|Boiling Point No. 18 - April 1989 (ITDG Boiling Point, 1989)|
Cooking stoves in some form or other have been used since the human race first discovered the use of fire for cooking food. While fire has excited us ever since, it is only recently that much thought has been given to cooking stoves.
The earliest work on improved woodburning cookstoves took place in Europe and North America in the 19th Century, where the major thrust was on smoke removal; efficient burning and space heating as well as efficient heat transfer to cooking pots. These stoves tended to be made of cast iron and were usually very heavy.
Work started in India in the 1950's using mud and clay to bring the cost of stoves within popular reach. These programmes concentrated on smoke removal and improved kitchens rather than fuel efficiency.
The oil shock of 1973 raised the whole energy question several notches up the international agenda although it is doubtful if it ever reached the African village housewife. The potentially much more serious crisis in woodfuel use and deforestation concerns the developing countries directly. One could predict the time when no trees would be left! The impact on poor people who rely on woodfuel to survive and on the ravaged environment was unthinkable. But why should the African peasants be forced to go without fuel because they were being forced off good land to make way for commercial farming - often for export crops which benefitted them little?
The analysis surged the truth of "poverty is to blame" into the falsehood" the poor are to blame".
All the "improved stove programmes" failed to produce quick results, the dire consequences of the energy crisis predicted by national fuelwood balance analyses failed to materialise and so further doubts were cast on the value of stove programmes. By the mid eighties a multitude of stove designs had been developed but with a few notable exceptions, the expected rapid dissemination had not taken place and many agencies were moving away from funding such activities.
Several incorrect technical assumptions underlay these programmes. One was that a 3 stone fire the major, traditional, wood burning "stove" could only achieve an efficiency of 7-10%: another was that people themselves would not be able to improve on that efficiency and a third was that improved designs could achieve levels of efficiency in people's kitchens similar to those measured in laboratories.
There is now a real danger of wasting the valuable experience gained in stove programmes as the funders back away. Despite the often gloomy picture, there are programmes that have surpassed their targets and others which have achieved success in ways not initially planned. In terms of development, an improved stove can enhance the status of cooking and the kitchen and hence of women and can reduce the very serious health damage caused by smoky fires. They can perhaps also provide a focal point for broader development in rural areas.
This issue of Boiling Point tries to draw out these lessons and point the way for the future of stove programmes and related activities.