ECHOcommunity Conversations

What obstacles have you faced in promoting fuel-efficient cookstoves?

I have been offering feedback to a local inventor and volunteer (Wendell) on a rocket stove design. Wendell is only interested in designing a technology that truly meets the needs and desires of the consumer. As such, he is doing his fair share of “market research”. My hope is that this conversation could be a place that others who have worked with promoting fuel-efficient cookstoves could offer experience and advice. Here are the basic design requirements (in no particular order) he has so far:

  1. Made using locally available resources
  2. Low cost
  3. Able to be adapted to fit varying pot sizes
  4. Fuel efficient
  5. Clean burning
  6. Durable
  7. A delight to use

Based on your experience, what other design requirements would you add? What have been some of the biggest challenges to widespread adoption of fuel-efficient cookstoves where you work?

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Biggest challenge to adoption I have seen is the desire and habit of “playing in the fire”!

In Sierra Leone I attempted to demonstrate and recommend a rocket stove made from available blocks. Though it demonstrated itself fully advantageous…it was later dismantled as the ability to “stoke” the fire was not applicable. As my work was focused on Agricultural Development I was not able to spend the time necessary to show the system’s superiority. Stoking the fire was so ingrained, the adoption was lost. Will try again next trip!

Michael Cooley
Agricultural Specialist
Equipping Leaders International

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After seeing maybe 200 parabolic solar cookers abandoned in a refugee camp and only a couple being used, it seems people need a way to cook that meets the time cycles of their lives. They need training in how to use that new method to their advantage. The couple I saw in use were trying to heat shiny aluminum pots! They have to see an advantage in using the new method. The advantage they see has to outweigh the affordability issue. Those solar cookers were free, but they didn’t provide enough advantage of not having to secure firewood to offset their time inconvenience of waiting for the sun to cook. It has to fully meet their needs in a way better than the current methods of cooking do. If the new method gives a family status, they are more apt to adopt, but will they USE it? How does the new item provide status?

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Cost is the biggest obstacle. A stove with good performance is not cheap.

WITHOUT A POT SKIRT IT’S NOT A ROCKET STOVE AND WILL NOT SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE FUEL CONSUMPTION!

We have tried several different models of stoves and found that a type of rocket stove with a chimney that can be build with a simple earth/straw/dung-based mixture was liked the best by the women who had the opportunity to use different types.

What I would emphasis is that we do not start with community members on practical issues like a stove without discussing at length biblical principles of stewardship in our transformational development dialogue education and training - We start at the beginning by reflecting on the four relationships God established for us etc. In our experience, addressing the mind-set / worldview lays a foundations that motivates change from within. This, in our experience, makes a significant difference in adoption. Of course, practically the technology still needs to be appropriate and fit people’s needs.

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The famous ‘Lorena stove’, designed by Ianto Evans in Guatemala after the 1976 earthquake was one of the pioneers of fuel saving cooks stoves. In the early 1980’s, no matter what other project Peace Corps volunteers were to work with, we were trained to construct and promote these stoves.
Over the years many, many new designs, devolopement workers and agencies worked on the important effort to save cooking fuel, fuel costs, reduce smoke contamination and to try to convince people to use these stoves.
In the 1990’s the ‘rocket stoves’ appeared, and the same Ianto Evans returned to Gautemala, invited by the minister of agriculture, to design an ‘appropriate’ rocket stove.
I’ve watched fuel efficient stoves being designed and promoted for 40 years and have yet to see any ‘catch on’ and revolutionize the way cooking is done. Maybe somewhere they have, but not here. I’ve talked with devolopement workers from other parts of the world, and the common story seems to be great designs and significant investments with abandoned, unused stoves.
The only successes I have seen have been where the stove promoter/designer actually uses the stove in his or her own home every day, year in year out, as their preferred cooking method. Do you cook with corn cobs, dung, tiny sticks? It doesn’t work to go home to your gas or electric stove. The stove you use for your own family is the stove you are truely promoting.

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Social acceptability - when it enables people to cook the food they have already eaten with ease. A situation where cooking of a staple is a hassle means they have to revert to the inefficient three - stone stove ‘monster’

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