Just came across this story about how cooking stoves are the new frontline of fighting poverty and climate change.
A third to half of the world’s population – that’s two to three billion people folks – cook with small stoves burning wood, charcoal, dung and coal. The resulting pollution kills 1.6 million of them every year. On top of that pretty scary figure are the unknown numbers of babies who roll onto cooking fires, the untold devastation to the land by deforestation, the millions of tons of CO2 in the air…on and on, its a bitter toll.
For years, industrial designers, NGO’s and activists in the developing world have battled to make more sustainable devices acceptable and used on a mass scale. In India, where hundreds of millions of people are dependent on wood or dung fires, the government is promoting more sustainable cookers. But these initiatives are usually top down and so don’t always make an easy transition from the easel of an urban designer to the mud floor of a village kitchen.
Most of the government initiatives promote stoves costing around $25 – too much for the average village household. And in the past, these initiatives comprised of groups of men going from village to village installing complicated stoves and then going home, so when they broke down, there was no one in the village who knew how on how to repair them. Also, studies showed that most village women were reluctant to seek outside male help in what was essentially a problem for women in the home.
TIDE is an organization in Karnataka that figured out that it would be better to work directly with the users – they adapted their household cookers according to the demands of the users themselves. They decided to use women to build and sell the stoves and immediately the numbers of stoves - being sold for US$ 5 or 6 a piece - increased. The devices were sold by women who installed them for a small fee inclusive in the total price. And each builder also trained local women how to maintain the cookers.
With these new tactics, TIDE discovered an unexpected side effect of using women as trainers: in NGO speak, its called capacity building. To the rest of us, it means instilling confidence in women.
TIDE’s Director Svati Bhogle tells me the story of Lalita Bai who used to work in the fields. She signed up to be a stove builder because she wanted to earn the money to send her daughter to Teachers Training School. She went from village to village, built up such a successful business that not only did she get her daughter educated but now manages her own stove installation business. She minds her grandchildren at home, managing her two or three workers from her mobile phone.
Small steps – but all heading in a good direction.
Above photo from Claude Renault