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close this bookBoiling Point No. 27 - April 1992 (ITDG - ITDG, 1992, 40 p.)
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Women in Stoves Programmes

by Sithembile L Nyoni, ZWRCN, P O Box 2192, Harare, Zimbabwe (former project officer at ZERO, responsible for "Women & Energy".

The Improved Stove Development Scenario

Stove programmes in third world countries were introduced as an intervention strategy to subvert the "woodfuel crisis", a side shoot of the energy crisis of the seventies. The stove programmes were based on a number of assumptions which included the following;

· rural domestic firewood consumption causes increased deforestation which in turn leads to ecological degradation;

· high rates of population growth accentuate the crisis;

· the 3 stone fire is inefficient;

· large scale and immediate introduction of energy efficient stoves would reduce the rate of deforestation and save developing countries from the impending domestic energy crisis;

· the technical characteristics of a stove are the determining factors in the overall system efficiency of a domestic kitchen.

However, the energy problem is an indication of a larger environmental problem and a facet of a larger crisis of poverty and underdevelopment. Therefore it should not be dealt with in isolation. Localised woodfuel shortages are normally a "contained problem" with coping strategies adopted by women Pressing issues like availability of water, food and money for school fees pre-occupy women more than energy problems. Admittedly the kitchen environment is traditionally the woman's domain in which she takes great pride, and will therefore invest time in decorating, but survival issues are of greater importance. Energy has a lower position on her scale of priorities and is a seldom felt need that women choose to address immediately. As a result energy has a lower position in her scale of priorities.

The rationale behind stove programmes assumes that both the food to be cooked and the wood to be conserved are available. The inability of the stove programmes to be part of integrated rural development (like primary health care, water and sanitation, nutrition), has resulted in the collapse of programmes. For example one would have expected some stove programmes to be associated with other programmes that are designed to teach women home management skills such as baking. But this has not happened, resulting in women being "plagued" by different organizations, each coming with a different product or programme, mud-slinging each other in the process. The women are left with a fragmented information base which they cannot use.

Notwithstanding the fact that the energy problem has been inaccurately defined, stove programmes have been implemented in Zimbabwe as part of a woodfuel conservation programme. Conservation as a concept needs more analysis than has been carried out by stove developers: conservation by whom, for what and at what cost? If the causes of deforestation were well understood, households would not be pressurised to conserve energy because they are not the culprits. No study is available to show what gains there would be if a community "adopted the conservation prescription" in relation to the rate of natural regeneration of the forest or the exploitation by urban commercial wood sellers. Does saving the forest justify the sacrifice of space heating in winter and the social gathering/story telling around the fire? Who determines that light and warmth should be traded for efficiency? Conservation with utilisation warrants consideration in future dissemination strategies for rural energy users. On the other hand more controls or penalties should be levelled against the worst offenders, who are not the rural women.

Scientifically there is a whole debate surrounding the "efficiency" of stoves. The most efficient stoves in the laboratory might not be so efficient when they are being used in an uncontrolled environment. When closely scrutinised there may be nothing intrinsically fuel saving in the improved stoves.

It is, however, important to note that the development of the stoves has been dominated by men at all stages even as far down as field demonstrations. Are women not innovative enough to design stoves that would solve their problems (if they have them) and are they incapable of promoting a good product that can surely benefit other women? Is it not yet another example of scientific experimentation for which the women provide a readily available field test? One wonders to what extent the male inventors and promoters use the technology after the laboratory experiments! If the designers were also the users many of the stoves available or being promoted would have been re-designed to suit the users' preferences and requirements. This throws light on the hidden agenda in the development programmes which represent other interests than those of the women they claim to serve. It is interesting to note that a call for one stove type to be re-designed to accommodate the women's preferences in Zimbabwe nearly ended in a law-suit, showing how obstinate designers can be when women tell them that their product is unacceptable.

Stoves have often been disseminated according to a mono-technology-push strategy. Because of the nature of the fuel, improved stoves are inflexible and are "one end use" devices. For example a high mass stove will maintain its space warming attribute come summer, or winter. Though the stove is good for simmering hard grains, it uses a lot of energy when one wants to boil a cup of tea. On the other hand electricity has a whole range of devices that are complementary and that are used to give the desired result efficiently at a given time ea. rice cooker, frying pan, microwave, water heater. Improved stoves are not disseminated as part of a range of household technologies that should be used to complement the open fire. For instance, a portable metal stove being disseminated in pert-urban areas could be disseminated as a stove to be taken to the field for preparation of meals during the work breaks and then the family could use the energy conserved during the day for the social fire in the evening.

Improved stoves are disseminated in a conscious effort to replace the open fire. The open fire has the following drawbacks: it is inconvenient to operate, poses a hazard to children and houses, gives poor quality light and seemingly is wasteful of woodfuel. On the other hand the open fire has the advantages of flexibility in terms of fuel types and pot sizes and numbers; it provides space heating, acts as a social focal point and can allow different types of cooking (simmering, fast frying, roasting, boiling); it provides smoke for preservation of food stuffs, seed and the building material of huts, gives light, is centrally positioned and ensures good ventilation of the fire; and is free.

The challenge for stove designers has been to maximise on the attributes of the open fire and improve on it, and still come out with a product that will please the user and meet the designer's requirement of efficiency. Improved stoves should aim at being efficient and environmentally friendly by offering the following benefits;

· save cooking time and effort
· use minimum fuel with maximum efficiency
· reduce smoke related health risks to users and child
· ensure safety to users and children
· eliminate fire-risks to house or roof
· no spillage risks
· eliminate atmospheric pollution - CO, CO2, nitrogen and sulphur oxides and harmful particles, local or global
· can be locally made.

A female cadre for stove development needs to be promoted. Such a cadre would redesign existing stoves to incorporate different user preferences. Women should have an input into the design, building and marketing of stoves. Women's organizations a potential role in stove programmes by incorporating them into their women's programmes

The low-cost fuel saving measures which women have devised as an aspect of coping strategies need to be promoted as part of environmental campaigns. Since women are able to economise to levels that are difficult to achieve with improved stoves, it is they who should be at the forefront of the environmental campaigns, not the technocrats. Women conserve fuel when they are conscious of the importance of doing so and when it is at an "acceptable cost". Women could exchange experiences and be influential in raising the awareness of other women who would benefit from similar survival strategies.

Women who would like to have a stove should be afforded the opportunity by making a wide range of stoves available to them from which they can choose, as well as adequate training on how to use them.

Stove programmes have had limited impact. The lesson that the user, that is the woman, is the key decisive factor in the success and sustainability of a stove programme can not be over-stated. Stoves programmes need to be evaluated in relation to the broad rural development context. It is clear that stove programmes in the past have been a miscalculated solution to a misunderstood problem and they have not improved the situation of women, the intended beneficiaries.. There is hope for future development if the lessons from the past are heeded.

The second part of this article, which deals specifically with the Zimbabwean stove programme, will appear in BP 29 - Stoves Programmes in Southern Africa.


Boiling Point, April 1990, No. 21, ITDG
Nyoni S. July /990 "Monitoring & Evaluation of Stove Programmes in Zimbabwe". A paper presented at the Monitoring & Evaluation of Stoves Project organized by GTZ, FWD and ITDC, Arusha.
Madhu Sarin. 1990 "Improved stoves, women and domestic energy the need for a holistic perspective. "Forests, Trees and People Newsletter No. 9 L 10, Sept 1990,
Prasad Krishna: May 1989: Woodstoves: lecture presented international course on Rural Energy planning and environment. University of Twente.
UNEP/Bellerive Foundation 1989 Vol 18. Energy Reports Series. Technology Market People the use and mis-use of fuel saving stove; a project case study.