Spotlight on Clean Stoves

Andree Sosler

Andree Sosler, Executive Director of Darfur Stoves, talks about the importance of clean stoves.

Improved cookstoves are critical to improving both the energy and health needs of women in

Women demonstrate an improved cook stove in a Darfur Refugee camp. (Darfur Stoves)
Women demonstrate an improved cook stove in a Darfur Refugee camp. (Darfur Stoves)
developing countries. More than half of the world's population - three billion people - cook their food and heat their homes by burning coal and biomass, including wood, dung, and crop residues, in open fires or rudimentary stoves. According to the World Health Organization, exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves and open fires causes 1.9 million premature deaths annually, and is the fourth worst overall health risk factor in developing countries. As the household members most likely to cook meals, women and children are most affected. Cookstove smoke contributes to a range of chronic illnesses and acute health impacts (especially respiratory diseases). Reliance on biomass for cooking and heating forces women and children to spend many hours each week collecting wood. In humanitarian displacement settings, such as where we work in Darfur, women also face severe personal security risks when they collect fuel and some must trade their food aid rations for cash to purchase wood. Cooking over open fires also increases pressure on the local environment and contributes to climate change at the regional and global levels.

Improved cookstoves reduce the negative effects of cooking by burning fuel more efficiently and reducing the amount of wood (or other fuel) needed to cook each meal by at least half. Improved stoves also reduce the harmful emissions by as much as 90%, which translates to healthier women and a healthier environment.

On involving women in the design of stoves they will use.

We involve women in the design process for many of the same reasons that consumer goods companies here in the US survey their potential customers. People are much more likely to embrace new technologies if the technologies come with a perceived benefit and if they do not require significant behavior changes. In the case of Darfur, we needed to make sure that the stove is adapted to the pot shapes and sizes, the types of food, cooking methods, and the windy conditions and sandy terrain in Darfur. The women even named the stove in Arabic, calling it the "Five-Minute Stove" because it cooks food quickly. This collaborative approach ensures that the stove meets women's needs, which in turn leads to widespread adoption.

One great example from our work in Darfur was the need for feet and a tapered collar on the stove. The Berkeley-Darfur Stove was originally modified from another stove, which was made for flat-bottom pots common in the region of India where it was developed. When our focus group of women in Darfur tried to make their traditional porridge using the round bottom pots ubiquitous in Darfur, the pot and stove would tip over. One woman was needed to steady the stove with a stick while the other stirred, but this was not an ideal solution. We changed the stove design to accommodate the round bottom pots - all four sizes of them - so it would no longer require a second person to steady the stove and pot. For further stability, we also added feet to the stove and holes to stake the stove into the ground. We would have never known about the need for these modifications if we hadn't asked Darfuri women.

On progress.

This fall Hillary Clinton announced the launch of a Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. The Alliance's "100 by 20" goal calls for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020. The Alliance will work with public, private, and non-profit partners to help overcome the market barriers that currently impede the production, deployment, and use of clean cookstoves in the developing world. Darfur Stoves Project is a member of the Alliance, and we are optimistic that the it will help raise public awareness about the importance of cookstoves and attract more funding to cookstove projects. So far, we are very pleased with the Alliance members' commitment to honest discussion about the failings of past cookstove campaigns, as a result of engineers designing stoves that they liked which too often were not used by the women in developing countries for which they were intended.

On inspiration.

I have been so inspired by all the women I've met in Darfur during my field trips there. Despite the grave circumstances of poverty and conflict they face every day, they continue to persevere, to laugh, and to hope.