"Badakshan in the Himalayas: In this remote high mountain region, the old traditionally built houses of the poorest people still have an open hole in the roof, allowing smoke from the central cooking fire to escape (top picture). The roof and walls are inevitably blackened with soot. As soon as the fire has died down, cold air, snow and rain once more seep into the room."

"Traditional large round flatbreads (naan) are baked in a two-foot deep clay oven, consuming enormous quantities of firewood and cow dung. The same oven is used for cooking by placing a large wok over the top. By installing a skylight over the roof hole (picture below), the heat generated from the cooking pit in the central room is retained, keeping the floor and room warm. During the long winters in such high altitude areas (2000 - 4000 m), family members usually live in the same room, preferably in the smallest, to economise firewood. "

"Once the meal has been cooked and the bread baked, the heated fire pit and remaining ashes and embers provide sufficient heat to warm kettles of water and everyone’s legs as well. The family spends many hours in this position to savour the remaining heat."

"The massive amount of firewood required to heat the fire pits to baking temperature contributes significantly to the alarming rate of deforestation, vegetation loss and desertification already going on since the war began several years ago. High population growth, combined with overgrazing by sheep and goats, further aggravates the situation. These issues have been recognised by a number of international development organisations."

"The general concept of energy conservation through thermal insulation is understood by a number of these organisations. Unfortunately, due to the demands of the beneficiaries, many organisations focus mainly on cooking equipment (whereby large firewood savings can be realised) rather than primarily on thermal insulation, starting with closing the roof hole. Saving of firewood through improved cooking stoves is necessary and, for families purchasing firewood, will provide income savings. However, in the higher altitudes of the Himalayas, if an efficient cooking stove is used in non-insulated houses, people will require additional room heating. In such a case, firewood savings will be less."

"Firewood saving, similar to other energy saving methods, needs to be achieved through three related measurements – The Energy Triangle: (1) Reducing energy needs; (2) Using renewable energy; and (3) Using the energy as efficiently as possible. For most poor people “energy” is the same as “biomass”. "

"The correlation between improved cooking stoves (ICS) and thermal insulation needs to be emphasized. An ICS such as the Rocket model emits little heat into the room and a chimney or hood is required to evacuate the smoke. People will not use such a stove for cooking during the winter because it does not provide sufficient room heating and consequently go back to using their traditional cooking equipment. With room insulation, the ICS can be used all year round, but cooking methods must be adjusted. One option is the use of pressure cookers. "

"When discussing alternative bread-making options, some people were resistant to the idea of abandoning the firewood-wasting floor ovens: “It is our traditional bread”. They argued that the fire- roasted bread had another taste. Resistance to change is common, but in larger towns, the large flatbreads already have competition from much smaller round breads. Several restaurants serve 20 cm diameter round breads and many say these are even tastier than the dry naan. For people preferring the traditional naan, village-based production in a central fire pit of improved design will substantially reduce overall biomass consumption; this, however, requires social organisation. "

"In conclusion, in cold mountain areas, to have an overall firewood saving, thermal insulation of the building takes precedence over improving space heating stoves or cooking stoves."

"Solutions of improved cooking stoves and methods often exist in the region, but are not widely known and not easily replicated by local craftsmen; information gathering and dissemination of the good solutions is necessary."

"Rich people are inclined to change their behaviour when it improves their comfort and economics. Poor people depend mainly on firewood scavenging and cannot invest even a small amount for an improvement that would be recoverable in one season due to lack of access to credit."

"Resistance to change is caused by lack of information and local demonstration."

''Author: Sjoerd Nienhuys,
Energy Advisor ''

Read the article in full here Cooking Stoves in Afghanistan Badakshan