Using Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) has become more affordable for lower income families in Cameroon thanks to a new microfinance program, called “Bottled Gas For Better Life”, launched in February 2017 by The Global LPG Partnership (GLPGP), a public-private partnership under the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All initiative.

“Bottled Gas For Better Life” is the first program of its kind in Cameroon.  It provides lower-income households with loans of 50,000 CFA (US $81) to make the switch from solid cooking fuels to LPG. Loans will be provided to an initial 160 households from Batoke village in the Southwestern region of Cameroon for their purchase of LPG start-up kits. Each kit consists of a double-burner ignition stove, a 12.5kg filled gas bottle, a rubber hose and a regulator.  To measure impacts, a control village will be offered LPG kits without loans.  Loans will be provided to more families in later phases of the program, based on good results from the initial phase.

GLPGP developed the program to address the challenge of upfront costs that prevent many lower-income families from switching to LPG. Depending on the type of burner that a household uses, the typical cost to buy the required equipment may vary between CFA 45,000 and 55,000 (US$72 – US$88). The cost of 12.5kg refills is capped by the government at CFA 6,500 (US$10).

With these loans, families will not have to shoulder the upfront cost of LPG equipment all at once. Repaying the loans will be manageable. Households will make 8,300 CFA (US$13) monthly payments over 6 months.

Local partners are playing integral roles in implementing the program. The Cameroon community lending network Mutuelle Financière des Femmes Africaines (MUFFA) will service the loans to the households through the Ngango Association Batoke. The network is supported by Afriland First Bank. A local LPG gas marketer, GLOCALGAZ, will supply the LPG equipment and fuel.

Mr. Alex Evans, chairman of the GLPGP Operating Committee, said: “The microfinance program will help make LPG more accessible to lower income Cameroonians. This will help more people benefit from the use of LPG as the national LPG Master Plan is implemented.”

 “Bottled Gas For Better Life” builds on GLPGP’s work with the Government and LPG sector in Cameroon over the past two years. From 2015, GLPGP has been working with the Government of Cameroon under the coordination of the Ministry of Water Resources and Energy (MINEE) to create the country’s first national LPG Master Plan, completed and adopted by the Government in December 2016. The plan defines new policies, regulations and investment projects to support increased LPG supply, availability and affordability, with the goal that 58 % of Cameroonians will use LPG for their cooking needs by 2035. Currently, about 12% of households use LPG.

Demand for LPG in Cameroon has spiked due to more awareness of the benefits of clean cooking and a growing middle class who can readily afford the equipment as well as the fuel. Burning of firewood, charcoal and other biomass fuels for cooking is scientifically proven to be dangerous for health and destructive to the environment. Cooking with LPG eliminates smoke exposure in the home and protects the forest. In addition, using LPG frees up time. Food is cooked faster using LPG, and people do not need to spend time collecting firewood or other biomass fuels.

However, in many developing countries such as Cameroon, LPG has remained out of reach for much of the rural population. Besides issues of cost, people in rural areas have inadequate access to nearby LPG suppliers and retails shops where they can purchase refills, like in the cities. However, the Master Plan effort revealed there is great potential for LPG to be expanded to rural areas as well as in cities.

In Batoke Village, community leaders have welcomed the rolling out of “Bottled Gas For Better Life”. In particular, village chief HRH Chief Molive Molungu Otto has been a strong advocate for the program. GLPGP decided to launch the program in Batoke in part because GLPGP believe that commitment from community leaders and local villagers will make it a success.

The program is also part of an international initiative of GLPGP and other institutions which aims to evaluate what portion of households can be encouraged to switch to LPG for cooking by overcoming the barrier of upfront cost, by making the equipment more affordable and accessible to them. Since 2016, GLPGP has been partnering with the Department of Public Health and Policy at the University of Liverpool, UK. The University is studying enablers to support large scale population shifts from traditional polluting fuels to LPG for clean cooking. This includes testing initiatives designed to help households (especially from poorer, rural communities) make the switch. Dr Daniel Pope and collaborators are engaged to study the health and livelihood impacts from the "Bottled gas for better life" program.

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