Frequently Asked Questions on Cooking Technologies
Why are you still disseminating the same old stoves?
The same old types of stoves are not being disseminated, at least in the majority of cases, even though they might look the same. Like most technologies, stoves are continously being improved. During the last twenty-five years, modern woodfuel stoves have been developed to match people’s needs, aspirations, and economic capacity. Although constrained to some extent by the need to use the same low-cost materials, new designs are making substantial inroads into solving many of the old problems such as indoor air pollution and low overall efficiency. Modern stoves reduce harmful emissions, improving the health of the family. Improved biomass stoves can save between 40% and 80% of fuel, which reduces the workload of women who need to collect fuel.
Clean renewable fuels (including ethanol and plant oils) are becoming available to many, and stoves to burn such fuels have been developed.
In the past the problem was often not the technology, but rather the access to it. Ways to provide access to all these technologies are now available. By working with communities rather than for them and addressing issues around capital cost, many of the lack of uptake problems are now in the past. Through these new stoves, technical skills are passed on and income is created. All this helps to improve the quality of everyday life.
Are improved stoves really saving that much?
That depends on various factors such as the quality of a stove in terms of its technical superiority and the materials used. Savings of 40% to 60% per stove per household are realistic, and for institutional stoves savings as high as 80% have been measured, when used correctly.
What is less well known is how often the stove is used, and whether it is being used correctly. This is why it is necessary to provide support to the consumer so that, with good sense, they will use it properly.
Economically speaking, it has been shown that savings are possible on both the household and country level. Savings are enabled by reductions in fuelwood use, time spent, ill-health, and carbon dioxide (CO2)emissions. At the same time, stove producers can earn an income higher than the one they recieved before producing stoves.
How can a whole country be reached?
An important activity is to promote the interest and buy-in of local and national decision makers. If decision makers are aware of the benefits, they are more likely to provide financial and strategic support. They can help upgrade a country’s technical and entrepreneurial skills. They may have resources to implement proven dissemination strategies to increase the manufacture and marketing of stoves at national level, leading to a sustainable stoves market over much of the country.
To reach large sectors of the population, a collaborative approach is needed. This needs to be financially well supported, and should incorporate local NGOs, the private sector, the government (creating a positive political climate), and expert professionals from national and international development organizations. At this point, a self-sustaining process can successfully be initiated.
Why not subsidize the stoves and supply whole countries and regions in one go?
There are indeed valid arguments in favour of subsidies to speed up dissemination – after all, almost all modern fuels were subsidized in the beginning – but there are also important arguments against it. Perhaps the most important one is that subsidies expire after a while and there is a danger that the whole system will break down. This has been experienced in several countries. Since we are concerned here with a continuous supply of improved stoves, it is important to develop sustainable market mechanisms. For this to happen, demand and supply should balance each other out. Initial subsidies are important, but they should be indirect and be provided primarily for promotion, training of producers, and certification or quality control, while the product (the stove), should be sold without direct subsidy.
If the stoves really are that beneficial, why do they not spread spontaneously?
When people have very little money – which is the case for the lower income groups in most developing countries – the scarce financial resources are used to satisfy other, more pressing needs, such as buying food, clothes, medicine or paying school fees. If people are unaware of the serious health risks, and of ways to purchase a stove using credit, the purchase of an improved stove is not a top priority.
Why is acceptance of energy efficient stoves a difficult barrier?
Introducing an energy-efficient stoves requires a behaviour change for communities who have been used to a three-stone fire. This adaptation takes time. Cooking is a very personal activity that, like a number of other domestic activities, is deeply embedded in the cultural behaviour of the individual user. Customs are only changed if the user perceives advantages of the new technology over a prolonged period of time.
Do modern stoves not destroy cultural traditions?
It is true that the use of new, energy-efficient stoves often means changing age-old cooking traditions. People will only get used to new habits if there are perceived benefits, for them and their children. However, people are ready to adapt established traditions to use the new technologies if the new products have been adapted to meet their needs, and if the advantages are convincing.
How long do the new cooking stoves last?
This depends on the quality of the stove, materials used, and the way people use them. Stoves will be well maintained if they are valued by the users and if they have been introduced appropriately. The lifetime of certain types of stoves can vary between six months and six years or more. Generally stoves should last at least for two years because they are otherwise broken before people have grown accustomed. They may then not be replaced by the user.
More expensive stoves that last longer are often cheaper throughout their lifetimes than cheaper stoves, but people often do not have the necessary up-front capital available to buy the stoves without the availability of soft loan or revolving finance through banks or micro-finance institutes.
Is woodfuel a renewable energy source?
Woodfuel is a renewable energy source only if the same amount of wood that was cut down is allowed to grow back. It is therefore important that tree-planting is integrated in a project intervention. If woodfuel is to be sustainable it should furthermore be ensured that it burns cleanly as its polluting products – such as smoke particles and volatiles emitted by the wood - are dependent on the combustion procedure of the wood.
Could solar cookers not save the world?
Not on their own - but they are a useful addition. Even where the sun shines for many hours, they are only useful under some circumstances. The most successful use of solar cookers has been experienced in regions where there is lots of sunshine, the air clear, and where there are hardly any other alternatives. In these situations, where the style of cooking is well suited to solar, and where there are no cultural restrictions, solar can be very effective. In other cultures, the traditional food cannot be cooked, people do not have a safe place outdoors to cook their food, the tradition may be for indoor cooking, they may want to cook at night, and they may have sufficient woodfuel. In these situations, the change in culture is too great for it to be a success.
Isn’t the smoke in the huts needed to drive out the mosquitos?
There is no scientific evidence that smoke in the huts really drives out mosquitos. However, if people are convinced that smoke helps to reduce unwanted insects and other pests they can still use an improved stove to smoke the kitchen area once a day. During this time they should leave the kitchen to protect themselves from indoor air pollution. There is no need to produce smoke during cooking when people have to be present in the kitchen.
An improved stove emanates little light and warmth
This is partly true and often has been a reason why efficient stoves were not immediately accepted. Only after the women have been convinced that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, stoves will be accepted and regularly used. Here are better ways to provide heat and light. Insulating houses is useful, and saves fuel. There are well-designed lamps that run on a variety of fuels. Where it is usually cold, some stoves that are made of metal give out a lot of heat – but they tend to use quite a lot of fuel, and give out heat even when it is not needed. Additional metal stoves just for heating are used in some regions.
The three-stone-fire cannot be beaten
A well-tended 3-stone-fire has indeed a number of advantages: It gives warmth and light and provides a sense of comfort. It fits all pot sizes and the heat from the fire can quickly be increased or reduced, the wood does not have to be cut into small pieces – thus it requires less work input. Because the 3-stone fire is traditionally the heart of the household it is often culturally revered. All these advantages affect the degree of acceptance of better stoves. An improved stove has to have these qualities, but in addition it should be cleaner, use less fuel, save money, be safer for the children, and meet other requirements determined by each community.
Aren’t there more important issues than stoves?
This depends on the context. For example, dealing with a famine, drought, or pandemic is more important than introducing improved cooking stoves. However, household energy is a central aspect of life, with a direct influence on the well-being of human beings and, as such, on the development of society as a whole. It has been shown that a moderate improvement in this area can have widespread impacts. These often benefit women, who tend to be in a disadvantaged position within the family.
In the end, it is the people who have the right to decide what is important to them. If they realise the serious health risks of smoke, and the options available that will allow them more spare time, save money, and reduce their negative health impact they may wish to make cooking stoves a priority.
Does it make sense to support wood stoves instead of changing to gas and other modern energies?
Globally, the number of people relying on biomass for cooking is around 2.6 billion. Although most people would prefer to change to so called ’modern’ energies like gas or electricity, they often cannot afford to do so, either because they currently gather fuel free of charge or because the stove is too expensive. Furthermore, ‘modern’ fuels are often not available, particularly in rural areas.
Worldwide, the number of people using biomass is not expected to fall until 2030. In particular the growing low-income population will remain dependent on wood, charcoal and other biomass fuels for cooking, baking or heating in the years to come. Calculations have shown that if half the world population was to have access to modern fuels by 2015, 200,000 new families would have to be supplied every day. Due to affordability, availability and mere scale of the issue, working with woody biomass is necessary for a realistic strategy that aims at improved cooking energy usage. Improved wood stoves offer a proven and successful technological improvement therein.
- Efficient cookstoves & cooking energy for a healthier living. Frequently asked questions around cookstoves and fuels. Published by GIZ HERA, 2015
This article was originally published by GIZ HERA. It is basically based on experiences, lessons learned and information gathered by GIZ cook stove projects. You can find more information about the authors and experts of the original “Cooking Energy Compendium” in the Imprint.