“Carbon Finance Is A Major Opportunity To Transform Lives At Scale,” Euan McDougall, Chief Operating Officer, DelAgua

"Carbon Finance Is A Major Opportunity To Transform Lives At Scale," Euan McDougall, Chief Operating Officer, DelAgua - Carbon Herald
Credit: DelAgua

Carbon removal projects, especially executed in developing countries, can provide unseen until now benefits for local communities. DelAgua is the world’s leading carbon project developer in clean cookstoves for rural sub-Saharan Africa. It enables access to clean cooking for the local community, increasing the well-being and social benefits for the population. Through its Live Well programme, the organization has delivered over 1.5 million stoves, improving more than 7 million lives.

We interviewed Euan McDougall, Chief Operating Officer of DelAgua who shed light on how the company manages to provide clean cooking devices to the African continent, its operations and ambitions and how exactly the stoves improve the lives of local people.

How was the DelAgua Live Well programme created and what is its mission?

The DelAgua Live Well programme was founded in 2012 to tackle the huge health inequalities in sub–Saharan Africa, in particular those related to dirty cooking. The problem we identified was that for rural communities, who represent up to 90% of the population in the countries we serve, and who live well below the poverty line, access to clean cooking was unaffordable and they were being left behind. 

DelAgua pioneered using carbon finance as the way to generate long-term sustainable funding to provide clean cookstoves alongside the vital integrated education and support, free of charge, and at scale, for the poorest people in the poorest countries. DelAgua’s mission is Transforming Lives and Nature Through Enterprise.  

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Live Well is the name of our free cookstove and education programme, serving rural communities previously dependent on traditional wood-fueled fires. These communities only have access to wood fuel, so we provide a stove that uses wood but requires just small sticks, and burns efficiently, using 71% less wood than a 3-stone fire. 

Credit: DelAgua

We train and pay a network of community-based health workers who visit every family for a one-on-one training session on receipt of the stove, and then at least once every 6 months over the 10-year life of the stove. This level of support is unique in the clean cooking sector and is integral to the success of Live Well.

We currently employ around 7,000 community-based workers so we are also providing valuable skilled long-term employment in regions where such opportunities are scarce. Technology also plays a big part in the delivery of Live Well: Every stove is stamped with a unique QR code at manufacture and at distribution this is scanned using the DelAgua smartphone app, along with the recipient’s identity card. 

This geolocates each stove and enables ongoing monitoring of every single stove. The technology means we are able to do this at a scale and with a level of detail that is unmatched in the sector: we visit every single household in person, bi-annually, and gather usage data from every stove distributed, backed up with photographic evidence.  

We are doing that for over 1.5 million stoves. Our data collection is a very expensive part of our operation, but it means that investors and purchasers of DelAgua’s Live Well carbon credits can have an exceptional level of confidence in their impact and integrity, nothing is more important to me than that.

Would you please expand on your business model? How do you manage to provide cleaner cookstoves to households in Africa?

As I mentioned, we pioneered the creation of self-sustaining programmes by utilising the sale of carbon credits generated by the stoves to provide funding. We do not sell stoves; our focus is free issue, so DelAgua projects depend solely on the credits generated by the stoves for revenue. Put simply, if our stoves do not get used, we and our financial partners do not get paid. 

Family after receiving their stove. Credit: DelAgua

This means we must provide the optimum stove for our families, delivering benefits they notice and value, along with durability and ease of use. This is combined with exceptional education and life-long support to every household which achieves behaviour change and very high usage levels. Independent audits show 99% of our stoves are still in daily use 2 years after distribution.

Central to the success of our business model are three factors:

  • Firstly, we always work in partnership with host Governments. We believe that success comes from developing effective partnerships with host Governments so that we can understand the country’s clean cooking requirements and precisely target those sectors of the rural population most in need, who do not have access to clean cooking via other initiatives and cannot afford a retail stove. This means additionality is assured.
  • Secondly, we provide a fully integrated approach to project implementation: stove purchase, distribution, education, monitoring and carbon issuance are controlled directly by DelAgua. This gives us 360 visibility on every aspect of the programme. 
CHWs visit twice a year for ongoing education and support. Credit: DelAgua
  • Thirdly we believe in developing local teams to run our programmes: we value and need their expertise and our model is to train and transfer skills, creating empowered country teams and a large network of trusted community-based workers who are focussed on project implementation and delivery.  

What is your outreach? Do you plan to expand to more countries in Africa or globally?

We launched in Rwanda in 2012, which is also home to our Regional Centre of Excellence. We have distributed 1.4 million stoves, benefiting 7.5 million people, and will achieve the project goal of 2.3 million in 2024, that is one stove for every rural Rwandan household. 

In 2023 we launched in The Gambia. We have distributed 77,000 stoves to date and the project goal is 115,000. We also launched in Sierra Leone in 2023 and have provided 27,000 stoves. The project goal is 1.2 million. 

DelAgua team in The Gambia. Credit: DelAgua

We have signed an MOU with the Government of Liberia and are establishing operations there for launch early next year following their upcoming elections later this year. The Live Well model is proving very powerful to both Governments and investors and we have a number of other African countries in the pipeline.

Who provides the financing for the cookstoves?

Our investors are a range of blue-chip organisations including banks, energy companies and bespoke carbon investment firms, with the shared goal of investing in high-integrity high-impact carbon projects that do so much more good beyond simply proving an offset. 

Their investment finances the very high upfront costs of stove purchase and project delivery, and in return, they own a significant proportion of the credits generated by the projects. We also have just started to sell Live Well carbon credits directly so this will provide a further source of revenue to reinvest in Live Well. 

Distribution setup in Rwanda. Credit: DelAgua

Who do you partner with to carry out your initiatives? Could you please tell us about your partnership with BURN Manufacturing?

Originally our stove was sourced from China, but we were keen to find a cookstove manufacturer based in Africa so that our investment would benefit the region. We need a stove that must perform noticeably better than 3 stone or locally produced clay stoves so that the advantages of using it are immediately apparent. The stove must be well-made and robust to survive harsh rural conditions and years of daily use in rural households. 

BURN’s Kuniokoa stove delivers. The BURN team really understand the market and they are specialists in the design, engineering and manufacturing of fuel-efficient stoves. It’s a real partnership and we are their biggest customer and recently celebrated our 1,000,000th stove purchase from BURN.

Is BURN your only technology provider or do you work with other cookstove producers? 

Credit: DelAgua

We are technology agnostic and are always looking at developments in clean cooking. It is also vital to take a country-by-country approach to deciding the most suitable clean cooking solution for communities. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to suit sub–Saharan Africa as each country has its own unique geographic, economic, social and political context which must be considered when tackling dirty cooking. 

Even within countries, there are usually large variations in what is affordable and available as viable clean cooking options between urban and peri-urban areas versus rural. BURN is a great partner in that they share this belief and are proactive in bringing new technologies to market so I anticipate we will continue using BURN technology but of course, I will always welcome meeting producers with new developments that can benefit our families.

What benefits do you see from your own personal observations on the local community from using cleaner cookstoves?

Live Well is in the process of verification for SDVISta certification on 8 SDGs: I,3,4,5,7,8,13,15. From my personal perspective health, gender equality, education and climate action are the standouts. We know from our household visits that the stove’s positive impact for women and children is immediate and life-changing.

Women and children baring the brunt of collecting firewood. Credit: DelAgua

Globally 4 million people die every year from the long-term effects of exposure to smoke from cooking fires and the day-to-day impact is shocking: the women we work with talk about burns, and sore eyes, cough, sore throat, “flu”, headaches and dizziness from the daily smoke inhalation tending the fire. They despair about the ash and soot that makes their homes, their children and their clothes filthy. 

They explain that they live with the constant daily stress of whether or not they will be able to scavenge sufficient wood to cook a meal for the family. They can spend up to 5 hours a day searching for wood, walking miles in the heat, or rain and mud, on difficult terrain, and sometimes they still do not find enough wood. 

The lack of available wood can leave families hungry, and the women are often blamed, sometimes resulting in family arguments and, in extreme examples, violence. All of this changes with the stove. It burns cleanly, and it is portable, designed to be used outdoors so smoke inhalation is a thing of the past. 

The women find it so quick to light and it cooks rapidly, freeing them from the fire to do more productive tasks such as cultivating their crops, attend village meetings or simply having time to have a conversation with their children or meet their friends. I meet women who have been able to start a micro business-like rabbit breeding, or a small shop from their home and generate additional income, which is helping improve the outcomes for their family. 

Reforestation – trees now grow all the way up to the village since receiving stoves. Credit: DelAgua

Children, especially girls, often have to miss school to gather wood. With the stove, that is no longer the case. I recently learnt from a health worker that babies are frequently malnourished and stunted and this is in part caused by the practice of feeding infants the previous day’s meal. Of course, there is no refrigeration and because it is so hard to cook, the food is not reheated and so the infants get caught in a cycle of recurring diarrhoea. 

With the DelAgua stove, food can easily and quickly be reheated and fed safely. Crucially, our community health workers are able to educate and explain this to women in person at their home visits. There are so many examples, and our team who have been with DelAgua for over a decade in Rwanda can testify how they have seen over that period the tree line returning to the edge of those villages where we have provided stoves. 

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Reforestation in Rwanda is critical: it is known as the land of a thousand hills and heavy rains on bare hillsides stripped of trees for woodfuel, leads to mudslides which destroy lives, villages and infrastructure. I see Live Well keeping trees in the ground and enabling the landscape to recover.

Where do you sell your carbon credits? How are they measured and verified? 

DelAgua’s projects are registered with VERRA’s VCS programme issuing VCUs. As I mentioned earlier, we invest heavily in data to measure the impact and ensure the integrity of what we do. We hold accurate, current data on each of our 1.5 million stoves distributed to date. Monitoring surveys for audit and carbon issuance are in addition to this and take place every 6 months across a sample of households.  

Credit: DelAgua

I am a big supporter of the IC-VCM Core Carbon Principles and also, I look forward to the work that the Clean Cooking and Climate Consortium (4C) will be doing under the CCA to develop a standardized methodology for cookstove projects. 

My watch out would be, do not let the great be the enemy of the good: in the search for maximum integrity, we must not lose sight of the end goal, which is the transformation of lives along with climate impact, and therefore the ability of project developers to actually deliver projects that can meet these standards. 

What are your future ambitions regarding impact? 

Rural communities across sub–Saharan Africa are resilient and resourceful, but they need long-term continuing support. Carbon finance presents a major opportunity to transform lives at scale. It is here for the long term and a truly powerful way to fund development in rural Africa which is often deemed too risky for standard investment.

I would add that technology will get cheaper and better so we need to balance focus on innovation with affordable technology that can deliver large-scale impacts now. DelAgua will continue to focus on large-scale impacts for the rural poor; there are still 2.3 billion people globally who do not have access to clean cooking. It is exciting that carbon finance can achieve real change and accelerate action on the clean cooking and wider green development agenda so that we can actually start to make the progress we need to and that has been lacking. 

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