Binta Yahaya is a community mobilizer and environmental advocate from Lere, a rural town in Kaduna State, Nigeria. In her town, most women and girls cook over open fires, and many suffer chronic respiratory infections and other health problems from the toxic smoke. Few are aware that cooking with an open fire is like burning 400 cigarettes an hour in one’s kitchen, or that firewood smoke is the 3rd largest killer of women and children in Nigeria. Even Binta didn’t know what to do about the dangerous accumulation of dirty soot on her own traditional cookstove.
Then she participated in the 9-month 2017-2018 WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training and learned of powerful alternatives. Within 1 week of entrepreneurship, leadership, and technical training, Binta sold 70 clean cookstoves to women in her village. She quickly watched this simple solution reduce sickness, medical bills, and daily fuel costs for these families.
Today, Binta is a clean cookstove entrepreneur, and as a trusted member of her community, people listen. She also launched a second business producing her own clean cookstove model and selling cooking fuel made from agricultural waste instead of charcoal. Every day she improves the lives of people (1,000 already have access to clean energy and improved health because of her), mentors more women entrepreneurs, and plays a part in Nigeria’s clean energy future. On the last day of the training she said, “You have already changed my life…if I had to pay for what I learned from you, I don’t think I could afford it. I have no words but to say thank you.”
Olanike Olugboji — WEA partner and founder of Nigerian NGO WISE — was recently recognized with the Sustainability, Environment and Advocacy Award for demonstrating exceptional proficiency in Eco-Business Advocacy.
Binta Yahaya is a member of the Women of Vision Development Initiative (WVDI), an NGO active in grassroots entrepreneurship, community mobilization and environmental advocacy in Lere Local Government, a rural town in Kaduna State, Nigeria. She was part of a team that successfully led women to advocate for changes to land inheritance laws and campaigned for political inclusion of women in wards and village councils. She also promoted tree planting for erosion control and anti-desertification campaigns, trained women to use organic manure for fertilizing farmlands to mitigate the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers, and advocated for household sanitation and personal hygiene among women in rural areas as a means of controlling the spread of communicable diseases.
Binta primarily used a traditional firewood stove for all her cooking needs but became interested in our WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training Program when she began to recognize her cooking fuel must be toxic. She said “on the top part of the stove, there is accumulated soot”, which she imagined was “dangerous to inhale.” She became aware of the health, environmental, and livelihood problems such as air pollution, illness and disproportionate negative impacts on girls and women in her community stemming from this traditional method of cooking and wanted to bring home a solution.
Upon being selected to participate in our Clean Cookstoves Training, Binta received technical and entrepreneurship skills training, a seed grant, ongoing peer support, and access to a global network of women leaders like herself. After the first week of capacity-building training, Binta was inspired by the life-saving importance of the clean cookstove technology and immediately started selling. She returned to her community with greater knowledge of the health, safety and security risks associated with cooking with firewood and gained credibility in clean energy, clean cookstove options and utilization. By the time Binta returned for the second week of training, she had already sold 70 clean cookstoves to her local community!
Despite losing her father shortly after the second week of training, Binta managed to channel her grief and energy into becoming the first woman entrepreneur in our program to reach our target of 120 clean cookstoves sold within five months. One of Binta’s customers used to spend 200 Naira ($0.55 USD) on firewood every day but, since buying a clean cookstove, she repurposes the 150 Naira she saves every day to buy fabric for her new clothing enterprise. Another customer was frequently treated for eye irritation from prolonged exposure to smoke. Since buying a clean cookstove from Binta, her eyes are no longer irritated and she is able to save the money she previously spent on medicine.
But Binta didn’t stop there! After recognizing the primary market in her community was made up of artisanal farmers, she embarked on a complementary business venture to produce and sell charcoal briquettes made from any unused agricultural waste, which can be used by households as a clean source of fuel for cooking and heating. With the $50-120 profit she earns from selling clean cookstoves each month, she has been able to invest in new machinery for mixing, molding and cutting to help streamline the charcoal briquette making process. For perspective on the success of her business, one of these machines costs roughly $800-1,000 USD. Binta now has her own growing business and has become recognized as a leader and role model for young girls by both women and men in her community. This is especially significant in a society where women rarely hold such accolades.
Binta has also designed her own version of a clean cookstove, modeled after one of the current cookstoves on the market (Nenu cookstove). The dimensions of the stove are a bit smaller and, uniquely, has two compartments instead of one. This extra, lower compartment gives a woman the added flexibility to bake bread or dry fish in the compartment while she is cooking. She had a prototype made by a local artisan, which she is currently testing with the Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (NACC). She gifted the first prototype to our partner, WISE (Women’s Initiative to Sustainable Environment), as a sign of gratitude. “You have already changed my life but you don’t know it…because If I had to pay for what I learned from you, I don’t think I could afford it. I have no words to say thank you.”
For more information on our WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Project, visit our project page and to learn more about WISE’s work, please visit their website.
Olanike Olugboji, the Founder/Director of Women’s Initiative for Sustainable Environment, and WEA Project Lead for the WISE Women’s Clean Cookstove Project in Nigeria, recently attended the Inclusive Global Summer Institute at the Sié Center in Denver, Colorado. This gathering brings together women-identifying activists from around the world for a three day workshop that creates space for women to grow in their leadership skills for promoting peace, security, and human rights.
Olanike — who is also a WEA Founding Mother — has forged an amazing path for sustainability and economic independence for women in her community and beyond. She has initiated and held capacity building trainings for over 3,000 women to develop entrepreneurial skills to run their own Clean Cookstove businesses. These businesses provide the opportunity for women to have a positive impact on the environment, their health, and their household savings.
You can listen to Olanike speak on gender equality and women’s empowerment in this video from the Inclusive Global Leadership Summer Institute. You can also follow her initiatives on World Pulse.
“We can’t wait for leadership to be handed to us, we have what it takes. And we can move from that place of seeing ourselves as victims or people who are seeking help and change, to people who are creating change, people who are leading change. And that is why women must rise up”– Olanike Olugboji.