Mike Clifford
Associate Professor Faculty of Engineering, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

Sarah Jewitt
Associate Professor Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

Charlotte Ray
Research Fellow, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK
charlotte.ray at nottingham.ac.uk" rel="">charlotte.ray@nottingham.ac.uk

Authors’ Profiles:

Dr. Clifford has research interests in appropriate technology, with particular emphasis on
developing improved wood burning stoves. The interdisciplinary context of this work means he cosupervises postgraduate students with colleagues in Geography, the Built Environment and Politics. He has published over 40 refereed journal papers, 40 refereed conference papers and three book chapters, and edited two recent textbooks suitable for undergraduates.

Dr. Jewitt has expertise in gender, rural development, sustainable agriculture, food security, rural
household energy, indigenous knowledge systems, forest management and common property
resources. She has been undertaking research in South Asia since 1989. She is particularly
interested in the gendered nature of household energy choices, use and access and the implications of this for food and economic security, indoor air pollution and climate change.

Dr. Ray is an early career researcher and has expertise in human geography, international
development, livelihoods, displacement, food security and qualitative methodology incorporating a range of participatory methods.


Drawing on the authors’ previous experience, literature review and preliminary fieldwork, this article discusses some of the existing challenges faced when investigating improved cookstove (ICS)adoption and some of the current barriers that interfere with ICS introduction and uptake in East and Southern Africa. This article also discusses different methodological approaches that can be taken when addressing these barriers and how this can be incorporated within the Barriers project, an ongoing multi-disciplinary project investigating why ICS have had relatively little household or market penetration in Southern Africa in comparison to some countries in East Africa.


Improved cookstoves; Barriers; East Africa; Southern Africa; Market-based approaches;

Stoves, engineers and social scientists: Match made in heaven or recipe for disaster?

The International Energy Agency wrote in 2006 that there were 2.5 billion people in developing
countries (especially rural areas) that relied on biomass to meet their energy needs for cooking. They also continued that this figure would increase to over 2.6 billion by 2015 and to 2.7 billion by 2030 (OECD/IEA, 2006). The 2012 World Energy Outlook projected that “these numbers will have changed little by 2030” (OECD/IEA, 2012: 29). At the same time, the use of traditional ‘open’ cookstoves is fuel inefficient and is estimated to contribute around a third of global carbon monoxide emissions, with black carbon particles and other pollutants in biomass smoke thought by many to exacerbate global climate change (UNEP, 2006).

Since the 1970s, global concern about the energy crisis, deforestation, health hazards (more specifically indoor air pollution), and more recently climate change (in reference to greenhouse gases and black carbon), have put improved cookstoves (ICS) at the forefront of household energy solutions. ICS, designed to burn, predominantly, biomass fuels more cleanly and efficiently than traditional stoves, are one of the most prominent ‘decentralised energy solutions’ (UNDP, 2010) that have been promoted, mostly by Northern-affiliated international organisations. With that in mind,however, “since the 1940s, efforts have been made by governments, international development organisations, and NGOs to increase the dissemination of efficient biomass cookstoves.” (Anhalt and Holanda, 2009: 4). At the same time, the impact of many of these interventions have been short-lived “due to the inability of the programmes to meet the expectations and actual requirements of the users, a lack of long term development objectives, systematic institutional arrangements and appropriate local manpower development” (FA0, 1993: 5). In 2010, however, the then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton launched the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (Alliance) as a new “public-private partnership to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women and protect the environment” (GACC n.d.) and promote ICS globally - a development which, according to Yee (2010), elevated the improved stove agenda ‘from a public health backwater to a high place.’

Nevertheless, the idea of a cookstove intervention however highlights the differences in approach taken by engineers and social scientists, often with two different end results and a lack of interaction. For example, when faced with the task of altering the traditional ‘open’ cookstove, most engineering-based approaches tend to be design-led. After noting the inefficient use of biomass, the lack of suitable ventilation and the general disregard for health and safety, emphasis is placed on designing a new stove, complete with chimney, temperature control, automated ash collection and other ‘essential’ extras. The final product/ service is finally launched in the relevant market amongst bemused cooks (Clifford, 2014). Social scientists, on the other hand, tend to observe rather than directly engage. They will concentrate more on the person doing the cooking rather than the technology and ask questions relating to gender, culture, the wider geographical context etc. and more importantly will ask ‘why’ people are cooking in this way and what constraints exist to the adoption of ICS. Both of these stereotypes have their merits and their problems and this has resulted in a plethora of ICS interventions (especially in sub-Saharan Africa); many of which have had mixed results as the dominant techno-centric approach ignores subtle user needs, creating new social problems in the process.

The creation of the Alliance has raised global awareness of the importance of ICS technology, however, its aim to foster adoption of ICS to 100 million households by 2020 is ambitious and begs the question, improved for whom and for where?

What is the problem?

When we think of successful ICS initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa, the Kenya Ceramic Jiko (KCJ) stove most regularly comes to mind. Efforts to develop improved biomass stoves in Kenya date back to the 1970s (Sesan, 2011) whereby both governmental and non-governmental organisations developed, tested, and refined a cookstove that consumed less charcoal, reduced products of incomplete combustion and particulate matter, and reduced the proportion of income urban households were spending on charcoal. The KCJ was developed in 1984 (Kammen, 1995) and wassuccessfully disseminated amongst urban households in Kenya. It has been widely accepted as it meets user requirements for affordability, portability and income generating opportunities and has been replicated in many African countries, albeit under different names (japa in Ghana and canamake in Rwanda).

Although the recent efforts of the Alliance and the ‘success’ of the KCJ have helped to promote ICS technology, there are still significant issues that need to be addressed. The uptake of the KCJ in rural Kenya was far less successful than in urban areas, for example; partly due to the fact that 95% of the rural population use solid fuels (GACC, n.d.) predominantly in the form of wood fuel rather than charcoal. Wood-burning stoves similar to the KCJ have been produced (such as the Maendeleo stove – Sesan, 2011) but have had less success due to factors such as cost, subsidies by various organisations and existing market conditions. It is essential to continue to understand why improved biomass stoves are not adopted by populations given that wood is the oldest and still the largest biomass energy resource used today (ibid). At the same time, recent hypotheses suggest that even the reduction in smoke achieved by the cleanest biomass burning stove would have little impact on health effects and there needs to be a complete shift by entire communities to alternative fuel sources away from biomass for there to be significant health gains (Smith, 2014).

The scale of success enjoyed by the KCJ and related ICS technology has not been replicated in
Southern Africa. The ‘barriers’ to the uptake of ICS is a notable trend within the stove literature
(Sesan, 2011; Watson et al., 2012; Akintan, 2014) which seeks to identify gaps to understanding how to achieve effective dissemination. The problem here, however, as Watson et al. (2011:2) note, is that there is already a large body of work regarding barriers to the dissemination/ adoption of modern energy services, however, “there is a highly uneven spread of coverage and a significant lack of high quality research”. A simple internet search or the use of an institutional database will produce hundreds of search results listing, explaining, drawing on and critiquing various barriers to the introduction and uptake of ICS (please also refer to the News section of this issue of Boiling Point introducing a multi-disciplinary project investigating the barriers to ICS technology in Southern Africa). Barriers to the introduction and uptake of ICS are commonly referred to, but much more is needed in the way that we understand and attempt to overcome them. To provide a simple snapshot from a scoping trip to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and Malawi in April/ May 2014, such barriers include:

Financial barriers:

The driving factor here is usually the cost of the stove itself although if the stove uses fuel other than wood (which is usually obtained free of financial cost in rural areas) this will have additional financial implications. Given that there is a lack of financial value associated with cookstoves (partly due to previous subsidy-led and donated approaches), end users (especially in rural areas) may be unable (particularly when looking at gender power relations and household dynamics) or unwilling to prioritise an ICS in favour of other needs. Additional financial barriers include limited access to capital by Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs) for business development (such as credit, loans etc.) with the result that high interest rates and increasing cost of materials translate into higher stove costs for the end user.

Market barriers:

A lack of demand for ICS amongst many potential users is a key barrier to their adoption. On the supply side, distribution, marketing and sales are the major barriers. Many artisans have significant stocks of ICS but sales are irregular and their businesses are not necessarily sustainable. ICS distribution and marketing appear to have the least investment and systemisation, characterised by insufficient specialisation and development of ICS as standalone products. Also, producers, distributors and retailers do not necessarily have sufficient knowledge to effectively market their ICS products which ultimately hinders their selling capacity.

Quality barriers:

This is a pressing issue in the sector at the moment (please refer to the Helpline section of this issue for more information). Many businessmen and women are reported to counterfeit high- quality ICS products and sell them in local markets at much lower costs (Picture 2). Consequently, quality is and producers/ retailers of higher quality stoves (Picture 3) lose out both in terms of reduced sales and damaged reputations caused by customer dissatisfaction with the poor quality and longevity of the imitation ICS. The issue of quality, certification and standardisation of ICS is at the forefront of debate but questions arise regarding 1) the means to enforce standardisation and 2) the implications for local artisans if they need to pay to test their ICS products.

Political barriers:

Biomass fuel tends to be neglected and their management is often ignored at government level as most national energy-related policies remain targeted at electrification. At the same time, policies that do encompass biomass are often predominantly related to forestry resources and are poorly coordinated with a distinct lack of communication between government ministries (such as energy, agriculture, forestry etc.). Bodies have been formed specially for ICS (e.g. Clean Cookstove Association of Kenya, Ugandan National Alliance on Clean Cooking, National Cookstove Taskforce Tanzania and National Cookstove Taskforce Malawi) incorporating a range of actors including government, NGOs, and private sector actors, but a lack of integration across sectors is said to create confusion among members, ICS producers and end-users.

Infrastructure barriers:

Poor transportation links (inadequate road surfaces and insufficient vehicles) make it costly to produce, market and retail ICS products and are a cited as a major constraint by all members in the market chain.

Resource barriers:

The availability of and access to ICS materials such as steel and clay is geographically limited and this in turn increases the cost of transportation and thus the cost of the stove. At the same time, although researchers have concluded that using wood as a fuel is not a primary cause of deforestation (FAO, 1997; Arnold et.al., 2006; Sesan, 2014), most rural populations still collect fuelwood in an unsustainable way with little regard for wider environmental risks and more immediate health concerns associated with wood burning.

Awareness barriers:

SMEs in the firewood sector face difficulty marketing stoves due to low consumer demand,
awareness and the low commercialisation of firewood in comparison to charcoal. At the same time, there are still a high number of rural communities that have not been reached, making the adoption of ICS much more challenging. End-users in urban areas also face obstacles as many are unable to tell the difference between a good quality ICS and a sub-standard one.

Socio-cultural barriers:

These include the national, regional, and community geographical context, gender, age, ethnicity,family etiquette and, traditional community hierarchies. Such factors are commonly referred to in the literature but there has been little empirical work further investigating the socio-cultural issues that impact on the uptake of ICS and how addressing such issues might facilitate behavioural change. Many programmes make the assumption that socio-cultural factors are fixed and that generic ‘one size fits all’ stove can be used in conjunction with these wider issues.

Market-based vs. participatory approaches: Shifting strategies?

Given the historical challenges from state/ subsidy led and donated ICS approaches (Barnes et al., 1994; Sesan, 2011), shifts have been made to more market-based models for stove dissemination. There is, however, evidence to suggest that the market-based model can undermine success in targeting the poor by causing cookstove prices to rise sharply, lowering employment prospects for artisans, and creating opportunities for brokerage and corruption (Simon, 2010).

Many ICS initiatives adopt a quan- titative, technical approach (Troncoso et al., 2007) but recent studies have seen the benefits of adopting qualitative methods to explore the non-technical dimensions of improved stove dissemination (Sesan 2011, 2012). Indeed, there are lessons to be learnt from sanitation initiatives emphasising the need to combine technical or ‘hardware’ interventions with a broader awareness of wider ‘software’ (socio-economic, cultural) influences on behavioural change (Black and Fawcett, 2008). As cooking practices and taboos tend to vary over space and according to local culture, factors such as socio- economic status, ethnicity, age or gender may have a significant influence on both household energy preferences and whether a particular cookstove is likely to be acceptable to and adopted by households. In the sanitation sector, participatory approaches such as community-led ‘total sanitation’ (Peal et al., 2010) emphasise that environmental health problems are unlikely to improve unless everyone changes their toileting behaviour. They therefore focus on stimulating collective behavioural change while raising awareness of community-wide health implications. Such approaches may also be relevant for ICS initiatives; especially given recent WHO evidence that individual households that adopt ICS will still experience household air pollution levels that are orders of magnitude above the WHO guidelines for PM2.5 (WHO/PHE, 2014) due to smoke drifting between houses in the wider community. This suggests that there needs to be community-wide change in regards to ICS uptake rather than just at the individual household level.

Lessons can also be learnt from the adoption of other technological innovations. The rapid diffusion of mobile phones in the global South, for instance, is an example of how technologica solutions have been disseminated through market-based approaches but have been able to incorporate community elements, giving them wider acceptability and creating greater demand. If ICS became associated with higher levels of social status and convenience in the same way that mobile phones have, or if women’s cooking preferences had greater weight in household decision-making, the adoption of ICS technology might be improved significantly. This highlights the need to target the priorities of both men and women at all levels of the stove value chain.


Many of the key barriers to the introduction and uptake of stoves in sub-Saharan Africa have been
identified, although it is also not clear why the uptake of ICS in Southern Africa has been much
slower. Consequently, there is a need to identify the reasons for the success of stove programmes
such as the KCJ, as well as the challenges that ICS programmes and products still face in other
geographical areas. Incorporating a wide range of actors and combining both market and
community based approaches may assist in unravelling current barriers to wide-scale ICS adoption
and identifying how Southern African countries might develop a more structured and effective
dissemination process.

List of references

Akintan, O.B. (2014) Socio-Cultural Perceptions of Indoor Air Pollution Among Rural Migrant
Households in Ado Ekiti, Nigeria. Ph.D. thesis, University of Nottingham, UK.

Anhalt, J. and Holanda, S. (2009) ‘Implementation of a Dissemination Strategy for Efficient Cook Stoves in Northeast Brazil: Policy for Subsidizing Efficient Stoves’. Renewable energy and energy efficiency partnership.

Arnold, J. Köhlin, G. and Persson, R. (2006) Woodfuels, livelihoods, and policy interventions:
changing perspectives World Development. 34, 596–611.

Barnes, D., Openshaw, K., Smith, K. and van der Plas, R. (1994) What makes people cook with improved biomass stoves? A comparative international review of stove programmes. Energy Series Technical Paper 242, World Bank.

Black, M. and Fawcett, B. (2008) ‘The Last Taboo: Opening the Door on the Global Sanitation
Crisis’ London: Earthscan.

Clifford, M. (2014) Guest Blog for the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network. Available from http://lcedn.com/blog/2014/01/28/guest-blog-mike-clifford-on-his-new-barriers researchproject-on-interdisciplinary-approaches-towards-improved-cookstoves/

FAO (1993) Improved Solid Biomass Burning Cookstoves: A Development Manual. Regional
Wood Energy Development Programme in Asia: Bangkok, Thailand.

FAO (1997) Regional study on wood energy today and tomorrow in Asia. Asia-Pacific Forestry
Sector Outlook Study Working Paper Series, No. APFSOS/WP/34. United Nations Food and
Agricultural Organisation: Rome and Bangkok.

Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves Mission and Goals. Available from http://

Kammen, D. (1995) Cookstoves for the Developing World, Scientific American 273 (1) 72-75.

OECD/IEA (2006), World Energy Outlook 2006, Paris: International Energy Agency.

OECD/IEA (2012), World Energy Outlook 2012, Paris: International Energy Agency.

Peal, A.J, Evans, B.E & van der Voorden, C. (2010) Hygiene and Sanitation Software: An Overview of Approaches. Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council.

Sesan. T (2011) What’s Cooking? Participatory and Market Approaches to Stove Development in Nigeria and Kenya. Ph.D. thesis, University of Nottingham, UK.

Sesan, T. (2012) Navigating the limitations of energy poverty: Lessons from the promotion of
improved cooking technologies in Kenya. Energy Policy. 47 202-210.

Sesan, T. (2014) Global imperatives, local contingencies: An analysis of divergent priorities and dominant perspectives in stove development from the 1970s to date. Progress in Development Studies. 14 (1) 3-20.

Simon, G.L. (2010) Mobilizing cookstoves for development: a dual adoption framework analysis of collaborative technology innovations in Western India. Environment and Planning A. 42 (8) 2011-2030.

Smith, K. R. (2014) Health and Solid Fuel Use: Five New Paradigms: Paper delivered by Kirk R Smith at the DfID/ Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves/WHO Clean Cooking Conference,
London. Available from http://r4d.dfid.gov.uk/pdf/outputs/GACC/Session1-2_Kirk-R-Smith_UCBerkeley.pdf.

Troncoso, K., Castillo, A., Masera, O., Merino, L. (2007) Social Perceptions about a Technological Innovation for Fuelwood Cooking: Case Study in Rural Mexico, Energy Policy 35; 2799–2810. United Nations Environment Programme (2006) Geo Year Book 2006: An Overview of Our Changing Environment Nairobi Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA)

UNDP (2010) UNDP and Energy Access for the Poor: Energising the Millennium DevelopmentGoals, New York: United Nations Development Programme.

Watson, J. Byrne, R. Morgan Jones, M. Tsang, F. Opazo, J. Fry, C. &Castle-Clarke, S. (2012). What are the major barriers to increased use of modern energy services among the world’s poorest people and are the interventions to overcome these effective? CEE Review 11-004. Collaboration for Environmental Evidence: www.environmentalevidence.org/SR11004.html.

WHO/PHE. (2014) How low does HAP (PM2.5) need to be to achieve health benefits?
Recommendations of new WHO guidelines: paper delivered by Nigel Bruce at the DfID/ Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves/ WHO Clean Cooking Conference, London. Available from http:// r4d.dfid.gov.uk/pdf/outputs/GACC/Session2-1_Nigel-Bruce_WHO.pdf

Yee, A. Providing Cleaner Cookstoves online. New York, New York Times 9/30/10. Available
from http://earthequitynews.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/providing-cleaner-cookstoves.html

Pictures :

Picture 1: A variety of improved cookstoves displayed at Jamhuri Energy Centre, Nairobi, Kenya
UoN picture 1  .jpg

Picture 2: Duplicate ICS using poor quality metal cladding and painting clay to give it the ‘fired’
look sold in Jua Kali Market, Kisumu, West Kenya (Source: Charlotte Ray and Maria Beard,
Barriers Project)
UoN Picture 2 .jpg

Picture 3: High Quality ICS produced by Keyo Women’s group in Kisumu, West Kenya (Source:
Charlotte Ray and Maria Beard, Barriers Project)
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