|Boiling Point No. 30 - April 1993 (ITDG - ITDG, 1993, 48 p.)|
by Peter Young, ITDG
Summary of a paper presented at the Workshop on Stove Commercialization, December 1992, Sri Lanka
We normally think of designing stoves on the basis of users needs and ability to pay. The importance of commercial marketing requirements are now increasingly influencing project strategies and stove designs. This paper uses the experiences of some stove projects to look at design features that can hinder or help marketing of domestic cooking stoves.
The urgent need to give millions of people access to improved stoves in developing countries means that we must look at other dissemination systems those which have been used and reasonably successful in the early stages of design, development and field testing. The total number of stoves disseminated so far remains low in all countries except China with 50% and India 10% of households supplied. They are followed by Kenya with 500,000 and Sri Lanka 300,000 improved stoves. Most other countries have much lower figures.
Trade off between marketability and efficiency
The development of the Zimbabwean grate stove indicates that local artisans can adapt stove design to suit the local market. However, the result of such a process is likely to be quite different from that of design for a 'development objective' such as fuel efficiency. Artisans developed an idea from the 'people's choice' into something that is marketable and meets users needs - in this case to cook with several pots, fast and with more convenience as shown in Fig 1. The design has been changed to suit the market and it is clear that fast, convenient cooking has been achieved at the expense of increased fuel consumption. One might think that the interests of users would be to conserve fuels but clearly where other needs were considered greater, users accepted shortcomings in this respect. Only now, after 10-15 years, are grates and windbreaks being introduced to increase fuel efficiency.
From a strategic and planning point of view, many problems such as deforestation and impacts on health can accumulate over long periods of time before they are taken into account. So most projects will find that some trade off between performance and marketability is needed. For the latter, the skills of local producers and sellers should be made use of from the beginning of the process and the programme's work.
Many design features influence marketability; some are well recognized, others not. Ease of transport, ease of installation, appearance and cost are the most important.
Fig 1 - Development of Cooking Grates in Zimbabwe
The convenience of getting the stove into the home is one of the latter - often overlooked by promoters but important for the buyer. Can the user carry it home and install it herself or himself? The answer may determine the whole dissemination approach just as much as the perceived benefits and disadvantages of the improved stove when in use.
Sarvodaya - Sri Lanka (one piece-2 pot; no chimney)
One of the features the Sri Lankan potters liked about this stove is that the second pot seat nestles into the combustion chamber for transport. This minimizes breakages and takes half the transport space needed by the Anagi one piece stove.
Sri Lanka Anagi (one piece - 2 pot; no chimney)
The Anagi is both bulky and fragile and not particularly easy to transport. However, these disadvantages have not prevented Island-wide distribution and although women often make the decision to purchase, men will often carry them home because they have access to transport such as cycles or motorbikes. The other benefits still outway the transport difficulties.
For rural women's groups in West Kenya who are producing Maendeleo liners, a major advantage of selling their output to Ministry of Agriculture staff is that they have ministry vehicles. Local transport by 'matatu' (bus) is too expensive, so to sell locally they have to package the heavy stoves into a 2-stove headload to carry to market and to neighbours. This limits their sales.
In Kenya in the mid 1980s large mud stoves weighing over 200 kg were made in small workshops and transported on pick-up trucks or donkey carts into towns. Although the stove was well made, smokeless and performed well, the workshop did not prove viable because of the transport costs.
Chencottai Stove - India
Although this is a heavy stove (20kg), the well established local commercial demand (over 100,000 per year) supported the creation of a transport system using potter family lorries that cover distances of 150 km.
Installation and Cost
With the exception of China, very few countries have successful projects using 'skilled cervices' to install massive, masonry type stoves with chimneys. Skilled installation is difficult to organise through extension workers and virtually impossible to commerciable. However, India in its Five Year Plan aims to set up private stove installers for such stoves. If this difficult method has to be adapted it is important that stoves last 15-20 years in order to minimize maintenance work and replacement frequency. But this means costs are likely to be high and improvements slow to introduce.
Built-in stoves without chimneys are much easier to install. The use of extension workers to install Maendeleo stoves in rural Kenya and Sarvodaya liner stoves in Sri Lanka (without chimneys) has proved successful. However, the use of extension workers will limit the rate of dissemination and does not contribute to sustainability. Therefore in Sri Lanka's commercial programme, the 2 piece Sarvodaya stove design was modified to produce the one-piece Anagi stove, which women can install in mud themselves (if they chose) without training. In Kenya installation of the Maendeleo is being simplified so that women purchasers can do it themselves.
Portable stoves, ea. KCJ, and semi portable, ea. Anagi are easier to take home and install but tend to be more expensive as they rely upon commercialized materials such as steel or ceramics. To keep the cost low, designs must be very simple and so cannot be made smokeless.
Much of the popularity of the Anagi and KCJ can be attributed to their attractive appearance compared to traditional stoves. Although the waisted shape of the KCJ is difficult to make and uneconomical in material, its appearance outweighs these difficulties. The Chenkottai stove remained more popular than the cheaper Anagi in India because of its durability and appearance of strength.
Stoves, like all market products, have fashions and need to be designed with the users' tastes and reactions in mind. Market research is important and may lead to an improved appearance and the saleability of a stove with a better performance. In such situations it is common for project surveys to offer alternative designs. A short cut can often be achieved by working with producers.
Quality Control & Performance
A marketable stove needs both the appearance of, and reputation for, good performance. Some form of quality control is needed.
A cooking stove's performance can change drastically if its critical dimensions are changed. It is essential that the stove on sale in the market place performs as well as advertised. Sound methods of stove construction and quality control are essential for large scale commercial production and marketing where projects have less control over the producers and installers. The market does this to some extent - people don't buy cracked stoves but in general they lack sufficient information to make a proper judgement when faced with a range of stoves. Proper training for producers and installers, by qualified trainers using training manuals and under project control, is essential for good stoves.
Where portable stoves are made by artisans and sold in the market place, dimensions are likely to vary because of cost cutting. Competition can often come from untrained or dishonest producers of cheap 'look alike' stoves. This can affect the sales of the good producers and also spoil their good name and that of the stove and project. In Sri Lanka there may now be more 'look alike' producers than approved producers. It is too early to judge the overall performance of the 'look alike' stoves and their long term affect on the market. The projects response is to:
a. identify the 'look alike' producers and offer training
b. test a range of 'look alike' stoves for performance and life
c. provide more information on quality and performance standards for producers, sellers and buyers
Implications for Marketing
To achieve widespread popularity of a stove in the marketplace there may have to be a trade off between the desired benefits and design features that make the stove easier to market. For example, portable and semi-portable stoves that can be easily carried home and used with the minimum of installation, are proving to be easy to market through retailers, where local market network exist. But fixed stoves, especially those with chimneys, are difficult to market.
There should be as much involvement as possible with producers and artisans to make full use of their skills and knowledge on marketing. If given a completely free hand, popularity may be achieved at the expense of development objectives.
Projects need to consider carefully when deciding to pursue a commercialization process, whether to research more into adapting current methods of dissemination (eg NPIC-India) or evolve a stove design that is easier to market (eg Sri Lanka).