 2023.

The price of a kg of gas is different across the country depending on the retailers’ choice of profit and the amount spent on transportation of the gas.

The ICIR gathered that the price of the gas has since increased from January’s price, with a kg of gas in some parts of Abuja, as of March 18, being sold for N1200/N1300, while a kg of gas is being sold for N1400/1500.

Also, in Ilorin, a kg of gas is being sold for N1300/1400, while in Sokoto, a resident also said they get a Kg of gas on an average of N1300/1400.


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Meanwhile, the recent price official shows a 12 per cent from N4,588.75 in January 2023. 

Further breakdown of the data shows that Nasarawa recorded the highest average price for refilling a 5kg Cylinder of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Cooking Gas) at N5,790.00, followed by Jigawa with N5,681.82 and Gombe with N5,660.00. Conversely, Kaduna recorded the lowest price at N4,150.00, followed by Ogun at N4,751.04 and Osun at N4,763.53.

The increment in gas price, according to a business journalist, Harrison Edeh, could be tied to the unprecedented inflation rate, Nigeria’s cost of gas production, and exchange rate variables.

The country’s inflation rate has continued to rise nine months after President Bola Tinubu assumed office in May 2023, as the latest data in March showed that the rate stood at 31.70 per cent as of February 2024. 

The rate at which the inflation figure picked up over the month has placed pressure on the prices of consumer goods in local markets. The food prices were triggered largely by high energy prices as a result of fuel subsidy removal, devaluation of the currency and other monetary policies implemented by the president. 

Poor power supply compounds problem

While the increase in gas prices has mounted pressure on many Nigerians, the alternative use of hotplates, which were supposed to cushion the impact, has been hindered by poor power supply since the beginning of 2024.

The ICIR reports that there has been an abysmal power supply situation nationwide since January, with several parts of Abuja experiencing a blackout as the TCN on Wednesday, February 28, confirmed the vandalisation of its transmission towers by vandals.

The situation was similar in several parts of the country, with many Nigerians protesting against the epileptic and complete outage of power supply.

With this challenge plaguing many communities nationwide, several families are forced to resort to traditional methods of cooking to meet their daily needs.

Samuel Rebecca, a resident of Lugbe, Federal Capital Territory, bemoaned the poor electric supply, noting that the rate at which they get power has significantly reduced.

Before, Rebecca said her area, Car Wash, Zone 9, used to have a power supply for at least 12 hours a day and did not have the reason to rely on charcoal or wood to cook.

“Until recently, we normally have light for 12 hours or thereabout every day and except our transformer is faulty, most people use hotplate and gas cooker. Like in my house now, we use coalpot once in awhile.

“But things have changed. We now use coal pots every evening because the price of gas is quite high and poor power distribution,” she said.

What does this mean for charcoal sellers?

Iya Bashiru,a charcoal vendor, complaining about the significant redudction in the profit she made while packaging charcoal into a nylon for sale. Photo: The ICIR
Iya Bashiru, a charcoal vendor, complaining about the significant reduction in the profit she made while packaging charcoal into a nylon for sale. Photo: The ICIR

Meanwhile, despite the challenges mentioned, two charcoal vendors who spoke to The ICIR disclosed that they have hardly seen any rise in profit, although many would expect increased profit and revenue for charcoal sellers due to the rise in gas.

A charcoal vendor in Ilorin, who gave her name as Iya Bashiru, said that they used to earn as much as N600 on a bag of charcoal, but market inflation has made that a challenge, noting that they hardly make a profit of N200 on a bag of charcoal now.

She said this was because they needed to entice customers and maintain the normal price of a small nylon of charcoal despite the continued inflation.

According to her, the amount used to buy a bag of charcoal is now being used to buy one bag, adding that they still purchase nylon for its package.

When asked if her customers have increased since the beginning of this year, she said “yes” but noted that they still had not reached her usual number of customers when she started the business a few years back. 

She further noted that many people have resorted to using wood for cooking instead of buying charcoal, adding that despite reducing the amount of charcoal being sold out, many still complain.

“Some people are now cooking with wood. Once they buy N100 wood, they can use it for two days, but the charcoal of N100 won’t be enough for them for two times because it really too expensive. We are just selling it so we won’t be sitting idle.

Impacts on women, children’s health

Cooking with firewood
A local cooking with firewood. Photo: The ICIR

Speaking on the implication of using firewood and charcoal for cooking, a Researcher with the  International  Center for Energy Environment and Development (ICEED), Unico Uduka, quoted the World Bank report, stating that smoke from indoor air pollution (cooking with biomass) kills about 93,000 Nigerians annually. 

He noted that the victims of this indoor air pollution are mostly women and children.

“Cooking with firewood also causes respiratory diseases for cooks and has proven to be a major cause of lung diseases for most women. Women who cook with firewood every day are deemed to be smoking almost seven packs of cigarettes.

“Another implication for women is the loss of time that would have been put to other productive uses. Most women who cook with firewood use traditional three-stone firewood stoves. Using those stoves leads to loss of heat in the ambience, which means that more time is needed to cook,” he stressed.






     

     

    Similarly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that around 2.3 billion people worldwide cook using open fires or inefficient stoves fuelled by kerosene, biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal, which generates harmful household air pollution.

    According to the global health body report in 2023, household air pollution was responsible for an estimated 3.2 million deaths per year in 2020, including over 237,000 deaths of children under the age of 5.

    It noted that the combined effects of ambient air pollution and household air pollution are associated with 6.7 million premature deaths annually, adding that household air pollution exposure leads to non-communicable diseases, including stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.

    WHO listed women and children, who are typically responsible for household chores such as cooking and collecting firewood, as being the greatest health burden from the use of polluting fuels and technologies in homes.

    Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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