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close this book Boiling Point No. 32 - January 1994
View the document Back to Basics in the Kitchen
View the document Fuel Saving with Three Stones
View the document Household Energy - Problems, Policies and Prospects
View the document The Twin-House Tests
View the document Biogas in Rural Nigeria
View the document Cooking Energy and Fuel in Dar es Salaam
View the document Invisible Household Energy
View the document Messages from the Hearth
View the document Solar Villages
View the document Save Fuel with a 'Fireless Cooker'
View the document Rural Electrification in Tanzania
View the document Heat-storage Cookers in Nepal
View the document The Fuelwood Issue Restated
View the document Kerosene Stoves in Ethiopia
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Messages from the Hearth

by Hellen Owala, SHE Project Manager, ITDO, West Kenya.

There are bound to be many differences between home economists' work in Kenya and in other countries. Some things are, however, the same: rural women have a hard life, too many responsibilities, few earning opportunities, and little time, energy or resources for learning new ways. outsiders cannot simply barge in and tell them what to do. Rural women would not actually say 'Why should we listen to you?', but they may think it...

The springboard process

In the last few years, Home Economics Officers (HEOs) in many districts of Kenya have been introducing improved stoves to the women's groups with which they work. The stove is called the Maendeleo, or Upesi; it is a clay liner that is installed in mud in the kitchen. The HEO demonstrates how to install it after the women have collected clay, murram, water and stoves for the installation. After a few days, the mud is dry, and the cook can start using her new stove. Then she finds out for herself that she can use about one third less fuelwood, and can cook the food more quickly than with a three-stone fire.

The Home Economics Officers do not just collect orders for the stoves. They discuss the stove, its benefits, and how to use and maintain it. If the women are positive about the new stove, this is a good time to mention other ideas - the springboard process:

'When I talk about clearing the ash and smearing the stove with fresh mud, I also discuss other ways to keep the kitchen cleaner.'

'If the women mention that the stove produces less smoke, I tell them that there are other things they can do to reduce the smoke, like drying wood on a rack above the stove, using different fuels, or increasing ventilation.'

'When they talk about fuel savings, we discuss the health benefits of cooking maize and beans, boiling water, or heating water for bathing.'

A few months after the first installation, most group members will have a stove. After that, HEOs find it easier to introduce other technologies, such as dish racks and hay boxes. There are discussions about what to cook on the stove, and how to grow the food in kitchen gardens; how to get secure supplies of fuel, and the role of wood lots.

Puso Women's Group: springing into action

Puso Women's Group was established in the Oyugis Division of Nyanza Province in 1980. Over the next ten years, home economists taught them about crop production, nutrition, sanitation and tree planting. Following the introduction of the Upesi stove in 1990, however, they became more actively involved with the HEO, and incorporated many of her suggestions into their normal kitchen routines. Of 22 women interviewed in 1993, 20 had installed new stoves. Nine women regularly smeared their stoves and the kitchen walls with mud before using an Upesi but now 21 do so; only two cooked maize and beans two to three times a week before the introduction of the stove, but 21 do so now. Twenty-one women have got involved in tree planting for firewood since the introduction of the stove - none were involved before; the number of members who have kitchen gardens has risen from six to 19; and the number boiling drinking water rose from four before the stove installation to nine after.

The Puso women have no doubts about the health benefits of the stove. They say that by frequently smearing their kitchens, they have hardly any problem with jiggers, or cobwebs and soot on the wall and, with less ash heaped in the kitchen, they cough less.

But the group members expect more from the HEO! One issue that they mentioned, although the HEO did not, was the incidence of accidents in the home. They said that with the stove, their children rarely get burned and they themselves hardly burn their fingers on the stones (I did not believe this, because I thought they would still get burns from the suffrias and pots, but they showed me their fingers and they were not burned). As a result, however, they feel the need to be shown how to avoid other accidents in the home.

The women explained how their attitude to HEOs had changed. Before, they never found it easy to discuss issues such as family planning. If HEOs raised the subject, they would think to themselves 'What do you want to do with my children?', 'Are you the one who takes care of my children', or would not participate at all in the conversation. They also found it hard to allow HEOs into their kitchens. Since the introduction of the stove in 1990, however, the HEOs are regular kitchen visitors, and women feel free to discuss with them the number of children they have because 'they are now our friends and we have learned they are full of good ideas to share with us'.

Kinda Women's Group: clean, boiled water

In Rongo Division, a member of Kinda Women's Group was the mother of one of the extension workers. When the daughter built her a stove, she started boiling water and has been doing this for the last three years. Of course, most extension workers are talking to strangers, not their mothers, so they cannot talk easily about family matters. But the stove kindles women's interest in other energy-saving techniques, and helps them to form 'wise women's groups'.


It is not only home economists, but extension workers in other fields who use the stove as a springboard.

In one area of Kenya, the district nutritionist and district HEO work together to tackle the issue of child nutrition. The community recognized that fuel scarcity affected what, and how much, food mothers cook. So they arranged for improved stoves to be sold at the health centres and trained local installers. According to the extension workers, Winifred Murithi and Rosemary Ngaruro, the stove is being used as 'a base to improve the health of mothers. It has created a demand among women for other health-related technologies, and other growth promotion activities; for example, they now want an oil press to increase the amount of sunflower oil in their diet'.


Charles Okinyo and Alex Odalo are foresters, working in Nyanza province to encourage communities and schools to plant, tend, and harvest trees, and to conserve soil. The Upesi complements their work because it saves fuel; but introducing the stove also makes their forestry work easier because tree planting is no longer seen only as men's business. Stove activities raise awareness that trees are valued for meeting fuelwood needs, and that women are, therefore, the main users of trees. As a result, women have started participating in tree planting, and tree production has risen.

Some of the experiences related above may not be relevant to fieldwork in other countries: in some places visitors are freely welcomed to the kitchen, or women's groups are not the norm. But ITDG has found that the broad principles of using an appropriate stove as a springboard are relevant internationally.


ITDG's experience of home economists, our partners, demonstrated two of ITDG's principles: firstly, that appropriate technology is not just about useful pieces of equipment but is a process in which people discuss their needs, build on their skills, share information about new options, and choose new ways to make use of their resources. For 'development' one thing should lead to another, and in Kenya the stove does. Secondly, the method we use for sharing ideas, as well as the technology, needs to be appropriate. In this example, the improved stove enhances communication between extension workers and rural women because it is visible, easy to use, practical, and it works.

The introduction of other appropriate technologies can play the role of stimulating discussion and a process of change; but an improved stove is particularly appropriate for communicating with women, for several reasons:

- Cooking is done by all women, rural and urban, rich and poor.

- Installation can be done by anyone, including those with the least money, land, or education, because it uses locally available resources, and builds on traditional mudding practices.

- Cooking overlaps with women's other responsibilities for their family's food, fuel, water, heat, and health.

If 'home is where the hearth is' then changing the hearth is a big step. Because the stove affects so many aspects of life, it must meet many demands, so developing an appropriate design can be difficult and can only be done with the cooks' active participation. But if a new stove is a genuine improvement on the hearth, the extension worker who promotes it can explore many other messages arising from the hearth for improving the home.