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The development and marketing of Upesi stoves - a case study of successful women from West Kenya
Authors: Hellen N. Owala
Issue 47: Household energy and enterprise


In the late 1980s, ITDG identified a need to work with women potters in West Kenya to help them diversify the range of pottery products they were producing. In order to encourage women to produce stoves to meet the energy needs for their communities, some key problems that had
to be overcome were identified by ITDG:
  • It was felt among NGO partners that women were not able to use the paddle mould, which was being used for moulding the stove (Figure 1)
  • In some cases the women too did not believe that they could produce and market quality stoves, and their entrepreneurial skills were doubted
  • The women, including the female technical trainer, thought that they would not able to build the kiln needed to fire the stoves

Figure 1: Woman using a paddle mould

ITDG was convinced that the women could produce and market stoves, so went on to implement the project. The activities, involving women in West Kenya, have been undertaken in phases.

Key project activies

  • Training women potters on production and marketing of quality (Maendeleo) Upesi stoves.
  • Proving that it was possible to establish rural commercial networks for domestic stove dissemination.
  • Giving group organisation, business management and marketing training.
  • Commissioning kiln research to design an appropriate kiln for firing stoves (Figure 2).
  • Training women on product development, particularly on the principles of stove design.

Figure 2: The ‘Better Bonfire’ kiln


The project has mainly used the PEOPLE approach and the Group Led Action Plan (GLAP).

The PEOPLE approach

The key principles of the PEOPLE approach are to help people identify their needs and work out methods to meet those needs. The latter is mainly training, based on identified need.

The GLAP approach

Where there are poor group interrelationships or group organisational problems, GLAP is a useful way of ensuring that women receive adequate support. As a result, even when the group experiences organisational problems, they are able to resolve their conflicts. Box 1 provides an example of GLAP, when used by ITDG for the Webolela group.

Box 1 - An example of GLAP in actionIn 1999, the Webolela group almost stopped production due to group organizational problems. The group was then taken by ITDG to see othergroups who had group organizational problems and yet still earned their living from stoves. The Webolela group felt that they too could meet the challenge, and since April 2000 the group has become one of the largest producers and they are able to build market linkages for selling their stoves.


Negative attitudes

The lack of confidence of both local NGOs and the women themselves needed to be overcome.

Additional workload

  • Production and marketing are time consuming and this is even more for those who offer training. The women have learnt to employ other people.
  • Women would prefer to work at home, so among the 64 women undertaking production, only 19 are among the active market intermediaries

Project impact

  • In eight groups in West Kenya, 64 women currently produce high quality energy-saving stoves, using the paddle mould. They produce and market 4000–5000 Upesi stoves, 11 000–12 000 Kenya ceramic jikos (a commercialized charcoal-burning jiko) and 1500–2000 innovative designs of wood-burning stove. This gives each producer an additional income of up to Kshs10 000 per year which they can spend on their families (80KSh ~US1$).
  • In West Kenya, the producers have created and maintained linkages through which they market the stoves. They are linked to stove promoters; people who promote and market the stoves on their behalf at a profit (Figure 3)
  • The producers have mastered well the skills of stove production firing and marketing, and they are able to offer quality training to other people in response to requests which they or ITDG receive. In their communities, they have built their own extension networks to promote and market stoves. They, or the promoters, offer stove installation services and training on stove use and maintenance.
  • Some of the women have been able to develop their production skills and are innovative. They produce other stove models, which they are able to market. These stoves provide acceptable efficiency and savings.
  • Representatives of the producers have been trained in kiln building, and they are able to build the kiln for firing the stoves.
  • The income earned has been used by the women to meet their family needs. This has reduced dependency – as happened to Mary, one member of a local women’s group, whose quality of life has been improved, as described in Box 2.
  • Using stoves installation skills, the women, have developed a range of kitchen equipment and furniture; seats, beds, sofa sets, and lamp holders. Recent focus group discussions with the groups revealed that they experience stronger family relationships with the improved kitchens.
Figure 3: Stove promotors advertising Upesi stoves

Box 2: How Mary was able to provide for her familyMary was one of the poorest members of the women’s group when ITDG started working with them in 1992. She was always dependent on her husband to provide her with money. Most of the land they owned was under sugarcane cultivation, and though she would also labour in the fields, all the income went to her husband. He did not always use the money to provide for the family or to assist Mary to meet her immediate needs. She also spent time looking after the milk cow, but the husband took away all the income earned from the milk. But now that she is keenly involved in the stove work, Mary says she now does not have to ask. She was able to buy a bicycle for herself and her husband. Shehas been able to take her daughter to train in tailoring, and to pay all the fees. As a result, she is much happier with her current status.

Additional benefits of the Project

As well as the direct benefits, there are further, less obvious impacts to come from the project:
  • A package of skills which women share nationally and regionally.
  • Income-earning opportunities for other non-producers: collection and preparation of clay; those who are employed in promotion and marketing the stoves, training.
  • Increased self esteem - they have hosted national and international visitors; trained other potters locally and internationally; featured in international exhibitions; been ambassadors for ITDG.
  • Producers have acquired their own assets, such as the land and production equipment.
  • There have been improved gender relations in the families producing and using stoves.

Useful publications

  1. PEOPLE Approach; a guide to participatory household energy needs assessment: Vivienne Abbot, Caroline Ashley, Stephen Gitonga, Lydia Muchiri, May Sengendo, ITDG-EA, 1999
  2. Appropriate household energy Technology development; training manual by Lydia Muchiri and May Sengendo ITDG-EA1999
  3. How to make an Upesi Stove; guidelines for small businesses Vivienne Abbott, Clare Heyting, Rose Akinyi; ITDG-EA, 1995
  4. How to build use, and Maintain a Better Bonfire kiln by Moses Agumba and Vivienne Abbott, ITDG – EA 1996

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Last edited by Miriam Hansen .
Page last modified on Friday 13 of August, 2010 13:33:07 GMT. @HEDON: MMRB

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