Envirofit Cookstoves According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “more than three billion people worldwide rely on polluting energy sources such as wood, dung and charcoal for cooking.” These practices are most common in impoverished areas within developing countries and come with severe health consequences. As women are usually tasked with the cooking responsibilities, the indoor air pollution caused by cooking with these traditional fuels disproportionately impacts women as well as children in the household. A social enterprise called Envirofit International aims to make clean cookstoves more accessible and affordable for families living in developing nations.

Polluting Fuels and Gender Inequality

Cooking with polluting energy sources not only leads to serious health repercussions but also contributes to economic gender inequality. Girls and women are the main gatherers of these polluting energy sources, which require more than twice as much time to gather in comparison to clean fuels. Girls from households that use polluting fuels spend roughly 18 hours per week collecting fuel in contrast to five hours a week for those from households that utilize clean energy sources. This time could go toward more productive activities such as learning and paid work. As a result, girls and women fall behind in education and economic advancement.

Health and Economic Repercussions of Indoor Air Pollution

According to the WHO, annually, almost four million people die prematurely as a result of household air pollution caused by “inefficient cooking practices using polluting stoves paired with solid fuels and kerosene.” Indoor air pollution can cause ischaemic heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and pulmonary disease. Indoor pollution increases the risk of pneumonia in children by 50% and “is responsible for 45% of all pneumonia deaths in children” younger than 5. Gathering traditional fuels, a task typically performed by women and children can lead to musculoskeletal damage due to the arduous nature of this task.

Envirofit Cookstoves

Envirofit International works to replace dangerous and harmful traditional cooking methods with clean biomass cookstoves that are efficient, durable and inexpensive. The enterprise is headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado. Since its incorporation in 2003, Envirofit has manufactured and commercialized smart stoves that cook faster, use less fuel and produce less smoke and toxic emissions. Envirofit cookstoves reduce “fuel use, fuel cost and cooking time by up to 60%” and decrease smoke and harmful emissions by up to 80%. These fuel savings alone can increase household income by up to 15% a year.

Using a market-based approach, Envirofit has helped more than five million people in 45 nations around the world save money and time while also reducing their carbon footprint. Envirofits’s clean, pollution-free technology has saved lives by reducing preventable deaths due to pollution. Envirofit cookstoves feature efficient combustion chambers to decrease emissions and utilize biomass fuel, which is accessible for people in rural communities.

With regional headquarters and production sites in East Africa, West Africa, Asia and Latin America, Envirofit can deliver local solutions tailored to each region’s specific needs. Each regional headquarter also contributes to the local economy by providing new employment and business opportunities. Besides creating jobs and making cooking safer, more convenient and affordable, Envirofit promotes sales by conducting local awareness campaigns about the effects of air pollution on health.

Overall, Envirofit cookstoves contribute to the health and well-being of millions of impoverished people across the world, saving lives, time and money.

Carolina Cadena
Photo: Flickr

clean cooking initiativesFor most people, their day starts with tea or coffee followed by a light breakfast, available with minimum effort. For those less fortunate, this simple morning routine requires hours of backbreaking labor. Solid cooking fuels like wood and coal are necessities in much of the world, but in addition to contributing to climate change, they perpetuate poverty. This is partly because those who depend on this type of energy risk health problems from Household Air Pollution (HAP) and partly because solid cooking fuels can be labor-intensive to acquire and use. Over the past two decades, an overwhelming body of research has cited clean cooking as a primary target for policy reform. It furthers all eight of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals and five of its Sustainability Development Goals. Several exemplary clean cooking initiatives are making a difference today.

More Access to Energy, Less Poverty

Several studies attempt to quantify the damage caused by solid fuel. Lost productivity resulting from resource collection prevents an estimated 2.6 billion people from escaping poverty, disproportionately affecting women. Children’s school attendance also decreases when they must spend large amounts of time gathering fuel, hampering their education. People’s health also suffers from solid fuel. Indoor pollution from dirty energy — six times deadlier than outdoor — creates an estimated $10.6 billion in healthcare costs yearly in rural China alone. Not to mention, HAP reduces lifespans in affected populations by 20 years. It causes between 1.6 and four million premature deaths annually, second only to unsafe water in deaths caused. “Dirty” cooking fuels also produce an estimated 2% of carbon emissions, roughly equivalent to the pollution from all global air travel.

Clean Energy and Poverty Reduction

A widely cited 2004 paper argued that clean cooking protocols had high potential for poverty reduction and encouraged the creation of federal and intergovernmental agencies to manage a 10- to 15-year plan to implement them. Nonetheless, 15 years later, a Draft Energy Policy commissioned by the Indian government concluded that “clean cooking fuel has been the biggest casualty of lack of coordination between different energy Ministries.

“Not only India but also the international community has failed to leverage a low-cost opportunity with enormous benefits. The global cost of clean fuels for those lacking them totals only $50 billion per year or roughly 0.2% of a developed nation’s GDP. Diverse clean cooking initiatives at all levels are not only essential to poverty reduction, they are achievable.

Clean Cooking in Haiti

World Central Kitchen (WCK) originated during relief efforts following the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake and continues providing meals to vulnerable populations. Most recently, Founder and Chef José Andrés closed several restaurants to feed low-income people during the pandemic. But WCK has evolved beyond catastrophe response to become a global leader in culinary activism, including clean cooking.

Following the initial work in Haiti, the organization created the #HaitiBreathes campaign to improve school lunch programs. Observing that “children who eat during the day do better in school,” the campaign has helped 140 schools convert their kitchens to use liquid propane, benefitting 65,000 students and school cooks. Preventing child labor associated with solid fuels is fundamental to poverty reduction. The campaign’s culinary education component and infrastructure upgrades also offer long-term socioeconomic and health benefits by improving sanitation and food safety.

Clean Cooking in Kenya

An estimated 15,700 premature deaths per year in Kenya are attributable to HAP. These deaths are preventable as 75% of households know of clean cooking subsidies and programs, yet 70% remain unable to buy a clean cookstove because of the high prices. Of those who make the relatively expensive upgrade, 60% say the fuel cost for their preferred cookstove is too high, and they are forced to endure the enormous health and productivity effects of purportedly “cheaper” alternatives.

In conjunction with the Clean Cookstove Association of Kenya, native chef and Clean Cooking Alliance Ambassador Susan Kamau educates underserved communities on solid fuel issues. The #CookCleanForKenya program transitions individuals to sustainable fuels; its Facebook page details success stories and explains the nefarious consequences of open fire cooking. By marketing innovative products like the Cookswell Energy Efficient Charcoal Oven, the initiative connects consumers to various clean cooking options. Local figures like Kamau understand local impediments better than a foreign NGO does, making partnerships like this one especially effective.

Clean Cooking in Cambodia

Twenty percent of Cambodians live in poverty, and for them, alternatives to solid fuel are unattainable. People rely mainly on wood for fuel, causing a decline in forest cover from 73% in 1965 to 59% in 2006. Low-cost and temporary clean cooking options are the best way to create meaningful change. One study found that simply introducing flues, though it did not decrease carbon emissions, caused a 75% reduction in negative HAP health outcomes.

The Neang Kongrey Cookstove Initiative produces high-efficiency stoves that cost only $1.50 and reduce fuel consumption by 60%. This female-staffed company enables clean cooking at a grassroots level while also promoting sustainable economic growth. It makes up a mere 5% of the national cookstove market, but the project represents a 700,000-ton decrease in harvested wood and a 500,000-ton decrease in carbon emissions yearly. Although financed through international agencies, this dynamic business creates local change.

Clean cooking initiatives like those led by the WCK in Haiti, the Clean Cookstove Association of Kenya and the Neang Kongrey Cookstove Initiative in Cambodia are vital to creating clean energy, aiding low-income families and making progress in alleviating global poverty. With continued efforts from nonprofits and individuals alike, the international community takes one step toward reducing global poverty through clean cooking initiatives.

– Kit Krajeski
Photo: Flickr

Diamantes Na Cozinha
Joao Diamante, a Brazilian chef who trained in Paris under world-renowned chef Alain Duccard, decided to go back home to Rio de Janeiro, a large city in Brazil. In 2016, he began his social project Diamantes Na Cozinha (Diamonds in the Kitchen) in Rio de Janeiro. This project has received a lot of attention from national and international press due to its unique and philanthropic vision.

Who is Joao Diamante?

Diamante himself benefited from social programs in Bahia, Brazil when he was a teenager. His experiences eventually helped him become a chef overseas. Because of his belief in these youth programs, he decided to fund his own. Diamantes Na Cozinha creates cooking, nutrition and hospitality workshops for young people in vulnerable situations living in favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Favelas are low-income neighborhoods in Brazil.

Diamante himself lost a dear friend due to the violence taking place in the favelas, and he believes that teenagers must receive protection from organized crime and drug addiction. Unfortunately, addiction and crime are all too common in these impoverished populations.

About the Workshops

Kids as young as 16 enroll in the courses through Diamantes Na Cozinha, resulting in them learning skills that can land them a job later on. But, the program is also to help kids find their purpose in life. It distracts them from the harsh realities of living in a favela. Through this, Diamante is not only helping individuals emerge from impoverished situations, but also propelling the Brazilian economy.

Diamante currently teaches various courses. Each course contains up to 25 students who can sign up free of charge. There is a wide variety of courses such as hospitality, high cuisine, food anthropology and cocktail-making. During training, students have the opportunity to serve at catering events. This serves not only as an opportunity for students to receive an evaluation but also as a means for them to start making an income. When training is over, Diamante selects his best students to work a the Na Minha Casa restaurant permanently.

Currently, the Diamantes Na Cozinha headquarters includes an archive with more than 200 volumes, a fully equipped kitchen and a media library. The project has gathered international attention, most notoriously in its feature in the Netflix food show “Feed Phil,” where the host visited Diamantes Na Cozinha and presented the foundation’s story. Through this and many other features, the project has gained momentum and donations from businesses and individuals alike.

“We use Gastronomy as a tool for social and professional transformation,” said Diamante. “We don’t just want good professionals, we want our students to evolve as human beings.”

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

Failed Humanitarian AidSeveral failed humanitarian efforts can be attributed to the fact that some programs developed with good intentions fail to take into account the local context in which they are implemented. Others are simply poorly executed. But, no matter the type of failure, failed humanitarian aid projects teach valuable lessons. If heeded, these lessons can ensure the success of future programs.

Unanswered Calls to a GBV Hotline in Kenya

Research shows that domestic violence affects 35% of women worldwide. Additionally, male partners are responsible for 38% of the murders of women.

Furthermore, gender-based violence across the globe perpetuates poverty. For example, violence and the fear of violence, affect the performance of girls and women in their educational pursuits as well as employment. It often results in girls dropping out of school and women leaving their jobs, thereby limiting their independence.

In 2015, NGOs like Mercy Corps and the International Rescue Committee implemented a toll-free hotline in Kenya. The hotline intended to make it easier to file reports of gender-based violence (GBV) and speed up criminal investigations and litigation.

Investigative reporting revealed that for parts of 2018, the gender violence hotline was out of order. When it was working, sometimes the experts manning the hotline were not escalating reports to the police. In addition, there were other staffing and technical issues. Also, several police officers were not aware that such a hotline existed.

Abandoned Cookstoves in India

Indoor air pollution is a leading risk factor for premature deaths globally. Global data reveals that death rates from indoor air pollution are highest in low-income countries.

In 2010, former U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, launched the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves initiative. The U.N. backed the $400 million initiative with the intention of reducing indoor air pollution in India.

Most of the clean cookstoves built were abandoned four years later, despite initial success. There are several reasons for the abandonment. Research found that the clean cookstoves required people to pay closer attention while cooking and necessitated longer cooking times. The stoves would also break down and then went unrepaired. Households also found it restrictive that the stoves could not be moved outside.

Repurposed Public Restrooms in Kenya

One in three people worldwide do not have access to improved sanitation and 15% of the world resort to open defecation. Lack of proper sanitation increases the risk of infectious diseases and diarrhoeal diseases. It is important to acknowledge that unsafe sanitation accounts for 5% of deaths in low-income countries.

On World Toilet Day in 2014, the Ministry of Devolution launched a program to construct 180 public toilets in the Kibera slum. The arm of government involved in construction built the toilets and sewer lines that would connect to the main sewage line. Local youth groups managed the restrooms. Water shortages and sewer lines in disrepair quickly decommissioned multiple toilets. The youth groups did not have the resources to address these issues so they then decided to rent out the restroom spaces for other purposes.

Focusing on the Lessons

These failed humanitarian aid projects were well-intentioned and there are key lessons to learn from each case.

The failed hotline in Kenya demonstrates the importance of program monitoring and investment follow-through. Efforts to foster awareness had little impact and staffing and technical issues went unaddressed.

The unused cookstoves in India show the importance of understanding the day-to-day needs of the people the program intends to help. The desire to cook outside while avoiding extended cooking times swayed people away from using the stoves.

The restrooms in Kenya lacked sufficient monitoring once handed over to youth groups. The youth groups also did not have the necessary support or resources to address the challenges that quickly became insurmountable financial obstacles for the groups.

By taking these lessons forward to new projects, people can leverage the understanding of failed humanitarian aid projects of the past as a way to promote future success.

Amy Perkins
Photo: pixabay

Liquid Petroleum GasIn North Darfur, a region of Sudan, 90% of families use wood and charcoal to stay warm and cook meals. Burning wood and charcoal, however, has several negative effects. Practical Action, an international development organization, has partnered with the Women’s Developmental Association to provide these families with liquid petroleum gas stoves, which are cleaner and more efficient. The Low Smoke Stoves Project has been ongoing since 2014, significantly improving the lives of families in the Darfur region.

Negative Effects of Burning Wood and Charcoal

  • It hurts the environment by causing pollution and deforestation.
  • It produces a lot of smoke indoors, which can cause infections and illnesses.
  • The materials are expensive to buy, putting a financial burden on poor families.

Wood and charcoal produce a lot of smoke when burned, contributing to bad air quality and causing a variety of health issues that mainly affect the women and children in the home. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, wood smoke causes particle pollution and releases pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The particle pollution caused by wood smoke can cause eye infections, chest infections and other illnesses that can be expensive to treat. Deforestation is also an issue in regions that rely heavily on firewood.

Other than the environmental and health concerns associated with burning wood and charcoal, there is also the financial burden it places on families. The materials are expensive to buy and do not cook efficiently. Women have to spend long amounts of time cooking instead of using their time for education and development.

Benefits of Liquid Petroleum Gas Stoves

Liquid petroleum gas stoves have a lot of benefits over traditional cooking methods with wood or charcoal. They produce less smoke and other pollutants, improving air quality and reducing infections and other illnesses in poor families. The stoves are more fuel-efficient, saving families 65% on their monthly bills. Liquid petroleum gas stoves also cook faster, giving women more time to engage in education and development.

Practical Action’s Low Smoke Stoves Project

Practical Action’s ongoing Low Smoke Stoves Project aims to educate regional communities about the dangers of burning wood and charcoal as well as replace those methods with more environmentally friendly and cost-efficient liquid petroleum gas stoves. The organization, partnered with the Women’s Development Association, has already placed 12,080 liquid petroleum gas stoves into homes in the North Darfur region. Since the beginning of the project, the area had improved air quality, less deforestation and lower carbon emissions.

This program works by giving eligible households a microloan to help them buy a liquid petroleum gas stove. While there is an initial cost, the stoves are more fuel and time-efficient so they quickly pay for themselves with the savings they produce. The stoves not only help improve the quality of life for families in North Darfur, but they also have long-term economic benefits, thus helping to lift people out of poverty.

–  Starr Sumner
Photo: Flickr

insulated WonderbagIn Africa, nearly 90% of women use open fire cooking methods. The same is common for women in developing countries throughout the world. This system can often take hours to cook a full meal. The insulated Wonderbag, a heat retention cooking device, aims to change lives and create a sustainable life for those living in poverty, especially women.

The Insulated Wonderbag

In developing countries, gendered roles like cooking and tending to the household take up a lot of time.  The amount of time spent cooking could be better used on activities that result in the progression of women, such as education and development. Often, women are disproportionately responsible for cooking meals and the labor that goes into the open fires that are required for such cooking. A South African entrepreneur decided to design an invention to help address these difficulties. The insulated Wonderbag is an eco-technology innovation that saves girls and women hours of time and labor and improves indoor air quality and overall health, among other benefits.

How the Wonderbag Began

The idea behind this invention comes from Sarah Collins, a local South African innovator with extensive knowledge of social development and a love for the environment. Collins grew up watching the women before her use cooking tricks to keep food warm when the power went out. One of these tricks, used by her grandmother, was letting hot pans of food sit in cushioned pads to remain warm. A life-changing yet straightforward concept that Collins took and made her own.

The Simple Magic of the Wonderbag

First and foremost, the Wonderbag is a product meant to alleviate women and girls’ daily struggles as caregivers and enable them to pursue education and employment. The Wonderbag works without electricity or gas and is made of upcycled materials such as poly-cotton and chipped-foam. Essentially, it functions similarly to a crockpot or a slow cooker. The insulated Wonderbag allows food, once brought to the boil by traditional cooking methods, to continue cooking for up to 12 hours inside the Wonderbag.

The Benefits of the Wonderbag

  • Females regain four to six hours of their day
  • Boosts household incomes up to $2 a day
  • Saves more than 1300 hours for girls and women each year, enabling them to go to school, learn skills and find employment
  • Raises incomes of women living in poverty
  • Decreases the use of fossil fuels for cooking by 70% and thus also the associated negative health impact
  • Allows women to re-invest their earnings into providing healthier meals for their families

The Impacts of the Wonderbag

Since 2008, the revolutionary Wonderbag has been distributed around the world. Thus far, it has had an impressive impact. The introduction of the Wonderbag into communities allows women the chance to build their own businesses and create jobs for others. These businesses range from serving warm meals to sewing new bags. Moreover, every time a Wonderbag is bought, another is donated to women in need in Africa, continuing the cycle of prosperity.

More than 130 NGOs in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, benefitted from reselling Wonderbags to generate an income, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Collectively, these NGOs generated almost two million South African rands to sustain their operations.

Overall, the global need for the insulated Wonderbag continues to grow. So far, there are more than one million Wonderbags worldwide. With every purchase, $1 goes toward subsidizing bags for people in vulnerable communities. The Wonderbag is an innovative solution to combat global poverty.

– Sallie Blackmon
Photo: Flickr

poverty in ChinaPoverty in China remains a pressing concern for the global community, as 252 million people—or 18% of China’s population—live on less than $2 per day. Another 22% of China’s population lives on less than $5.50 per day, especially in rural areas with struggling farming and fishing industries. Yet, many people don’t realize the extent of poverty in China.

Poverty in China

China remains as the second-largest economy in the world since the 2008 recession. There were still 5.5 million individuals living in extreme rural poverty in China by the end of 2019. This was even after an average of 13 million people were lifted out of poverty each year for the first five years of President Xi Jinping’s first term.

China’s mountainous terrain and varying natural conditions have caused issues like air pollution, water and soil problems and biodiversity loss. China’s natural landscape along with a lack of transport infrastructure makes poverty alleviation rather difficult.

However, many regions of China are trying to stimulate their economies by embracing regional cuisine. In Gansu and Qinghai Provinces, traditional noodles have stimulated the economy. In Guangdong, local chefs have run workshops to teach the poor how to cook and market their goods. Embracing traditional cuisine could help solve the poverty in China.

Noodle Initiative in Gansu Province

Gansu Province, located in North-Central China, created a noodle initiative in 2019. The aim was to alleviate poverty through the region’s specialty dish, Lanzhou noodles, prepared in a beef broth. Gansu authorities trained over 15,000 people from impoverished areas to make Lanzhou noodles from scratch, which would typically cost them $1.50. The participants then hopefully have a better chance to find employment at or open their own noodle shops. Similar initiatives in Gansu’s capital, Lanzhou and Beijing in 2018 led 90% of participants to find noodle-related jobs afterward, which helps fight poverty in China. These jobs typically earned the workers more than $590 a month.

The centuries-old noodle recipe calls for very precise noodle pulling. It can even take up to three years to fully master the skill. The Vocational and Technical College of Resources and Environment in Lanzhou helps many Lanzhou residents perfect their noodle-pulling craft. These new chefs also receive aid in fulfilling the necessary education requirements to spread their skills overseas.

The result is an estimated 4,000 Lanzhou noodle shops are currently open in Gansu province, which had the lowest GDP per capita of any Chinese province in 2017.

Hand-pulled noodles in Qinghai Province

Qinghai Province, located in China’s northwest on the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau, has seen drastic poverty reduction over the past decade. Previously plagued by poor infrastructure and lack of skilled labor, Qinghai has seen success with its “noodle” sector. The disposable income for farmers and herdsmen in the region nearly doubled from 2015 to 2018. Their poverty rates decreased from 24.6% to just 2.5% within that same time period.

Haidong, in northeast Qinghai, generated 15.4 billion yuan in business revenue. The source was from the city’s 578 noodle businesses, which employed 9,786 employees. One-third of the urban population and half of the families in rural areas are engaged in the city’s operating noodle businesses. The province has encouraged the noodle sector to continue hiring poorer residents. The city employs poverty reduction methods such as workshops, specific guidelines for growth and even a planned noodle business hub.

Benkanggou Village in Qinghai also helped eradicate poverty through the noodle industry. Over 110,000 of the villages’s 300,000 residents are engaged in the noodle industry. These numbers are thanks to the village’s 350 sessions of hand-pulled noodle training to over 13,000 families. Local authorities visited many poor households encouraging them to participate in the workshops. Thousands of more workers have been brought into the thriving industry since then.

River Snail Rice Noodles in Liuzhou

The city of Liuzhou, located in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is well known for its river snail rice noodles, or luosifen. Luosifen is a fusion of traditional ingredients from Han, Miao and Dong ethnic groups. It consists of rice noodles boiled with pickled bamboo shoots, dried turnip, fresh vegetables and peanuts in a spicy river snail soup. The dish was designated as part of Guangxi’s intangible cultural heritage in 2008. In the years since, the Liuzhou government has been boosting industries related to luosifen’s production. The region now brings in around six billion yuan annually.

Guangxi was listed as the province with the fourth lowest GDP per capita in 2018. Then in 2019, Guangxi lifted 1.25 million people out of poverty as well as de-listed 1,268 poor villages. This was a direct result of 337 workshops and 33 new poverty alleviation industrial parks. The luosifen industry played a major role in these poverty eradication efforts, as new factories have been created that specialize in instant luosifen, bamboo shoot processing, river snail collection and creative luosifen packaging.

Guangdong Cooking Initiatives

In Guangzhou in South China, an initiative called the Cantonese Cuisine Master program has tried to cultivate talent, promote cultural exchange and alleviate poverty in China through Cantonese cuisine training. The program has trained over 30,000 people so far and has mobilized over 96,000 people to secure employment and start their own businesses, lifting many out of poverty.

A Cantonese Cuisine Master Skills Competition in 2019 brought together many graduates of the program from 23 cities. Chefs prepared dishes like Chaoshan marinated goose, roasted crispy suckling pig, Portuguese-style chicken and flavored fish balls. Various Cantonese Cuisine Master programs and workshops have taken place in Hong Kong, Macao and other regions in southern China with the help of universities and enterprises. The program prepares chefs, many of whom come from rural and poverty-stricken areas, for the workforce. It also teaches the chefs about the concepts and ideas behind their cooking, which fosters cultural exchange and cooperation.

Since 2018, Guangdong has signed cooperation agreements with Tibet, Guangxi Zhuang, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions and Guizhou and Yunnan provinces to train more Cantonese chefs and help many escape poverty.

In Sichuan Province, 103 trainees from poverty-stricken counties—Meigu, Leibo and Jinyang—came to the Shunde District in Guangdong’s city of Foshan to receive free cooking lessons for two months at the Shunde Culinary Institute. They learned to cook traditional Cantonese dishes like stir-fried milk and stuffed mud carp as well as Sichuan-inspired dishes. After completing the program, trainees will have access to restaurant internships and full-time opportunities both in Shunde and in their hometowns. These sessions provided by Guangdong are said to increase monthly salaries by 1,000 to 2,000 yuan. Additionally, 56,000 students are currently enrolled in Cantonese cuisine courses at vocational schools across the province.

Noah Sheidlower
Photo: Flickr

Deforestation-in-Uganda
With only 10% of the rural population of Uganda having access to electricity, it is no surprise that the rest of the population is forced to rely on other sources for food and energy. Unfortunately, this means that many people cut down trees leading to one of the highest global deforestation rates. Each year, nearly 3% of Uganda’s forests are cut down for fuel, agriculture and to make room for an increasing population. At the current rate of deforestation in Uganda, the country is likely to lose all of its forests in the next 25 years.

The repercussions of these actions are clear to see. Besides the landscape almost being completely devoid of trees, the dry season has become longer and filled with more droughts. The loose soil has caused heavy rainfall to turn into deadly floods, while crops are producing less and less yield. The wood from cut trees is mostly used to fuel stoves for cooking. But this has caused a separate issue where the smoke collects inside homes and causes respiratory issues for family members who stay at home and cook.

How Mud Stoves Can Help Reduce Deforestation

Badru Kyewalyanga, a local man frustrated by the minimal action from the government on the matter, developed a solution to this issue: mud stoves. The stoves are made of mud, water and straw, and require little time to be constructed. Balls of mud are thrown into the ground to remove air bubbles and prevent cracks. The mud is then molded around the trunk of a banana-like plant called the matooke tree. The stove is cut and arranged to form a combustion chamber, a chimney and several ventilation shafts. After two weeks, the mud hardens and can be removed from the tree and is ready for use.

The stoves are incredibly efficient as they require only half the amount of wood for fuel compared to a traditional stove and oven. In addition, the placement of the chimney when attached to a wall of the house means that the wood smoke can escape without being trapped inside. Kyewalyanga, along with local and international volunteers has worked together to build over 100 stoves helping villagers to breathe cleaner air, while also reducing the rate of deforestation in Uganda.

Use of Mud Stoves in South Sudan

The stoves have now begun to spread their usefulness to other groups of people in Africa as well. Refugees from South Sudan are often forced to venture into the forests for firewood or charcoal to prepare meals, which is risky due to the prevalent violence in the region. Unfortunately, they are left with little choice if they are to survive. However, they were introduced to a newer and more efficient method of cooking by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

ADRA’s mission was to provide necessary supplies to the refugees escaping South Sudan. One of the items provided to the refugees was the mud stove developed in Uganda. Because the stove emits a smaller amount of smoke than a conventional stove and minimizes the number of trees to be cut down to collect fuel, they became incredibly popular. Members of ADRA were able to give demonstrations and trained women and children on its usage. These projects have shown that mud stoves are a useful and efficient way to provide a cheap way to cook food as well as fight deforestation in Uganda and other parts of Africa.

Aditya Daita
Photo: Pixabay

How Simple Cooking Stoves in Uganda Are Helping People EatUganda, an East African country that Winston Churchill once referred to as the “pearl of Africa,” is growing fast, with a population of about 34.5 million. The country has a rainy season and a dry season, and those climate conditions lead many Ugandans to be farmers. However, Uganda is facing a massive problem with deforestation, which in turn can cause uncertain weather patterns. People, who rely on cutting down trees for firewood to cook food in stoves in Uganda, partly cause this deforestation problem. However, a man named Badru Kyewalyanga has created a cleaner, safer, and more sustainable stove.

The Problem

Deforestation in Uganda poses many concerns for the population. With only 10% of Uganda’s population receiving electricity, the only option to create energy to cook food for many people is to cut down trees and burn firewood. The effects of wood-burning stoves in Uganda are detrimental to the population. In fact, Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority predicts that Uganda’s forests will disappear in less than 20 years if the current conditions do not change.

Deforestation creates irregular weather patterns, which can lead to intense droughts and heavy floods during different times of the year. In May 2020, floods affected thousands of people, destroying schools, a hospital, roads and power lines. Irregular weather patterns and storms leave many people without homes, schools to attend and electricity to cook food and conduct other daily activities. This contributes to the issue of poverty in Uganda, as more than 21% of Ugandans live in poverty. The irregular and extreme weather also causes high rates of crop failure in Uganda, which affects farmers who hope to earn money and plant food to feed their families. In the Rwenzori Mountains, floods left soil loose and unfarmable. Since many Ugandans have low incomes and cannot afford many basic necessities, the few crops that they harvest sell for money to pay for schooling for children and other essentials, leaving many people hungry as a result. Additionally, many women in Uganda have respiratory issues due to indoor air pollution from typical wood-burning stoves.

The Solution

After witnessing all the problems that traditional stoves in Uganda were causing, Kyewalyanga was determined to create a solution. He developed a stove using mud, water and straw, all of which are abundant in Uganda. The stove is essentially free to make and easy to build. To make a stove, Kyewalyanga forms the ingredients into small balls and attaches them together around a matooke tree, a common plant in Uganda which is much like a banana tree. As the mud hardens into a chimney, ventilation pockets and combustion chambers, the trunk of the tree rots away, thus forming an oven.

Kyewalyanga’s energy-saving stove reduces the amount of wood needed to cook food by 50%. However, the stove not only helps to reduce the number of trees that people must cut down, but it also provides the population with a sustainable alternative to traditional stoves in Uganda that cause respiratory illnesses and problems among farmers. A woman who cooks for her family of six people described how the smoke-filled walls of her kitchen caused health problems and how she hopes that Kyewalyanga’s stove will help her “get rid of [her] respiratory illness.” Since 2017, Kyewalyanga has created 100 stoves, but he hopes to develop many more in the future to combat deforestation and provide a more healthy lifestyle for the inhabitants of Uganda.

Shveta Shah
Photo: Flickr

Clean Cooking Technology
Wood-based cooking harms the health of humans and the environment. KopaGas is one of many social enterprises tackling this problem by transitioning Tanzanian families to a clean cooking technology that is gas-based rather than wood-based through an innovative pay-as-you-go business model.

Imagine that a family is cooking dinner in the kitchen. They put charcoal into the stove and water for stew begins to boil. As the water heats, thick, grey smoke from the stove fills the room, the family’s lungs and the surrounding forest. In Tanzania, 96 percent of the population still uses dirty fuel sources like charcoal and firewood for cooking purposes. This has a harmful impact on respiratory health and the country’s ecology.

Effects of Wood-Based Cooking

Cooking with charcoal and firewood is comparable to exposing oneself to the smoke of 400 cigarettes per hour. Such air contamination contributes to roughly 4.3 million deaths per year worldwide. In Tanzania, respiratory infections are the second leading cause of death after malaria. In addition to devastating health effects, the resulting smoke causes ecological damage, particularly deforestation. A shocking 55 percent of the global wood harvest, representing 9 percent of primary energy supply, stems from traditional woodfuels.

To add to this, most wood-burning stoves are inefficient. Around 85 to 90 percent of the energy content of wood that people use for cooking becomes lost through the process of combustion. Such inefficiency means that people need to cut down more trees to satisfy the demand for woodfuel.

KopaGas as a Solution

Scientists Sebastian Rodriguez-Sanchez and Andron Mendes sought to address these health and environmental challenges head-on by creating clean cooking technology. In 2015, Rodriguez-Sanchez and Mendes co-founded KopaGas. The enterprise uses proprietary technology to help Tanzanian families transition to gas-based cooking.

Households pay an upfront fee of $6.50 to receive a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cooking kit. Families pay for the gas through a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) model via mobile phone payment. A smart meter that attaches to the LPG cooking kit measures gas consumption feeding back into the mobile application. Transparent information allows families to understand consumption patterns which can help return control over personal finances.

KopaGas’ innovation is revolutionary not because it utilizes clean cooking methods, but rather because it makes gas-cooking affordable through the PAYG system. Rodriguez-Sanchez told Reuters that the PAYG model needs to prove itself at a large scale to attract greater levels of investment. However, KopaGas is already gaining early financial support from the Acumen Fund, HRSV, Saisan Co. and DEG / KFW.

In January 2020, the U.K.-based holding company, Circle Gas Limited, acquired KopaGas’ PAYG technology. The company aims to expand access to technology across Sub-Saharan Africa, where 900 million people have yet to transition to modern and clean cooking fuels. Further expansion will then move into East Africa where the focus of 2020 is in Kenya.

Innovating Clean Cooking

While KopaGas is attempting to transition households from woodfuel-based cooking to gas-cooking, others are taking completely different approaches. One example is ServedOnSalt that emerged in collaboration with the DTU Skylab_FoodLab, a Food System Change laboratory that Roberto Flore founded and leads. The ServedOnSalt project developed a battery using solar energy, salt and water to create a cheap and clean-powered cooking stove. KopaGas,  ServedOnSalt and other social enterprises within the clean cooking technology space are fundamentally transforming cooking practices in developing areas. These innovations are improving the health of humans and the planet.

– Kate McGinn
Photo: Flickr