It’s hard to believe that amidst all the technological innovation of the twenty-first century, 2.6 billion people around the world still have to use open fires to cook their meals.1

This is not just a problem of the inconvenience of outdated technology, but of health: more than 4 million people—the majority of whom are women and girls—die each year from exposure to the air pollution produced by cooking with open fires in their homes. That’s more than the number of deaths each year from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined.2

And these deaths are preventable. Off-grid clean cooking solutions can significantly reduce the carbon dioxide emissions contributing to these deaths. Yet they are grossly underfunded. To reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030, investors need to infuse $4.39 billion into clean cooking companies over the next 10 years.3 Due to challenges from product affordability to customer behavior change, these early-stage cookstove companies are often too high-risk for the typical traditional investor: only $21.2 million was invested in clean cookstove companies in 20174 compared to $284 million in off-grid lighting companies.5

A woman in Tanzania cooks a meal for her household using charcoal.

Over 4 million people die each year from exposure to the air pollution produced by cooking with dirty solid fuels like wood and charcoal.

Clean cooking companies need early-stage investors to help them grow to the stage where they are ready for traditional capital and serve low-income households at scale. Acumen has been backing cookstove innovations with pioneer patient capital since 2015. In the last five years, we have invested a total of $6.2 million in five clean cooking companies like BURN Manufacturing and BioLite across Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and India, helping to unlock $14.4 million in follow-on capital for these companies.

As we have accompanied these enterprises, we have learned more about the intricacies of the sector and low-income cookstove customers’ needs and preferences. We are excited to see two particularly promising innovations beginning to emerge in response: e-cooking devices (such as pressure cookers and hot plates) powered by off-grid energy systems and Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), a cleaner-burning mixture of propane and butane. While e-cooking is still in the product development phase, LPG is beginning to take off as a clean cooking solution for low-income customers—as signaled by the success of Tanzania-based LPG company KopaGas.