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close this bookBoiling Point No. 33 - May 1994 Number 33 (ITDG - ITDG, 1994, 36 p.)
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What makes people cook with improved stoves?

by K. Openshaw

The poorer half of the world's people rely on woodfuels for most of their energy needs, despite the myriad problems associated with the traditional use of woodfuels - including energy inefficiency, deforestation, increasing use of time for collection of fuel, and harmful local and global health and environmental effects.

Modern, efficient biomass stoves can deal with some of these problems by reducing some householders' spending on fuel, diminishing the time others must spend to collect fuel, reducing air pollution, and relieving local pressure on wood resources.

Improved cookstoves could provide a simple but crucial bridge for the millions of people who cannot obtain or afford modern fuels, but who do have access to low-cost, readily available biomass. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, despite the manifest benefits of improved stoves and a recent spate of 'dissemination' programmes, many developing-country households have failed to adopt them.

Roots of rejection

The failure of the improved stoves to catch on as expected has been the subject of an ESMAP (UNDP/World Bank Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme) research project. The study found that the planners of early stove programmes assumed that people would adopt the improved models quickly and that a self-sustaining growth in their use would ensue. This did not happen. First, planners uncritically believed that the levels of efficiency and convenience achieved in the laboratory would translate directly into the household setting. In addition, some programmes were targeted at regions where people did not use woodfuel heavily enough. Third, the price of the stoves often inhibited adoption. Last, donors often gave short-term bursts of funding rather than the sustained assistance the programmes really needed.

Directions for success

How can adoption rates be improved? A stove programme in urban Rwanda, where adoption has been high, may provide some clues. The Rwandan success came, in part, because householders there pay relatively high prices for charcoal; stoves are thus comparatively affordable, paying for themselves in fuel-savings in less than a month. Moreover, the locally made stoves are readily available in markets and department stores. Perhaps most important, householders like the stoves' fuel economy, durability, ease of use, and cleanliness.

With ESMAP support, improved stove programmes can help to bridge the gap between the three-stone fire and a 'modem' cooker.

The success in Rwanda and in similar programmes in other countries reviewed for the ESMAP study, provides some useful lessons. The overall conclusion is that under the right conditions the social, economic, and environmental benefits of promoting improved stoves are great. In addition, successes to date demonstrate convincingly the usefulness and economic value of well-managed programmes. The research also confirms the accepted wisdom: that programmes are most successful in areas where people pay high prices for fuel or walk long distances to collect fuelwood or other biomass materials, and that subsidies may aid in the distribution of stoves but may not result in actual stove use. Furthermore, external support from donors and international organizations can be effective, especially if focused on standards, testing, or consumer surveys. Ultimately, however, programmes are most effective when they allow for interaction and feedback between stove designers, producers, and users.

Related issues

Related issues treated in the study included the effects of dissemination of improved stoves on energy-consumption patterns, the specific benefits of improved stoves for women and children, the contribution of the stoves to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, and their financial benefits for householders. Project case studies included a review of stove projects in Sri Lanka; a report on the history, objectives, structure, and achievements of the Improved Chulhas Programme in India; and a description of the factors leading to the success of the Chinese National Improved Stove Programme, along with the growing dilemma of China's Rural Biomass Stove Programme. The results of the present study, including the above case studies, will be available as an ESMAP report.

Editor's Note

The experience of ITDG's Stove and Household Energy (SHE) Programme over the last 15 years supports the author's view that sustained assistance to established programmes would be much more effective than short bursts of funding, and that 'external support from donor and international organizations can be successful, especially if focused on standards, testing or consumer surveys'. ESMAP could and should use its influence to achieve this.

This article is reproduced with permission from The ESMAP Connection, September 1993. The ESMAP Connection is the newsletter of the joint UNDP/World Bank, Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme, Washington.