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close this bookBoiling Point No. 18 - April 1989 (ITDG Boiling Point, 1989)
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Stoves and Rural Development

by Simon Burne, ITDG

This article aims to look forward rather than back. It tries to put stoves in context and in their place. It is designed to stimulate discussion and action. It explores how stoves can contribute to rural development and how, without rural development, stoves can achieve nothing.

By rural development I mean something more than simply economic development, although this obviously is important. Rural development needs to be measured in terms of the rate at which the constraints and problems faced by the mass of rural people are being relieved, as perceived by the people themselves. Economic constraints (lack of money or land or access to credit) are usually high on the list, but so are social (access to clean water, firewood, schools, hospitals), political (community organisation, land application, military oppression) and technical ones (lack of training, no access to low-cost technologies).

It has often been argued that only economic development can liberate people to pursue their other goals. Similarly, it has been stated that technical programmes should concentrate solely on relieving technical constraints, with economic and social benefits for poorer people, a nice but unnecessary tit bit. Stop deforestation means save trees means fuel-efficient stoves. These linear arguments have been shown to be misguided again and again and yet sorry experience with attempts at introducing Integrated Rural Development Programmes has led people to return to more linear approaches. I believe that IRDPs failed because of their size and bureaucratic complexity rather than any underlying flaw in the argument. This paper is not, however, attempting to justify IRDPs, but rather to map out a future role for stove programmes within rural development.

It is widely accepted that rural women do not cut down trees for their own consumption, unless they own the trees on their own land. Simple logic precludes it. If Magdalena cuts down a tree, only a tenth of which she can carry home, the nine-tenths of her work will go to other people who sieze the rest of the tree before she can get back to it. It appears, therefore, that rural stove programmes cannot save trees.

Not directly, no, but indirectly very much so. If stove programmes are designed to maximise their impact on rural development, then they will maximise their impact on deforestation, because ultimately it is poverty that causes deforestation, not food cooking. When time horizons are lengthened because life becomes more secure and tolerable, then people start thinking about investing in stoves, alternative fuels, tree planting. If we ignore the links between poverty, development and deforestation, then we are on the road to nowhere.

Fig 1 - Rural Underdevelopment

Let's put this in terms of a simple model. Underdevelopment (Figure 1) is caused by surpluses continuously being syphoned from the rural areas to the urban centres, whether through discriminatory pricing for primary foods or through purchasing of urban manufactured goods. Development (Fig 2) happens when resources circulate within the local economy increasing total economic activity. The greater the leakage of money from rural areas to urban centres, the greater the underdevelopment. What is true for money is also true for people, skills, organisation, self respect.

Fig 2 - Rural Development

Fine words, but what does it mean in practice. I take one example, though there are several. The Maendeleo Project in Kenya has been supported by GTZ for five years and its achievements have been much greater than simply the installation of some 20,000 fuel-efficient stoves.

What have been the results? In numbers, not startling. Some 20,000 stoves had been disseminated by the beginning of 1988 although the pace of dissemination is growing fast. Dissemination has continued to happen through groups of women, although some members sometimes pay others to install the stove for them. One interesting factor with poorer groups has been the clubbing together of resources to pay for one stove liner at a time until the whole group has them. In some areas, women have made a copy of the stove using broken pots "until they can afford the proper one".

The women cite many advantages to the stove, of which fuel-saving is a significant but not outstanding one. Safety for children, less smoke and speed of cooking all rank high. While the programme originally sought simply to reduce fuel consumption, these other advantages are now being incorporated actively into the programme. These benefits are not simply perceived. They are real. For example, the improved stove brings carbon monoxide emissions within WHO guidelines of 50 ppm at the point where women sit beside the stove., (GTZ 1989). It is hoped similar results will be achieved on particulate emissions.

But the benefits go further. Many of these women's groups have finally seen the advantage of collective action. GTZ is getting inundated with requests from these successful groups to help them establish tree nurseries or build drinking water tanks. While much of the evidence is still anecdotal, it may well be that the programme's greatest effect on deforestation will be indirect: community action leads to a benign development spiral where expanding time horizons can enable investment in such things as trees or water tanks. Substantial employment and income generation has also been created: the vast majority in the rural areas, and a substantial amount for women. Some 100 full or part-time jobs have been created and as dissemination gets into full gear, this figure could rise to as much as 1,500 (GTZ 1989).

So much more cant be achieved through a total commitment to rural development than could possibly be hoped for in an isolated, efficiency-orientated stove project. So yes, rural stove projects can work. Let's use them to help poor rural people improve their own circumstances. This means:

· Local rural production using available skills and materials.
· Marketing using local exchange systems (money or barter)
· Developing stoves that meet all women's urgent priorities.
· Strong links with other agencies to quickly respond to other expressed needs (ea. drinking water, sanitation, housing, schooling etc).