Cleaner Cookstoves Carry Considerable Benefits

cleaner cooking stoves

If you are reading this, chances are that you have access to a basic oven at the very least in which you can cook food but you probably take for granted what other people have never had the opportunity of using and the benefits that it brings over more traditional means of cooking.

Some 3 billion people cook on basic fires or cookstoves each and every day and these are mainly fuelled by wood or charcoal but there are a number of issues arising from this method of cooking both for the people involved and the wider environment.

There are now campaigns and organisations that aim to change the way the developing world cooks by introducing cleaner stoves that will help reduce all the negative aspects associated with current practices.

The Problems With Fires & Traditional Stoves

There are 3 main issues arising from the current situation along with some additional knock-on effects worth mentioning.

1. Black Carbon Emissions

With the burning of wood and charcoal on fires, either open or beneath stoves, comes the problem of black carbon. A major component of what is commonly known as soot, black carbon has been seen by many as one of the most important factors affecting regional and global climates and while the effect may be less than previously thought, many scientists still agree that a reduction in black carbon should play a big part in our efforts to lessen the extent of climate change.

This is because, unlike carbon dioxide particles which remain in the atmosphere for up to 100 years, soot particles only stay there for a number of weeks meaning that reductions in atmospheric concentrations can be achieved in a relatively short space of time if polluting is curtailed today.

I couldn’t find a figure for the total emissions from cooking stoves and fires but with almost half the world’s population relying on such methods on a daily basis, the numbers will almost certainly be huge.

2. Deforestation

The wood for these stoves has to come from somewhere and inevitably it is local forests and woodlands that bear the brunt. As I have highlighted in previous posts about deforestation, emissions relating from the cutting down of trees could be as much as 18% of the global total and wood based fuels for cooking contributes significantly to this.

As Scientific American noted:

In 2005, wood fuel consumption represented about 73 and 90 percent of wood removals in Asia and Africa, respectively.

3. Health

As the saying goes there’s no smoke without fire and when that fire is inside your home, you are forced to inhale a potent concoction of noxious gases and across the world some 2 million people die prematurely each year from illnesses attributed to indoor pollution caused by solid fuel use in fires.

Indeed, a World Health Organization report from 2006 entitled Fuel For Life commented that:

Day in day out, and for hours at a time, women and their small children breathe in amounts of smoke equivalent to consuming two packs of cigarettes per day.

Additional Problems

Open fires and inefficient fuel burning stoves mean that a family has to spend more on wood, charcoal or some other fuel to cook. Studies estimate that upwards of 20% of income is spent on these fuels and this does not include the costs associated with looking for wood and the time lost in the process that could otherwise be spent generating further income.

A further problem comes when women are forced to go out looking for wood to burn. Sometimes travelling large distances in remote areas, women are at risk of attack and sexual assault. The more wood that is required, the greater the risk the women face.

How A Better Cookstove Might Help

The benefits, then, of delivering cleaner cookstove designs to the developing world are clear; all we need to do is reverse the problems mentioned above.

Cleaner, more efficient stoves can reduce black carbon emissions by as much as 95% although for affordability reasons the reduction is more typically 30 – 40% which is still significant.

Less fuel is needed to cook food on a better designed stove and so fewer tress need to be cut down. This not only reduces emissions but it maintains habitat for wildlife, prevents desertification and reduces the risk of local flooding.

If less particulate pollution is being emitted then clearly there is less risk to the health of people in those households. Better health leads to a better quality of life and could lead to higher incomes and better education.

A lower fuel requirement also leaves families with a greater disposable income and means women put themselves at less risk of attack as they do not have to spend so much time away from their homes collecting wood.

Are Cleaner Cookstoves A Realistic Solution?

There is some debate as to whether more efficient cookstoves really are a viable solution to the issues mentioned above. A recent study casts a shadow over the approach after the results from a trial in India proved disappointing. It found that by the end of the 3 year study, many of the stoves were in disrepair and were not being used by the families who were given them.

A rebuttal has since begun, led by Andrée Sosler, executive director of Potential Energy who says:

The fact that a single project using a single technology in a single geographic area was a failure does not mean that all (or even most) cookstove projects in most areas are equally doomed.

Another issue might be cost related. Poor households often buy wood and other fuels on a daily basis because it is more affordable this way and some argue that the upfront cost of a new cookstove is prohibitive. However, this cost is coming down considerably with companies like Toyola (not to be confused with the car manufacturer) who won a 2011 Ashden Award for their stoves which sell for as little as $7 with the option of a credit plan where the cost is paid back from the money saved on fuel over 2 months.

There are now more than 150,000 Toyola stoves in use, each preventing around a tonne of CO2 per year from entering the atmosphere.

Other organisations of interest include the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves which is a public-private partnership with many members who collectively aim to bring cleaner cookstoves to 100 million households by 2020. They want to foster innovation, encourage better financing and address the other issues that the sector faces if it is to achieve the scale they desire.

There are so many supporters of the clean cookstove movement and further studies that do show tangible benefits and I’d imagine that as time goes by, designs will be improved and lessons learned to provide the optimal solution.

Green Steve Supports Cleaner Cookstoves

I have spoken to a number of people about cookstoves in the past and many seem to be unaware of the problem, let alone the solutions. One thing that does help my cause though is that there are now clean stove projects with the highest gold standard for carbon offsetting credits.

I believe that these types of projects can not only help the environment and provide genuine, measurable carbon credits but they also lead to so many other benefits for people in developing nations.

We should be getting behind this cause and for all the good things it stands for. Will you help me spread the word about clean cookstoves?

Photo source: Chef Cooke

Steve (156 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

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