The use of firewood is one of the most common methods of cooking in Nigeria, which has been in practice for ages in most homes. In many parts of the country, cooking with firewood both indoor and outdoor is still the prefered option for preparing meals.
The introduction of other methods, including kerosene stove, gas cooker, electric cooker and clean cook stove, has not been able to take the place of firewood in cooking.
Despite the difficulty and attendant health risks associated with the use of firewood, the number of people who unrelentingly use firewood is still high as so many still prefer the firewood method to other alternative sources of cooking.
For Babalola Adesola, a civil servant who also engages in outdoor cooking and event planning, as she cooks occasionally for colleagues, firewood has remained the best method of cooking.
She said engaging in large scale cooking is no small business, as it demands tenacity. She said in a country like Nigeria, large scale cooking is better done with firewood, “not only could it be faster, it is cheaper,” she said.
Though she said the cheapness of the woods used in cooking depends on the season in some instances, “no matter how expensive it can be, it cannot be more expensive than gas.”
Speaking on the challenges of using firewood, she said the smoke she inhales from such cooking is still a challenge she is yet to tackle.
“On many occasions I have to relax for days before I recover, because cooking like four different types of meals without someone to assist could be tiring,” she said.
On her part, Blessing Aliyu who makes snacks said cooking with firewood is not as easy as some people think. She said: “The stress starts from when you try to make fire, though some people now use kerosene, plastics, or cellophane; it takes time especially when you are unlucky to have wood that is wet,” she said.
On the challenge, she said: “Mostly I end up having body pains and I take pain relievers.” She however maintained that though cooking with firewood leaves her exhausted at the end of the day, she still prefers it to other sources which, she believes, won’t be the best for her kind of business.
Another woman who fries bean cake also known as ‘akara’ at the Federal Housing Authority Estate, Nyanya, but would not want her name mentioned, said she has been in the business for more than 10 years and has been using firewood. She said she will opt for firewood despite what people say about it.
Speaking of the health implication of using firewood, she said she did not think the smoke or anything from the business affects her health.
She said expertise also matters in handling firewood. “You have to make the fire in a way that the smoke would not engulf you.”
She said the other alternative methods are new to her and mastering them could take time, adding that using them to fry ‘akara’ might be too expensive and affect the profit she might make at the end of the day.
Mary Igwe, a restaurant owner in Nyanya, also said there is no better cooking method than the use of firewood as it affords one the opportunity to cook much food at once and as fast as possible.
She said despite the fact that it is also cheaper, it allows one to minimise time spent in the kitchen because you can also put it in different points outside the kitchen.
She said the other methods are not ease to acquire and that they did not allow one who is used to cooking large quantity of food at once that ability, so firewood still remains the best method.
However, experts have said the use of firewood for cooking poses a great health risk on both the users and the environment.
Burning woods is said to release a lot of carbon dioxide and small particles into the air, which when inhaled places everyone around at the risk of health issues such as chronic lung disease, lung cancer, pneumonia, and cardiovascular diseases.
A recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) explained that 10 per cent of global death is attributed to smoke inhaled from cooking with firewood. The report also revealed that no fewer than 98,000 Nigerian women die annually from smoke inhaled while cooking with firewood and that dangerous smoke exposure from firewood cooking method results in two million premature deaths per year.
Despite the pronouncement of the danger posed by firewood, the business of firewood is still thriving in most parts of the country.
The felling of trees for firewood has become a worrisome practice due to the fact that it accounts for high decline in forests which in turn contributes to land degradation and in polluting the air.
Although the decline of forests has been attributed to many factors which include high demands in wood for construction and energy as well as low budgetary allocation, lack of national law to check the problem of deforestation has remained the biggest challenge and as a result firewood business still strives in most parts of the country without any fear of sanction or penalty.
However, the use of firewood has come under heavy attack recently with the ongoing attempt to adopt ‘The Green Economy’ in the world to fight the impact of climate change which is said to be degrading the environment and affecting the people.
The declarations by the federal government to minimise emission of gases into the environment and to phase out environmentally unfriendly substances are still in the pipeline.
Without effective law and provision of alternative methods, the high cost of household energy has forced families to rely on firewood and charcoal over the years and as such made it the best method for outdoor cooking.
Written by Chidimma C. Okeke