| Boiling Point No. 30 - April 1993 |
by Ms Kiran Moghe, Maharashtra Energy Development Agency, Mahatma Phule Museum Complex, 1203 Ghole Road, Shivajnagar, Pune 411004, India
With the exception of the Chinese stove programme, the Indian NPIC is the largest stove programme in the world.
The National Programme on Improved Chulhas (NPIC) was started in 1983/4 to introduce the concept of the improved chulha and to promote its use amongst rural households. It aims to do this through demonstration and by making it available to interested beneficiaries at a price that is much lower than its cost of production or market value. This methodology of implementation has many consequences for the programme.
The DNES sets itself a target for the maximum number of such models that it will introduce into rural households in a given year. For example, the target for 1991-92 was 2 million. Target distribution to states is on the criteria of giving priority to fuel scarce, hilly and generally economically backward areas, populated by socio economically weaker sections such as tribals.
The improved chulha is disseminated through trained local self employed workers. The subsidy in previous years has been as high as 90% and the corresponding beneficiary share ranged from Rs 5 to Rs 15 depending upon the model propagated.
There has been considerable debate in the country on whether or not development programmes should be implemented through voluntary organizations and the IC programmes' is no exception. Execution through the government machinery has certain advantages as well as limitations. The advantage is that the sheer reach/spread of the local government organizational network of the development administration by far surpasses the efforts of any non-governmental organization that could possibly implement the programme.
The disadvantage is of a more deep rooted, cultural nature and has to do with a lack of sympathy and sensitivity to an issue that is seen primarily as a 'woman's problem'. Since women are usually occupied in household, unorganized production and contribute to family labour, a day lost in walking miles to collect fuelwood is not valued. Their labour is perceived to be "free" and hence not of economic importance. This socio-cultural attitude contributes heavily to giving the NPIC lower status in their eyes. Furthermore, of the extension network the male bias means that even though the users are women, any information disseminated by the extension officers is usually to the male head of the household.
The economic value of the programme in terms of budgetary allocation is marginal compared to other programmes (for example, poverty alleviation or irrigation. It is interesting that some annual reports and budgets of ZPs do not even mention the programme. This lack of awareness has led to an appproach that is target and number oriented. Targets received from the Government of India are 'mechanically' distributed by the Rural Development Department to the ZPs. There has been no effort to identify areas within a block where chulhas can be installed so as to provide an effective demonstration centre. As a result, the programme is "scattered" across various villages.
As previously mentioned, the NPIC is conceived as a demonstration programme with the objective of introducing improved, fuel efficient chulhas particularly in rural areas. What is not perhaps clear to the implementing machinery is that it is impossible to replace all traditional chulhas with efficient improved versions on the basis of the current subsidized programme. Think of the sheer size of the programme, if one were to replace 13 crore ( 1 crore = 100,000chulhas. It would require the present budgetary allocation for the improved chulha programme to be increased a hundred fold!
The net result of such a large, bureaucratic and badly executed programme is of no lasting value. This is reflected in the findings of a number of surveys conducted to evaluate the programme, which report that on an average, 50-60% installed chulhas are in use.
The crucial question that goes abegging is, why is it a failure? Is it a matter of inappropriate technology or inefficient apathetic implementation?
Alternative Strategy - Demonstration Plus Commercialization
An obvious solution is to make efforts towards commercializing improved chulha production on a mass scale whereby a variety of models are available at an affordable market price. The focus of this strategy should be to use the subsidized element of the programme to create demonstration centres that will highlight the advantages of the improved models and then make available these models at the market price to interested beneficiaries. This will not only help to overcome the problems of budgetary constraints, but in the long run make the programme more sustainable. It will also be a step forward in making inroads into the 'subsidy culture' which has resulted in many good rural development programmes being wrongly perceived by opportunistic beneficiaries as schemes for distributing precious public funds.
The concept of commercialization is not new and has already found root in the portable chulha sector. Over 60 approved manufacturers are supplying portable chulhas to various implementing agencies. While they may be concentrated in a few states (ea. Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, etc) it would not be difficult to encourage further entrepreneurship in this sector as portable chulhas get more and more popular. Standardization of design and material, relative ease in procurement of raw material and transportation and durability are the key factors behind the successful commercialization of portable chulhas.
The real crux of the matter is commercialization of fixed clay chulhas. This is necessary for two major reasons. Firstly, rural households and particularly those below the poverty line will not be able to afford portable steel chulhas, particularly at a market price, which is around Rs 130 at present (and bound to go up as prices of steel, freight etc. increase).
Secondly, while the portable metal chulha is no doubt an excellent model in terms of higher efficiency and durability, it does not take account of the strong cultural preferences for clay chulhas, single and double pot.
What then is the possible strategy for commercializing fixed chulhas production? An obvious answer would be to do it through the trained self employed workers (SEW). In Maharashtra, an excellently designed mould developed by the TBSP - Technical Back-up Service Unit - has perhaps been the first step in the commercialization process, because it enables faster and standardized production of the chulha. However, even with a mould, 'in situ' installation of chulhas through SEWs is fraught with a number of problems, such as scale, quality and sustainability:
Commercialization through 'Potters
A viable alternative strategy that could yield the desired results is through the local potter community. A very brief and quick survey (mainly through verbal interviews) in Maharashtra reveals that in many parts of the state, there is a practice of the household buying the traditional chulha made by potters. EDA is trying to build on this traditional market to commercialize fixed chulhas production by:
1. Transfer of technology whereby the potters are made aware of the science of improved chulhas, their designs, technologies of production and advantages.
2. Provision of financial assistance to set up their unit (since improved chulhas require certain items such as grates, pipes, etc. that will need to be purchased requiring some investment).
3. Provision of marketing assistance in the form of simple publicity literature that can be used by the potters for propagating the improved chulhas.
4. Some assured market at the beginning of the production cycle till it becomes a self sustaining effort.
With their inherent knowledge of the basic raw material, viz clay and its properties, potters are far easier to train in improved chulha production. Moreover, being in the business, they will easily be able to adopt technology to suit local requirements and make their own contribution in further improving the technology.
Since they have already been marketing chulhas, they are likely to be better agents of change, with their grass root level access to the household, rather than the official government machinery, which in any case has a limited reach.
The potters themselves needed to be fully convinced about the advantages of the improved chulha and the need to commercialize its production, to be effective agents of change. Any shortcomings on this point would deeply affect the future of the programme.
Finally there is the larger issue of placing the programme in the wider socio-economic context. While we may be convinced as policy makers about the need to commercialize the improved chulha programme and sell it at a market price, it is the harsher realities of poverty stricken households that confront us. There is a very strong argument for continuing a subsidized programme, and that is the abysmally low levels of rural incomes. Can a poor tribal family that can barely fill its stomach afford our improved model which may cost a week's wages? The economics of 'payback' and environmental considerations are perhaps of no consequence to a person whose primary needs are work, food, and shelter. As long as the little food that she/he can manage to scrape together can be cooked, it does not matter whether the chulha is improved or otherwise. .