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close this bookBoiling Point No. 29 - December 1992 (ITDG - ITDG, 1992, 40 p.)
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View the documentHousehold Energy Developments in Southern and Africa
View the documentCookstoves in East & Central Africa
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View the documentBurundi Institutional Peat Stove Programmes
View the documentWood, Charcoal or Coal for Cooking in Southern Africa
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View the documentA New Environmentally Sound Energy Strategy for the Development of Sub-Saharan Africa
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Cookstoves in East & Central Africa

Extracts from "Improved Cookstove Programmes in East and Central Africa"
by Piyansena Wickramagamage, Improved Biomass Cookstove Programmes, Country Studies No. 5 (East-West Centre, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, USA)

The Objectives of Improved Cookstove (ICS) Programmes

The primary objectives of most Cookstove programmes have been the conservation of fuelwood as a solution to the perceived scarcity of domestic fuels in developing countries and to halt deforestation. Deforestation has often been described as the direct cause of desertification in sub-Saharan Africa. But there are also other socioeconomic and health considerations that are intimately connected with woodfuel use (Table 1).

Table 1 - Main Objectives of Improved Cookstove Programmes

In rural areas, gathering of fuelwood is mostly the responsibility of women and children. Deforestation in some rural areas has diminished the supply from nearby sources and women must walk ever-increasing distances from their homes to collect firewood, which means spending more of their time for this task. In East Africa, many women must walk 5-10 km to collect firewood. Therefore, by increasing stove efficiency, it was hoped to reduce the amount of fuelwood required by the household for cooking family meals. Domestic health is not a prominent factor in African Cookstove programmes perhaps because most cooking is done outdoors and smoke is not perceived to be a serious household health hazard, although Kenyan and Tanzanian cookstove programmes also hoped to reduce domestic air pollution by improving the efficiency of the stove.

Woodfuel Saving and Halting Deforestation

The most important single objective of all the improved cookstove programmes has been to reduce the use of woodfuel without curtailing household cooking activity. It was hoped to achieve this objective mainly by improving the efficiency of the stove, which would require less fuel compared to the traditional stove to cook the same amount of food.

Unfortunately, only a few ICS projects have conducted field surveys to assess the effectiveness of the ICS in achieving the stated goals. Most projects have relied on the laboratory efficiency of the ICS. Two countries where such surveys have been carried out are Kenya and Rwanda, which provide a wealth of infortnation on various aspects of domestic fuel use and the performance of the ICS in the respective socio-economic contexts.

Although most field surveys indicate that the ICS saves fuel over the traditional stove, the quantum of these savings seem to vary tremendously. In Ethiopia, it is reported to be only about 8% (It power 1990), whereas in Kenya it varies from 10% to 50% depending on the frequency of use (Kapio 1983). Similarly, a figure of 36% is reported from Rwanda (ESMAP 1991). The variations in fuel savings appear to have been caused by a host of factors. Some of these identifiable factors are the frequency of use among other biomass stoves, size of household, whether or not the stove is replaced when it is no longer fuel efficient, and household income.

Evidence shows that ICSs could save fuel at the household level, but their impact on the national fuel consumption is negligible for most countries in the region because of the low rate of ICS use. The highest level of market penetration of the improved cookstove was achieved in Kenya (Table 2), particularly in Nairobi where 25% of the households have bought an improved charcoal stove (KCJ). A similarly high rate of market penetration has been reported from Rwanda (ESMAP 1991). An estimated 20,000 stoves had been disseminated by the end of 1990 in Kigali, which amounts to 20-25 % of the potential market. But no comparable achievements have been reported anywhere else in eastern and southern Africa; acceptance has not reached a level to make an appreciable impact on the overall national fuel consumption.

Table 2 - Number of Improved Stoves Disseminated




Sold by




















Urban woodfuel use appears to be far more environmentally damaging than rural use because, first, both wood and charcoal are obtained mostly by cutting down trees and, second, woodfuel production takes place in areas with an already depleted forest cover. Another contributory factor to this situation is the traditional method of charcoal production throughout Africa, which has been described as highly wasteful because it uses quantities of wood far in excess of that necessary to produce a unit of charcoal.

Because of the depleting forest cover around the urban centres, it is impossible to maintain the supply at a level sufficient to satisfy the growing demand. Most African countries are experiencing a rapid rate of urbanization, which is likely to increase the supply-demand gap if the present level of consumption continues. But the available evidence indicates that urban energy use is highly dynamic and readily adjustable to prevailing fuel prices and supply.

The urban lifestyle is such that, given the opportunity, the household is likely to switch to more convenient forms of domestic fuel such as kerosene, gas, and electricity. Such a shift is quite unlikely in the rural sector as long as biomass fuel is avilable at no cost.

Although woodfuel use may not be a major contributory factor to deforestation in general, reduction in consumption is all the more important for a number of reasons. First, deforestation would continue to take place, particularly in densely populated areas, with or without woodfuel use. That means the further depletion of the woodfuel resource base and therefore it demands more efficient use of what is rapidly becoming a scarce resource. Second, burning woodfuels in poorly ventilated kitchens poses a health risk to the women and children. In addition, there are other equally important concerns such as helping the poor to reduce their fuel bill and saving time spent on fuel gathering in rural areas. Arresting deforestation by reducing woodfuel consumption no longer appears to be a realistic objective except in a few cases, and therefore more attention should be paid to the other benefits of reducing woodfuel use.

Social Welfare

The majority of the low-income groups in urban Africa depend on biomass fuels as a source of domestic energy supply; they have little capability to switch to non-biomass fuels even when the fuel prices are comparable. The pattern of domestic fuel use according to income is illustrated by Table 3.

Table 3 - Percentage Domestic Fuel Consumption by Different Income Groups

A) Malawi

Fuel type

High Income

Mid Income

Low Income

















B) Kenya

















Source: O' Keefe kind Munslow (1989)

In most African countries, particularly in urban areas, people have to pay for both the fuel and the stove. Poorer classes of the population must spend a greater portion of their household income on fuel than the higher income categories, and one of the main objectives of the improved cookstove programmes has been to reduce the fuel bill of these people.

Increasing Income of Artisans

Increasing the income of local artisans is another objective in a majority of the cookstove programmes. It depends directly on the level of market penetration, which is still to be realised in most countries of the region. But it would be extremely difficult to maintain an even standard of quality, particularly in the fuel-efficiency aspects of the stove, when the production is handled by artisans. So, handing over production to artisans may jeopardize the main objectives of the improved cookstoves, particularly since implementation of quality control of the products is not an easy task in developing countries.

Pollution Control

Smoke is a household health hazard in traditional kitchens, and women and children are the most affected by this, particularly when cooking is done indoors. In most African homes, cooking is done outdoors and, therefore, this problem is not as acute as in other parts of the world. Reducing domestic pollution has not been an objective of cookstove projects, except in a few countries like Mozambique, Kenya, and Tanzania. However, reductions in the emission of hazardous gases and particulates are a benefit to the household whether it is intended or not.

Institutional Stoves

A sizeable portion of woodfuel use is attributed to institutional consumption and industrial uses. In Kenya, more than 5,000 institutions use firewood for cooking. The efficiency of traditional stoves in use is very low compared to those that have been improved, as demonstrated in Tanzania. A survey has revealed that to cook the same type of food a traditional institutional stove consumes 528kg of firewood, whereas the improved stove requires only 92 kg of wood (Mutaboyerwa 1990). If this can be achieved, a substantial amount of woodfuel would be saved.

A few improved cookstove programmes have developed and marketed improved institutional stoves as well. In Kenya, for example, there are two charcoal and seven woodburning institutional stoves on the market. It has been reported that production cannot meet the demand for institutional stoves in Burundi. This appears to be an area with tremendous potential because the improved stoves would be likely to make a perceptible difference even in the short run in terms of fuel savings.

Reasons for Failure

The majority of stove projects in the region have failed to get off the ground. This failure to disseminate a reasonable number of stoves, or even to create awareness among the population of the benefits of the new stove, is attributable to the following factors:

1. The improved stove failed to compete with the traditional stove with respect to a number of its functions. In rural areas the open fire is skill widely used for cooking and the improved stove is not capable of imitating the open fire in many important ways.

2. The cost of the improved stove is much higher than the traditional stove. In most African countries, commercially produced stoves are already in use particularly in urban areas. The new improved stove has to compete with the traditional charcoal stove, which is affordable to most low-income households.

3. Some stove projects were adversely affected by production related problems. Raw material scarcity is the main constraint to the rapid spread of stoves in Sudan. This factor should have been looked into during the design phase of the stove. Instances have been reported where quality control could not be maintained; as a result, stoves cracked prematurely and this would have had a negative impact on the marketing of the stove (in Somalia, Bennet 1988). Introduction of the Jigger-Jolley machine for working clay made it possible to use poor quality clay. However, this led to the production of inferior liners that cracked quickly.

4. Some projects paid little attention marketing. For example, the BRET stove project in Botswana failed to disseminate even its initial production during project-life, although the households who acquired the improved stoves were later found to be satisfied with its fuel efficiency (Bernet 1988). The project failed to set up a sustainable production and marketing network. Therefore, production stopped when the project ended. This would have a damaging effect on user-confidence in the stove.

5. Although the stoves projects, except perhaps a handful, had a modest budget, a sizeable proportion of that was spent on foreign experts and imported goods such as motor vehicles. Such expenditures should have been kept to a minimum. Hiring of local or regional experts, where possible, would have saved a considerable amount of money for the project.

Despite these failures there seems to be a glimmer of hope as better formulated new projects show some success. This tendency may even be partly from the general dynamics of the diffusion of innovations in a population that is mostly rural and illiterate. Households begin to respond positively to the innovation when they are convinced that it is beneficial to them.

Pointers to Success

The stove projects that have achieved high rates of dissemination are those that designed stoves to match the needs of the community. Sometimes these needs tend to overlap with the goals of the project, but very often they are different and need to be understood before designing energy-efficient stoves. They also vary from country to country: a stove successfully disseminated in one country may not win widespread acceptance in another.

Experience suggests that urban areas show the greatest potential for the success of a stove project, particularly where commercially built stoves are in use. This is because the use of the ICS brings direct financial benefits to the consumer, producer and trader. Where commercially produced stoves are not used at the moment, it would take a longer time to convince the household of the stove's benefits. The ICS in such situations has to compete with the user-built open fire, which most improved stove designs cannot imitate.

Although commercialization of the ICS industry may not have seriously hampered the dissemination rate of stoves among middle and high-income households, it appears to be the cause of the low rate of acceptance among the low-income households. Most households in this group are unable to make the initial investment in the stove, although it can reduce their fuel bill substantially if adopted. The situation is similar to that in which most low-income households buy small quantities of fuel and pay higher prices because they cannot afford to buy large quantities even though they are aware of the possible savings. It may be necessary for governments to intervene here and provide some form of subsidy or loan to these households. Not only do the households in this category depend on wood fuels. but they also form the majority of the population. They spend up to about 25% of their income on energy sources.

Both Kenyan and Rwandan programmes appear to have benefited from the existence of a traditional cookstove industry. Artisans are already familiar with the production process, and existing commercial channels of distribution can easily be converted to ICS if the producers and retailers can have a greater profit margin from them. Both these projects have demonstrated that the profit margin from the ICS is greater than that from the traditional stove.


One of the major reasons for the promotion of improved stoves in the region is to reduce deforestation and associated desertification. Production of woodfuel for the urban market appears to be more damaging to the forest cover than woodfuel use in rural areas. Rural households very rarely cut trees to obtain firewood for their use. Therefore, the current trend of concentrating more on urban areas seems logical from the viewpoint of protecting the forest cover. But it is hard to imagine that it would save the forest cover in any significant way because there are other more important causes of deforestation. However, the urban improved stove projects at least would conserve a diminishing resource and teach people to use it with more efficiency.

One area that has received much less attention, but which has shown considerable potential, is that of institutional stoves. The potential for fuel saving from these stoves is significant and, therefore, would help to cut down the fuel bill. Only in a few countries have institutional stoves been tried out, but the results suggest that considerable fuel savings are possible by improving the efficiency of these stoves.


IT Power (1990) Ethiopian Cooking Efficiency Programme (Energy 1): Analyses of Longitudinal and User Acceptability Survey Updates (Dec. 89-Feb 90), Unpublished Report.

Kapio, R. (1983) Development and Field Test of the Kenya Ceramic Stoves, Technical Report No. I, Kengo, Nairobi, Kenya.

ESMAP (1991)Rwanda: Commercialization of Improved Charcoal Stoves and Carbonization Techniques - Mid-Term Report, ESMAP Operations Div. Energy and Industry Dept., The World Bank, Washington, D.C.

Mutaboyerwa, S. (1990) Monitoring and Evaluating of Stove Projects {A paper presented at Evaluation Workshop held in Arusha, Tanzania on 23-27 July 1990).

Bennet, K. (1988) Report on the Improved Cookstove Projects in Developing Countries, Danida, Copenhagen, Denmark.

O'Keefe & Munslow (1989), Urban Fuelwood Challenges & Dilemmas "Energy Policy" July/Aug.