Cover Image
close this book Boiling Point No. 03 - October 1982
View the document News from Shinfield
View the document New Nepali Chulo Extension in North India
View the document Mechanical Testing of Stove Ceramics
View the document Sexual Division of Labour in the Pottery Industry
View the document Biobriquets and Hybrid Stoves
View the document Sawdust Burning Cooker
View the document Village Studies in Sri Lanka
View the document Peace Corps Work in Upper Volta
View the document The Portable Magan Chula - a closer look

Village Studies in Sri Lanka

ITDG is working in Sri Lanka with the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement to introduce improved stoves into rural areas. The project is based in the Kandy district which is one of the hilly wet zones situated in the centre of the country. Earlier this year, a baseline survey was carried out in various of the project villages. Each village was selected to represent a village type. This was defined on the basis of the village's history, spatial location, ecology and rousing. The objective was to see if there were any consistent relationships between these easily determined factors and the probability of a strong latent demand for new stoves.

In this article we outline these four village factors and indicate their probable influence on household fuel supply and kitchen systems.


Possibly the simplest and most influential characteristic by which to differentiate between villages in the same area and from the same culture is its history. Traditional villages were established on sites for good ecological considerations, i.e. access to fertile fields, water, building materials and fuel. They have had time to accumulate, use, or re-invest wealth when it has been produced. Social organization will have developed with a degree of social and economic stratification. New villages, which are often called colonies, are usually inferior in all respects.

Traditional Villages

Traditional villages are usually in the lower hills and valleys and border on other villages. Most of the houses have a good homestead plot around their house. Population increase has reduced the size of homesteads and agricultural land so that they are insufficient to support the population, but they usually have better access to roads and facilities so they have more chance to gain non-agricultural employment. Casual labour jobs are usually easier to find than in the more isolated new villages. Outside resources are more readily available and above subsistence wages are more common. Social stratification is strong, but the importance of the village power structure is reduced, owing to the integration of the village into the whole district economy and political system. Access to fuel and other resources is quite variable, according to the land holdings and resources of the household.

New Villages

New villages were created in the last 50 years to meet the demand for more homestead and agricultural land. The land is usually of poor quality and both the homestead and the agricultural fields are not especially productive. Extra income from casual labour is often more difficult to get because of poorer access to places of employment. The fuel supply is less commercialised because there is less economic demand. The village has less social stratification and traditional power structure. Villagers are more responsive to outside help, but have less ability to organize among themselves.



Almost all of-the Kandy district is hilly, but how much ' end what type of agricultural land there is, the access to water, roads, and fuel sources varies greatly from village to village. From the point of view of fuelwood availability the most important parameters are the average land holding or population density and what fuel resources surround the village. m e spatial locations of the villages are classified as village on village, village on tea estate, or village on forest.

Village on Village

This type of arrangement is common in the lower hills. Agricultural fields interfringe the highland on which the homesteads are placed. It is difficult to see where one village stops and another starts. Villages have expanded and new villages or colonies have been created. The density is quite high and does not vary much from village to village of this type. This kind of village is probably the commonest type in Kandy district.

Fuelwood sources within the village and immediate vicinity are the homesteads and the small parcels of private forests and crown land. Fuel is brought in from local forest land by local vendors and from the rubber estates and the dry zone of Sri Lanka, by larger commercial operators in lorries. It is important to note that what may look like a forest from a distance is often a densely populated village, underneath a cover of tree crops. These tree crops form the homestead and cannot be cut down for fuel because they provide other benefits such as' fruit, spices, shade, cattle feed and fertilizers.

Village on Estate

At higher elevations many villages are bordered by tea estates. m e village usually occupies the hollows and the valleys, and the tea estates cover the hillsides. Population growth has reduced any buffer zones between villages and estates that might once have existed, so the villages often border right on to the estate. In some of the steeper parts, forests still exist but they occupy little of the total land. Per acre, tea estates produce less usable fuel than highland Homesteads, and the production is seasonal when pruning or replanting is being undertaken. The homestead, the clippings and roots from the tea estates, and wood from more distant forests, are the main sources of fuel. The amount of commercial wood brought by vehicle is less, due to the greater distance from the main roads. m e demand for commercial wood is also met by people who travel into the forest and sell wood by the head load.


Village on Forest

The village on forest location is usually fairly remote and on steep or high land. Most forest is owned by the government. The forest as a source of fuel can be a heavily degraded unpatrolled forest, a slightly degraded forest with no patrols, a closely guarded forest from which only dead wood can be removed, or a forest from which nothing can be taken. Degraded forests are the most common in Kandy district and offer sufficient amounts of wood for the scattered households. These are the least numerous type of village.



The closest source of fuel for people is the produce from their own homesteads. This includes dead coconut branches, coconut husks and shells, pruned branches from smaller trees, large branches cut off larger trees, cuttings from fences made of interwoven trees, and other burnable organic debris. At least an acre of well-developed homestead would De needed to supply most of the cooking needs of a family. Besides the size of the holdings, the maturity and quantity of the trees also determines how much fuel will be produced. The quality of the village homesteads may be rated as good, medium or poor. The poorer the quality of the homestead, the more fuel that must be obtained from elsewhere.


The homesteads are usually on rolling highland with reasonably good soil. Many types of trees are planted and are growing well. A substantial amount of usable biomass is produced throughout the year.


The homesteads are surrounded by some trees, but owing to poor soil, lack of water, or immaturity, they do not produce a cover and can only De considered a supplementary source of fuel.


The homesteads are on nearly barren ground, except for some ground plants. There are few, if any, trees planted. Usually this is because the homestead is quite new.



In Sri Lanka housing is the most consistent indicator of wealth. A rich household will usually have a cement floor, brick walls, and a permanent roof, whereas a poor household will only have a mud floor, mud walls, and a thatched roof. Model houses built in government housing schemes are made of cement, brick and asbestos roofs, but are often smaller than mud houses and are not as high quality housing as owner-chosen cement/brick houses. Since they are given to poor people for a small monthly rent they are not a true measure of wealth. However, they are important in terms of new values to make a cleaner more 'modern' kitchen. Villages where the houses were built by the owners and not the government, will have a range of house types according to wealth.

Big Houses

me village has many large houses often with cement floors and permanent walls and roofs. The large houses may also be mud with tile roofs. Since most landowners are deficit farmers, large houses can signify outside sources of income (non-agricultural) and greater commercialisation of inputs ' such as food, fuel and building materials. If the wealth is based on agricultural production it also means there will be extra money to purchase other luxuries.

Small Mud

A majority of the houses are small mud houses with cadjan roofs. Sufficient agricultural resources are not available so casual labour is the main source of income. Food is often bought out of necessity for much of the year, but fuel and building materials are usually collected by the householders.

Small Brick

These houses have been built in government housing schemes, based on very small designs. The house and a quarter acre of homestead, or less, were given to poor people. No room was given for a kitchen, so most people have built on an extra room or patio. When they have the money there is a strong interest in an improved kitchen and improved stove. Rented houses in trading towns are similar to government housing in that they are small, but made of brick or cement.

In the next edition of 'Boiling Point' we will continue our report with a case study of a Kandyan village and an overall look at the implications for Extension of new stoves in Sri Lanka.

Yvonne Shanahan

Bill Stewart