Disseminating Improved Stoves In Africa

The management of natural resources such as forests and water remain a critical issue in development debate. This is more pronounced in developing regions such as Africa, where natural resources are under increasing strain due to growing population and
inadequate access to improved technologies that can improve natural resource use efficiency. Although land clearing for agricultural activities and lumbering contribute to the bulk of deforestation,
the demand for energy for domestic activities such as cooking and home-based micro-enterprises are also an important contributor to deforestation. In Africa as in most of the poor parts of the least
developed world, fuelwood is often burnt in open three stone fires or inefficient stoves. This practice not only contributes to deforestation, but has adverse impacts on the health of the solid biomass users, especially women and young children who spend a lot of their time in kitchen environments polluted by wood smoke.

Positive impacts of improved cookstoves

The recognition of the impacts of wood stoves on the environment led to the Improves Cook Stoves (ICS) which started in
the late 1970's, peaked in the 1980s and continues to the present day. In the 1990's, health as well as energy researchers became
increasingly aware of the health dimension of the use burning solid biomass and the indoor air pollution (IAP) debate gained impetus, giving the ICS a new 'desirability' level. Studies in Kenya, Sudan, Nepal, Guatemala and elsewhere have shown decreased IAP as well as decreased incidences of Acute Respiratory Infections (ARI) and Acute Lower Respiratory Infections (ALRI) in households using ICS compared to households using open fires, implying improved health status for household members, especially women and children in user households.

Although there don't seem to be studies quantifying time saving in firewood collection due to transitions from traditional biomass stoves to ICS, the available evidence in fuel savings suggests
decreased fuelwood collection times and trips, hence a decrease in work burden for the fuel wood collectors, who are mostly women.

Current ICS designs provide estimated fuel savings of between 25% and 40% of the wood fuel normally consumed in traditional stoves
and open fires, with more savings being realised by the transition from open fires to ICS due to the lower baselines of open fires.

ICS programmes have also had income generating as well as cash savings components to them. Stove manufacturers are often locals who earn some income from stove sales. On the other hand, for users, ICS have an attractive pay-back period of one to three months, as well as cash savings from reduced fuel use for ICS users, particularly those that buy their fuelwood. Furthermore, a cultural benefit improves the prospects of ICS programs. Unlike solar cookers, hay-box cookers and other pro-poor cooking
technologies, cook stoves do not require (drastic) changes in cooking methods or food types and hence are more culturally
acceptable in most poor countries and easily adopted compared to the aforementioned technologies.

Successes and failures

Despite the diverse benefits of the ICS, not all stove programs have been a resounding success. Whilst in China and India an
impressive number has been disseminated, in Africa, only Kenya claims a stove dissemination level that exceeds a million.
Researchers, policy makers and development practioners therefore need to continuously look for ways of improving dissemination of
ICS to millions of households who are unlikely to acquire access to more sophisticated energy services and products such as electricity in the next 10-30 years.

Difficulties in Africa

In Africa for example, the fact that most fuel is gathered free of monetary costs has hampered dissemination of ICS. Furthermore, due to the fact that smoky environments have been around for so long and due to low literacy levels, few households make linkages between household smoke and ARIs. In cases where this linkage is made, household members do not consider smoke a major health risk and hence, have lesser motivation to change. Another issue is the
issue of gender and empowerment. Since most of cooking is generally undertaken by women whilst income expenditures are often dictated by men, there is little appreciation on the side of men, of the
dangers of polluted indoor environments and hence less motivation to facilitate transitions by buying ICS. Furthermore in patriarchal Africa, hardships experienced by women in undertaking their productive activities are often considered part of womanhood. Indeed, a young girl who coughs and whose eyes water when blowing upon smoky fires is often told that 'she will come back' implying that her future husband will send her back to the parents for not being a good wife. It is therefore important that gender issues be taken into consideration when planning and designing stove programmes.

Another major problem is that few programmes in Africa provide options that enable users to diversify their stove use beyond
household cooking. For example, whilst in China, cook stoves have also been designed to provide indoor heating in winter, the focus is Africa has been on cooking only, under the assumption that African winters are warm. This assumption is likely to have been by researchers from the north who consider Africa warmer compared to
the north. Whilst this comparison may be true in most cases, the question of whether an area or day is cold enough to warrant space heating is subjective and is often based on one's lifetime conditioning. Furthermore, in certain parts of Africa such as the highlands of South Africa, sub-zero temperatures in winter (and sometimes spring), which are cold by any standards are not uncommon. Thus in winter, most household revert to inefficient stoves and open fires to enable simultaneous cooking and space
heating. For some of these households, this reversion becomes permanent. Improving the income benefit of ICS is another way of
working towards improved adoption. To date, few stove programs have integrated use of ICS for food related income generating activities such as baking. Yet in most rural areas, baked products are 'imported' from far away town centres. In addition, in poor
urban areas, the poor working class of urban areas have created a large demand for cooked lunch, leading to a proliferation of food
vendors. Improved Cook Stove programs have however failed to utilise these opportunities to disseminate ICS that would be used by food vendors.

The health benefits of ICS are also leanly exploited in ICS programs. While most ICS alone do not bring the IAP levels to the
acceptable levels for indoor environments, the decreases in IAP resulting from ICS use do have positive impacts, making ICS better
than open fires. There is however need for energy and health practioners to work towards raising awareness of IAP among both
biomass users and policy makers. The step taken by few programs, notably in Kenya to combine ICS dissemination efforts with kitchen management skills to combat IAP is also a step in the right direction as it raises IAP awareness whilst improving the IAP reduction potential of ICS programs.

The reality of adverse poverty in most African countries make the ICS a 'solution' for domestic cooking in the short to medium
term. It is therefore important that ICS outcomes be continually improved through integrative efforts that address the various
challenges faced by the poor.
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Last edited by Miriam Hansen .
Page last modified on Tuesday September 28, 2010 09:04:02 GMT.
  • A practitioner's journal on household energy, stoves and poverty reduction.

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