The use of gas for cooking in schools is being constrained by its increasing prices, which is making it difficult to adopt use of this clean energy, the Ministry of Education has implied.
Some school head teachers who spoke to The New Times also expressed concern that though the use of cooking gas has advantages, including hygiene in the kitchen and ease of work, its cost is prohibitive.
Currently a 12-kilogramme cooking gas cylinder costs at least Rwf18, 500, an increase of about a half, compared to Rwf12, 600 in 2020.
“During the construction of kitchens [in line with expanding school feeding programme last year], cooking gas use was piloted in 30 schools, but as you all know, the price [of gas] increased these days,” Education Minister, Valentine Uwamariya told lawmakers during budget hearing last week, while responding to their proposal to use gas with aim to cut firewood consumption in schools.
Liquefied petroleum gaz bottles at a shop in Remera, Gasabo District on June 13, 2020. Photo: File.
Pascal Sindahabo, head teacher at G.S. Ndera, located in Gasabo District, Kigali, told The New Times that the school was still using firewood to cook for its 2,856 pupils and students from nursery to secondary, indicating that the high cost of gas hindered its plans to adopt this clean cooking fuel.
He indicated that the estimates the school made last year, even before the gas prices shot up, suggested that it would be spending twice as much on cooking if it used gas compared to firewood.
“We spend Rwf600, 000 on firewood for cooking per term (three months), and that cost would rise to Rwf1.2 million if we switched to cooking gas,” he said, underscoring that firewood consumption was bad for the environment and hygiene.
On what can be done to help schools adopt cooking gas, he said the Government should provide financial support.
“It would be better if the Government looks for ways to subsidise the cooking gas cost so that schools with many students pay half of it,” he said, suggesting that there is also a need for studies to consider other clean cooking solutions for schools, such as biogas.
Last year, the Government of Rwanda started the implementation of its plan to extend the school feeding programme to all pupils and students from pre-primary to secondary school schools.
In the last academic year 2020/2021, there were over 3.8 million pupils and students in Rwanda in 9,645 schools including nursery, primary and secondary, according to the 2020/21 education statistical yearbook by the Ministry of Education. Of those pupils and students, 3.48 million were from public and Government-subsidised schools.
Cooking meals for this large number of students will require much more firewood than before when only few students would get food at school. And, this situation has a big negative impact on the environment – cutting more trees for cooking fuel.
Yet, Rwanda has a target to reduce the reliance on firewood or charcoal as cooking fuel in both households and public places such as schools, correctional facilities, among others.
Reliance on firewood would increase deforestation
As per the Rwanda Household Survey 2019/2020 report produced by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR), 77.7 percent of Rwandan households used firewood as cooking fuel, 17.5 per cent used charcoal, while 4.2 per cent used gas or biogas.
Under the National Strategy for Transformation (NST1), Rwanda targets to reduce the rate of households using firewood for cooking to 42 per cent by 2024 as the country seeks to adopt clean cooking energy solutions and reduce household air pollution emissions.
MP Berthilde Uwamahoro said that the achievement of this NST1 target requires concerted efforts from all concerned entities, indicating that firewood remains the main energy source for cooking in Rwanda, especially schools which need a lot of cooking fuel.
“Why can’t there be a system to build kitchens that can use cooking gas? Because you realise that in the future, it will be a challenge to get firewood in schools,” she said.
MP Annoncee Manirarora said that the use of cooking gas would be the best option for schools and the environment.
“The use of cooking gas should be considered because it can help address many issues including protecting the environment, speeding the work and protecting the health of cooks [who inhale the smoke produced by the firewood],” she said.
Meanwhile, Minister Uwamariya said that they are working with entrepreneurs who make briquettes from the residues of some crops, or sawdust, and energy efficient stoves, as they look for other means to reduce firewood dependency in schools so that they do not destroy the environment.