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close this book Boiling Point No. 02 - May 1982
View the document Editorial
View the document News from Shinfield
View the document Stove Programmes in Kenya
View the document Fuelwood and Stoves in Zimbabwe
View the document Strengthening Clay by Traditional Methods
View the document Study of the Thai Charcoal Stove
View the document Firewood Consumption Survey in Sri Lanka

Fuelwood and Stoves in Zimbabwe

An energy shortage is widely perceived to exist in the non-industrialized countries especially relating to cooking activities, and is expected to become more acute. In addition, traditional cooking stoves used in such countries are said to be very inefficient. In view of this, a trip was undertaken to Zimbabwe (October 1981 January (1982) for an assessment of the actual situation in the field regarding rural domestic energy and related issues, e.g. fuel collection and use, and modes of cooking.

Direct measurement of the daily firewood consumption and a questionnaire survey, covering perceptions of tasks, agricultural activity, seasonal variations in fuel use and consumption were undertaken in two study villages. One village experienced a slight and the other a moderate fuel problem. A questionnaire survey was conducted in a village in a third study area where there was an acute firewood- shortage. The results of the questionnaire survey are presented here.

It was found that there were seasonal variations. in the consumption and collection of fuel; an increase in consumption was reported during winter and in some cases immediately after harvesting, whilst generally firewood was not collected during the rainy sason. Firewood was said not to be collected during the rains because once wood got wet it became very heavy and hence difficult to carry, as well as being virtually impossible to burn. Hence the practice was to aim to collect sufficient firewood during dry season such that the supply would last through to the end of the rains. The wood would be stored outside in a pile close to the cooking hut.

Mealie cobs were generally used as a fuel supplement during August and September. Of the three villages visited, it was only in the fuel-scarce area that animal manure was used as a cooking fuel, as well as being used as a fertilizer; manure could only be collected during the dry season, since the rains would wash it away. However, manure from the cattle kraal (the enclosure where the cattle were kept) was used as a fertilizer, and only manure found outside these kraals was used as cooking fuel.

A shift from the traditional 3-stones fireplace for cooking to either 4-stones, or a commercial iron frame stove was observed. The vast majority used the iron frame which is produced by urban based artisans. According to the villagers themselves, the iron frame used 1.5 to 3 times as much fuel as the traditional 3-stone fireplace. The primary reason given for the adoption of this "stove" was that it enabled the users to heat several pots simultaneously. In this respect more than one pot was reported to be heated simultaneously during the months October through to April (the rainy season) whilst pots were heated sequentially during the other months. This appeared to be linked to the variation in agricultural labour demand over the year. The months October through to April were regarded as being the busiest months owing to agricultural tasks e.g. ploughing, planting, weeding, and harvesting. Hence the time available for activities such as cooking would be less than during the other months.

Other perceived benefits included the production of less smoke, more space heat, faster cooking, stabler pots, and a "modern" image. Users of this new technology were prepared to sacrifice fuel economy and bear the extra labour cost (which was high in areas of fuelwood scarcity) for these benefits. This was possible because fuel was collected in the slack agricultural season whilst fast cooking was required during peak labour demand.

The 4-stone fireplace was user built and consisted of 4 mounds of clay (soil), linked by 4 metal bars in the shape of a square. Two additional metal bars formed the diagonal supports. Similar benefits were perceived by users of both 3-stones and iron frame stoves. However, the 4-stone fireplace had to be repaired periodically e.g. about every 6 months, owing to cracks developing in the clay mounds causing them to break up. Fuel consumption was said to be about 1.5 time' that of the 3-stones fireplace.


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One possible reason for the widespread adoption of the new modes of cooking may be due to the increase in the work burden of rural women. However, the workload of rural women is multifaceted and connected (certainly in this case) also to issues such as male migrant labour, the degree of contact of women farmers with agricultural extension workers, the introduction of cash cropping and the provision of formal education facilities for children, and not just fuel collection.

Fuel efficiency is therefore not the main determinant of choice of cooking method in Zimbabwe and stove programmes are unlikely to succeed unless they take into account factors such as those mentioned above.

Jaz Gill, Open University


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