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Kenyans turn to biomass fuel as new tax raises kerosene prices

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Until last week, kerosene pumps at various fuel stations in low income suburbs in Kenya’s capital Nairobi were characterized by long queues, especially in the evenings.

Residents flocked the stations for the commodity used majorly for cooking, and for some stations, the queue would stretch for about 50 meters.

But this is no longer the case following government’s imposing of 16 percent value added tax on fuel products.

The tax raised the price of kerosene to an average of 1 U.S. dollar a liter across the East African nation, up from 0.84 dollars.

The increase has pushed low income families into biomass sources of fuel that include firewood and crop waste in the rural areas.

The long queues that characterized kerosene selling points in the East African nation have consequently thinned as Kenyans seek alternative sources of fuel.

“I was using kerosene to cook food but I am now supplementing this with firewood,” motorbike transport operator Joseph Aswani said Tuesday.

Aswani recounted his wife for the last one week has been scouting for waste wood at construction sites, carpentry shops and timber yards for cooking.

“It has worked so far because we now use kerosene for cooking only once in the morning. This is helping me save,” said Aswani, who stays in Kayole, a low income suburb, on the east of Nairobi.

He noted that the one dollar price of kerosene per liter is too high for his income.

“When the price was less than a dollar, I would buy at least two liters but now I cannot afford from my 5 dollar per day income,” he said, capturing the plight of many low income earners in the capital.

In most parts of rural Kenya, maize farmers are currently harvesting their crops.

The dry maize cobs and stalks are being turned into fuel by families as they seek to escape the high price of kerosene and cooking gas, with a 16kg cylinder going at 30 dollars upcountry.

With many fuel stations based in town centers, prices of kerosene deep in villages have even risen for up to 1.3 dollars as dealers take advantage.

“I harvested plenty of maize and this time round, I am not leaving the cobs to rot on the farm. This is my fuel,” said Moses Otsieno, a farmer in Busia.

Stung by the high cost of fuel, Kenyans have put their hopes on the president and the courts.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is this week expected to receive a bill from parliament that deferred the high cost of fuel by two years. If he signs it into law, the high prices will be deferred.

On the other hand, rights activists have filed cases in court seeking to overturn the prices.

“People are no longer buying kerosene as much as they used to since the high prices came into effect,” said Cleophas Kariuki, a fuel station attendant in Kayole on the east of Nairobi.

Henry Wandera, an economics lecturer, noted high fuel prices would reverse gains Kenya had made in using cleaner energy.

“Kerosene is not clean but it’s better than firewood and crop waste. Right now the cost of cooking gas has also gone up which means more families would go for dirty fuels,” he said.

The use of agricultural waste and firewood means Kenyans, in particular women, have to spend hours in the kitchen exposing themselves to air pollution, which causes health problems, according to health experts.


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