development technology

Appropriate technology of the week – cookstoves

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.


  1. Smoke – indoor air pollution – is a huge problem and one that up until now has been largely ignored. It’s great that action is being taken but vital that solutions are appropriate.

    We also need not to forget the real people who struggle with the impacts of smoke and who need to have ownership and choice over solutions if they are to be appropriate and sustainable – or to put it bluntly if they are to work for the long term.

    Women bear the brunt of the problem – spending on average 2 – 3 hours a day collecting fire wood, coping with the illness and death (most of those who die are children under 5), cleaning walls, floors, clothing all blackened by soot.

    In Kenya I talked to Masai women about the impact smoke had on their lives – one lady pointed to her walls which were blackened and to the soot stalactites on the ceiling of her home.

    Practical Action excels in providing appropriate solutions – we also want to share with others.


    1. Yes, it’s got to be driven by the needs of the people on the ground. That’s my only hesitation with this week’s announcement, that it may end up being pursued as a business opportunity and a carbon offset mechanism first, and a development measure second.

  2. Good comments,
    It’s good to note that none of the partners thus far are from local communities or the developed world. Although this is just the announcement– hopefully developing countries or at least developing country NGO’s will shortly be on the partnership list, it’s just sad that the announcement lacks them. Hopefully, we’re not back to top-down development.

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