By Kate Ravilious
Many people around the world cook on traditional stoves or open fires, often in poorly ventilated spaces. Exposure to this kind of smoke pollution is responsible for nearly 3% of deaths – more than tuberculosis and malaria combined. Modern smoke-free cooking stoves can save lives, but persuading people to adopt and use the new technology is not always easy. A recent study assesses some of the key factors in making smoke-free stoves a success.
Puneet Dwivedi, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and colleagues at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies in the US carried out research in Honduras – a country where over two thirds of households still rely on traditional cooking stoves. Working with a nongovernmental organization – Proyecto Mirador, which is currently promoting non-traditional "clean" stoves in Honduras – the scientists used a SWOT-AHP (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats–analytical hierarchy process) to measure perceptions of four stakeholder groups: employees, local promoters, community leaders and end users.
Proyecto Mirador has been working in Honduras for the past five years, promoting a stove called the La Estufa Dos por Tres (LE2x3). The stove is constructed with a ceramic combustion chamber, chimney and heavy iron grate. It reduces per-capita wood consumption by nearly 50% and has a 96% retention rate after one year. Proyecto Mirador is custom building about 1500 stoves per month in households across western Honduras. This performance contrasts starkly with previous programmes run by other organizations introducing "clean" stoves around the developing world, which have failed to achieve widespread adoption.
So why is the Proyecto Mirador project in Honduras so successful? Dwivedi and his colleagues talked to both recipients of the new stoves and promoters of the kit. "For us the exciting result was that we found a clear difference between the perceptions of the people working on the supply side, and the people using the stoves – those on the demand side," said Dwivedi.
Not surprisingly the people using the stove were most concerned about its day-to-day operation and ease of use. Meanwhile, people working to promote the stove were more focused on the long-term prospects of the project and the market opportunities in the future. "This isn't necessarily a conflict of interests between the two groups, but just a difference in priorities," explained Dwivedi, whose findings are published in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).
In this case, the new stove has been a success because a lot of emphasis was placed on stove design from the beginning of the project. The initial design was developed in consultation with local cooks to meet local needs. What is more, feedback from initial users was incorporated in design changes that further improved the technology.
"When the stove was first introduced people were able to report their problems and this feedback was used to improve the design of the stove," said Dwivedi. Even now this feedback loop is still in place, so that the stoves continue to fit into people's lives and remain convenient and easy to use. "Continuous feedback is very important to ensure that the design remains relevant even in case of changing cooking and eating habits," said Dwivedi.
Another important element of this success story is the design of the management structure, and the way that the stoves are promoted, the researchers believe. Stove recipients make a written solicitation to the project team and participate in a community meeting to learn about the stove and its maintenance. If they decide to accept the stove, they must provide bricks, sand and cement to build it. The project team provides the costlier parts like the grill, firebox and chimney, which it finances through the sale of carbon credits. No cash changes hands between beneficiaries and the project.
"When people invest some time, energy or money they feel the object belongs to them and they don't think 'this is free, so it doesn't matter if I use it or not'," explained Dwivedi. The project does no promotion or advertising – its success has been driven by grassroots acceptance of the stove and word-of-mouth promotion by local government officials, community leaders, religious leaders, women and family members using the stove.
For now, Proyecto Mirador is investing all its available resources in building "clean" stoves in Honduras, but other organizations can learn from this success and apply it to the other key locations where "clean" stoves would transform people's lives.
About the author
Kate Ravilious is a contributing editor for environmentalresearchweb.