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close this bookBoiling Point No. 22 - August 1990 (ITDG - ITDG, 1990, 44 p.)
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View the documentGATE/GTZ NEWS
View the documentEDUCATION
View the documentNEWS
View the documentLetters to the Editor

Company House Kitchens

By Maria Nystrom - translated by Annette Jere - Lund Centre for Habitat Studies, Lund University, Box 118, S-221 LUND, Sweden

Swedish aid to the paper-mill project in Bai Bang, North Vietnam, is well known. Much less known is Sweden's involvement in the development of a whole new housing area near the factory for 10,000 residents.

By offering good housing, it was hoped to raise the living standards and attract more workers to Bai Bang. A family of four to six has a living space of about 35 square meters and a garden of 300 square meters. The residential area has been planned mainly by Vietnamese architects.

The Neglected Kitchen

During construction it occurred to the planners that the kitchens should be improved. The kitchen is traditionally separate from the house, in a little hut which is hot and smoky, and the walls are black with soot. Some families even keep their pigs in the kitchen. The stove is usually an open fire on the ground. Over the fire is a simple structure of reinforcing rods on which to place the pots. Young children often get too close to the fire or hot objects and burn themselves.

Fig 1

This is the way the new kitchen was being built, even though the rest of the house was larger and more modern than the traditional dwelling. But since the women worked full time at the paper-mill and then spent 70-90 hours a week on domestic tasks, it was important to improve the design of the kitchen and stove to make their work easier. As in most other countries, women have the main responsibility for household chores.

This was the starting point for the stove project that began in 1982. The project is being carried out by the School of Architecture and the Ministry of Construction in Hanoi in cooperation with the Lund Centre for Habitat Studies at the University of Lund. The first task was to choose an appropriate stove that would help improve the indoor conditions of the kitchen.

Bucket Stoves and Metal Stoves

There is research underway in many parts of the world to develop economical stoves. Since a large majority of the poorest people in the world cook over an open fire or on unimproved stoves, their cooking is an inefficient use of energy. The poor often have difficulty in getting firewood. Today in Bai Bang, families are completely dependent on scrap wood from the factory.

It was difficult to get the women to accept new stoves and use them correctly. There were cases where the open fire was replaced by an "improved" stove, but it consumed more wood than before. The stoves had a cleaning door, a damper and a chimney. To light the kitchen, the women cooked with the stove door open, which also caused the chimney to draw well, but tended to waste fuel. The traditional bucket stove has been improved in Thailand. Different versions of this portable ceramic stove are common in many countries in Asia. We showed the women in Bai Bang an improved Thai stove along with a similar looking metal stove that had been developed in the Netherlands. Many women who tested the stoves preferred the Thai model, since they thought the metal stove became too hot during cooking, and also because it was impossible to use small pots on it.

During the summer of 1986, we worked with potters at a brick factory near Bai Bang to produce a number of bucket stoves. (Fig 2) Several families have received the new stoves, and we keep in contact with the families to see how they use the stoves and what they think about them.

Fig 2

The Position of Women

Part of the project deals with the conditions in the kitchen. We built a model kitchen in the area to test our ideas before they were introduced on a larger scale. The kitchen or outhouse consists of two distinct parts. In one part cooking is done and there is also a little dining area. It was thought that the portable bucket stove should be complemented with a hood and a chimney to extract smoke and improve ventilation. In the other part there is a wood store, pigsty, toilet and washroom.

Sensitive questions were asked about whether women should stand or squat when cooking, (see BP14) and whether the kitchen should have a dining area. Traditionally cooking is done in a squatting position, and this was prefered by most of the older women. The younger women were very taken by the idea of standing to cook. One reason for this is that squatting can be seen as demonstrating an inferior position in the family.

The women wanted to have a kitchen that was so clean and pleasant that they could serve their husband's dinner there. A dining area in the kitchen would raise its status. However, eating in the kitchen is not traditional in this rural area.

There are many problems left to solve. Energy consumption is still high, partly because many women still cook on an open fire. It is also common to spend more time (and energy) preparing the food for the family pig than for the family itself. The fuel problem must be solved in a more economical way than at present with wood scrap being burned.

The stove project has helped focus attention on the kitchen. As a result a research project on stoves and kitchens has been included in the national housing programme for Vietnam, and is managed by the Vietnamese themselves.

We fool; forward to receiving the project report- Ed.