There’s a good reason why clean cooking stoves are appropriate technology of the week. This is the week that this simple technology finally caught the world’s attention, with Hilary Clinton announcing $50 million of US funding for a Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. So what is a clean cookstove, and why the sudden attention?
Three billion people rely on simple stoves or open fires for their cooking and heating, burning wood, waste straw or animal dung. This puts pressure on local wood supplies and emits soot and CO2, but most importantly it’s a major health hazard. Smoke inhalation kills 1.9 million people every year – usually women and children, the most exposed to indoor smoke. A related problem is foraging for firewood, which can take 20 hours a week and is particularly dangerous in conflict zones or refugee camps.
Development agencies have known about this for decades. Practical Action’s campaign Smoke: The killer in the kitchen suggested a global alliance seven years ago, but it has never quite caught funders’ imaginations, despite a number of elegant solutions. One is the smoke hood, which draws smoke up and out of the house. And there are lots of ways of making more efficient stoves, which use less fuel, reduce smoke, transfer heat better and cook faster.
Some companies, such as Envirofit, manufacture cookstoves centrally and distribute globally. Their stoves, like the one on the left, sell very well in India.
To truly qualify as appropriate technology however, it needs to be made from locally available materials, and be simple enough to be maintained by the owner. That suggests something more like the ‘upesi stove‘ on the right. These can be made entirely from clay, or improved with hammered sheet metal if it is available. A version of the stove can also be made from a recycled paint tin.
Stoves such as these are used all across Africa, with local variations designed to suit the various kinds of traditional cooking pots. They are made in small workshops, meaning profits stay in the local community.
Since they are a proven technology, the challenge is to share the best designs in areas where they aren’t used, train local people to make them, and to make them as affordable as possible. The new alliance mission statement includes the aim of “creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions”. Let’s hope they remember that small is beautiful.
- More designs and how to guides from Hedon, the Household Energy Network.