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close this bookGATE - 2/84 - Cookstoves (GTZ GATE, 1984, 56 p.)
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Catchword cookstoves

The reason for introducing modified stoves was always the same: increasing scarcity of fuelwood. In the light of the very serious ecological situation in many developing countries - for example the countries of the Sahel, where the desert is advancing southward by 150 km a year - one question is being asked with growing insistence: can a project for the dissemination of fuelwood-saving cooking stoves make a useful contribution to development aid? I do not think this is quite the right question. One should not claim to be able to put a stop to deforestation or the encroachment of desert in developing countries with a project for dissemination of fuel-saving stoves. This would be over-ambitious, even if series production of stoves and sufficient demand for them could be achieved to make the project self-supporting within a very short time.
Foley and Moss are right in saying that the main reason for deforestation is land clearance by the farming population. As increasing amounts of land are taken, entire forests are cut down, though often only the branches of the trees are used as firewood. David French' argues that so far stove projects have only resulted in a minor saving in wood, and that if the stove projects are intended to improve the living conditions of the women who represent the target group, (it would be better to) run other projects to improve health and nourishment. But stove projects do make a very significant contribution to improving the women's living conditions.
It has been demonstrated by a WHO study that the smoke women inhale when they cook regularly in closed huts is equivalent to smoking 20 packets of cigarettes a day, apart from the other damage it causes to their health, such as conjunctivitis. While it is true that in certain cases and/or regions the smoke in the hut has a conserving and disinfecting function, this does not justify the serious damage to their health which the women suffer as a result of cooking over open fires.
The question as to the criteria for introducing wood-saving stoves needs to be re-examined. Is a saving in fuel-wood - as the principal criterion - sufficient justification for a stove project?
It has been established that
- the introduction of such stoves does not lead to large savings in wood;
- deforestation is mainly a result of land clearance;
- the elimination of smoke in the kitchen by installing an improved stove with a chimney makes an important contribution to improving the housewife's health.
Apart from this it is known, even if not inferred here, that results of laboratory investigations into the fuel economy of stoves give no indication as to the actual amount of wood saved in practice. The efficiency values determined for stoves in lab tests are usually well above those obtained in normal everyday use. In Zimbabwe, for example the introduction of improved stove models such as the cooking frame (which makes cooking easier because one can cook faster and with several pots simultaneously) has actually increased firewood consumption.
The conclusion drawn by Foley and Moss, that "a stove is unlikely to be successful if its design is optimised around a single characteristic such as energy efficiency, or minimum cost" seems very important for the conception of future stove projects. We should also have learned by now, from experience gathered in many stove projects, that fuel economy is often only of secondary importance to the target group as far as the acceptability of an improved stove is concerned. The stove often stands for progress, e.g., because the elimination of smoke from the kitchen means that the walls are no longer covered in soot. And an improved cooking method is also a status symbol for the housewife, because her workplace is thus upgraded. Moreover, the fact that the introduction of improved stoves is concerned solely with her as the ultimate user, gives her new self-confidence. It has not often been the case in the history of development aid that efforts have been made to improve an activity which is exclusively a woman's domain.
Another encouraging aspect of stove dissemination is the historical fact that the development of stoves has accompanied socio-economic development in various societies. The development and dissemination of stoves is therefore part of a general development in both rural and urban environments.