Program creates micro-profit system for Kenyans

A Carmel Valley biotech developer thinks he has discovered a way to pay Kenyan villagers by tapping into a system that is designed to decrease pollution.

With his project Carbon Manna, David Palella and his partner Hong Ma are working to give villagers in Kenya access to the benefits of carbon micro credits.

Carbon Manna’s unique cell-phone based system allows families to claim their carbon offsets for cash by using more efficient cooking methods. The carbon offsets are sold to European companies to mitigate their businesses’ effects on global climate change.

Families in Kenya could earn up to $62 of carbon credits a year by cooking with more efficient stoves, thereby reducing their emissions by about 2.5 tons a year, Palella said.

Helping to empower people to take control of their carbon offset “destiny” is more of a social movement than a business venture, he said.

“Nobody ever thought to bring benefits down to individuals or families,” Palella said, “and nobody ever tried to do the accounting work by cell phone.”

Palella officially filed the patent for their Carbon Manna system on April 23 but still has many steps to go through before it can be implemented.

The organization will likely launch in September or October in two of the poorest provinces of Kenya - but they say they hope it will spread across all of Africa.

Cooking smart

About 5,000 families in a village need to be a part of the program to produce enough carbon offset credits for a business to purchase on the carbon credit market.

Stoves, called Ugastoves, are sold to the families, who pay them off with their initial credits.

“Compared to a three-stone fire, a modern metal stove is obviously much more efficient,” Palella said of the Ugastoves, which are made in Uganda.

Each stove uses three to four pieces of charcoal and, compared to an open pit fire, is 60 percent more efficient. And using less fuel means cost savings for the family.

“Suddenly families have another 15 to 25 percent extra income because they don’t have to buy as much charcoal,” Palella said. “That’s the biggest cost savings, more than the carbon credits.”

Additionally, less charcoal means less deforestation of ecological preserves used to make charcoal. Palella said deforestation is a huge problem in Africa, where there isn’t a lot of rainfall.

Cell phone banking

The use of cell phones to record and exchange credits is something that sets Carbon Manna apart, Palella said.

In the past, similar projects used laptops with Excel spreadsheets or even notebooks. Accounting for everything on a cell phone via text messages is an easier and faster process, Palella said.

In Africa, cell phones are often used for online banking. A family’s credits will show up as cash in their online bank, he said.

For the first year, participants will be mostly paying for their stoves and cell phones, but after that they can use the funds for whatever they need.

To learn more, visit