| Boiling Point No. 17 - December 1988 |
by Keith Bennett
Zimbabwe is full of contrast. Spectacular mountain scenery, rich farming land, arid and fragile areas threatened with desertification, and strange granite rocky outcrops called kopjes, which stand formidably above the surrounding plains, all contribute to the beauty of this country. Rural areas can be broadly categorized as either communal farming lands or predominantly white owned commercial farms. Serious deforestation and soil erosion is now affecting large parts of the communal lands. The pattern is a familiar one. Increasing population density has resulted in the conversion of woodland to arable land. The stock of wood from clearances is consumed and then fuelwood and construction materials are obtained from the severely reduced remaining forests on kopjes, along water courses and through raiding the extensive grazing areas owned by the commercial farmers. Natural regeneration of remaining woodlands in the densely populated communal lands is ceasing and complete deforestation then proceeds rapidly, often accelerated by overgrazing. Use of animal dung for cooking fuel is on the increase in many areas. Against this rather dismal picture it is interesting to note that the annual requirement for woodfuels in Zimbabwe is substantially less than the accumulated increment of growth on the surviving accessible woodlands. In other words, supply and demand are theoretically in balance, the problem being one of ownership and distribution rather than absolute shortages. In many almost treeless communal areas, there are, at not too great a distance, areas of indigenous forest on commercial farms. Low income farmers are clearly unable to purchase their woodfuel from commercial farms and the commercial farmers themselves are understandably unwilling to manage and exploit these woodlands simply in order to give the fuel away. In the absence of political intervention the problem would seem to be intractible.
Improved stove programmes have developed in a diverse manner. Many organisations and individuals are active in the field, promoting an equally great number of designs and approaches to improved stove dissemination and the problem of woodfuel availability. In August 1988, Zero, a network of experts and NGO's working in the field of energy and development in Zimbabwe and the Southern African Development Corporation Conference region, commissioned an evaluation of the various programmes with some assistance from ITDG. The following developments are based on the findings of that work.
The metal grate has replaced the three stones cooking fire in over 50% of households in Zimbabwe because it offers fast, multipot cooking, more attractive hearth and better space heating, which is important in a country where much of the land is over 1000 metres (around 12% of woodfuel is used for space heating according to the Department of Energy). These improvements were however at the expense of fuel economy, at a time when wood was still abundant. The situation is now changing dramatically and people are seeking the ways and means of conserving fuel.
In 1983, a group of eight rural women came together at the Hlekweni training centre, having been invited to design and build their ideal, low cost rural kitchen. This comprised a mudstove with three potholes, a clay hot water tank, a mud work bench, a sink made from mud and cement with an overflow which irrigates the garden, and a water storage jar. Underneath the unit were hollowed out cavities with shelves for pots and space for firewood. The aim of the design was to make women's work in the kitchen easier by having all the necessary items close at hand ie pots, plates, water and wood; to have a fast cooking fire that uses less wood and can cook many pots at the same time; to ensure a good supply of cold clean water; to reduce accidents to children from fire and falling pots; to remove smoke from the kitchen; to encourage men to cook; and to have a more comfortable cooking place ie not having to bend or kneel at the traditional fire after a long day working in the field or elsewhere. The stove unit was designed with one fire box under all the pots and a mud chimney that rises for around one metre before venting through the wall.
Through the ORAP programme, around 150 of these ideal kitchens have been built by the women and their friends. Not all the objectives of the women have been met, particularly that of reducing fuel consumption and encouraging men to cook. However, these women appear to accept an only moderately efficient stove along with all the other advantages. Presumably they are prepared to expand more effort in obtaining fuel to enable the use of a stove which represents a very great improvement in the kitchen. Indeed, women who prefer to use an improved stove for cooking, but also light a central fire in the kitchen for warmth, are clearly aware that they are using more wood than if they were using the open fire for both cooking and heating.
A very important aspect of this programme is the way in which the stoves are repaired and maintained and are repatched with mud and polished to a black sheen at approximately three monthly intervals and the women reckon never to have to rebuild the stove. Chimneys are brushed out every two weeks. Closely involving women appears to have had important benefits in terms of longer term maintenance and continued use of the improved stoves and ORAP's efforts are an example of what can be done to maximise benefits other than fuel economy.
A rather different stove initiative has been taken by the internationally financed Triangle (Pvt) Ltd company in conjuntion with Hollow Core (Pvt) Ltd. The Triangle company manufactures sugar and ethanol, grows cotton and has large cattle ranches. It employs around 6,000 people and the population of the company town is about 45,000. All accommodation is on company land, with the central areas and senior staff houses supplied with electricity and the other sections (some up to 35km away from the central factory) supplied with wood by tractors operated by the company. In an effort to reduce wood cutting in the surrounding area and make a substantial saving in operating costs associated with the use of the tractors and labour for wood cutting, the company is experimenting with the use of hollow core stoves which burn the readily available cotton waste and surplus bagasse from the sugar factory.
Triangle have purchased 700 hollow core cookers which have been given to families in one particular area of the labour compound. The stove is based on a simple and widely used technology that enables the burning of particulate biomass material. In Zimbabwe, the Hollow Core company were inspired by stable attendants who traditionally packed wood shavings into tin cans and used the device for heating and cooking. Hollow Core have taken things a number of stages further. Three models are available, all very robust, supplied with tools to enable easy starting, a solid steel core and a compactor for packing in the fuel. The cheapest model is available for ZM$ 225 (US$ 125). Clearly not the stove for an average Zimbabwean-at such a high price. The sales are targeted at companies with excess residue, who will make the stove available as part of the 'fixtures and fittings' in their company houses. Having sold 700 to Triangle, the Hollow Core company are now hoping for a follow up order of 7,000 stoves if the company decide to go ahead with full scale substitution of residue. The company have even taken out patents on the design in Zimbabwe, Australia, Phillipines, India and Mauritius and hope to licence manufacture in these countries. They are aware of the problems related to the protection of such patents, but appear undeterred.
And what of the lucky families who now have a Hollow Core cooker and access to a pile of cotton waste or bagasse, are they happy with their new stoves? Unfortunately not, the stove has been met with an overwhelming negative reaction from users. People found the stove difficult to light, especially when the fuel was wet, and found it impossible to store the bulky waste in the small houses provided by the company. Many users felt that the smoke especially from cotton waste, led directly to ill health (greater incidence of 'flu and chest pains). The smoke was seen to be thick and oily and indeed, the cotton crop is sprayed with a number of toxic chemical treatments which may react on combustion to produce dangerous emissions. Another serious drawback of the stoves is the damage caused to pots and clothes. The heat is so intense that holes are literally burned in pots.
Flying live ash was also seen as a problem in that holes would regularly appear in the clothes of those who stood near to stoves. Most respondents were of the view that it would be cheaper to pay for wood than to pay for new pots and clothes. Complaints of poor food quality were also registered, taste being affected, through contact with the smoke and intense heat of the cooking fire. Women also claimed that it was necessary to remove children from the immediate vicinity for fear of burns from rapidly heated traditional porridge - sadza. The general response of those in the stove areas was that they were very unlucky to have been singled out and that it was as if they had particularly offended the administration and were being punished!
Many families are using the stove through necessity, supplementing with illicit wood collections whenever possible (and facing ZM$ 2() fines when caught). The company acknowledge that there have been some problems with the acceptability of the stove but do not seem to be fully aware of the detrimental effect on labour relations that the policy may be having. The company have seriously jeopardised the scope for future cooperation on these woodfuel issues, through their rather insensitive approach, but could, if they are interested, try the introduction of efficient portable woodstoves, contract Hollow Core to produce a more acceptable waste burning stove (ie lower heat output, more controllable stove, smaller), investigate the possibility of extending electrification, investigate the possibility of briquetting waste for use as a supplement to wood and sell wood rather than giving it free to the workforce.
Part 2 of this article in BP 18 will focus on the work of the Department of Energy, the Development Technology Centre, the Lutheran World Federation, GTZ and other stove promoters in Zimbabwe .