A stove that burns right

BINDU GOPAL RAO | Updated on September 08, 2011

Envirofit stoves reduce wood use by half and emit less fumes.

Villagers in Karnataka save on fuel and cooking time.

A relatively less known source of environmental pollution is the kitchen — that is, cooking fuels and methods of cooking that cause Indoor Air Pollution, leading to life-threatening respiratory diseases. The solution lies in improving cooking methods to reduce smoke in the kitchen. This includes better ventilation, use of dry firewood, construction of chimneys and, most importantly, use of improvised stoves that consume less firewood and cut emissions. This is an area of work in which the Shell Foundation, the UK-based charity established by the oil major Royal Dutch Shell, is involved.

Says Anuradha Bhavnani, Regional Director, Shell Foundation, “Using fuels such as gas or electricity would be healthier than traditional biomass fuels, but for most people in the developing world, these energy sources remain unrealistic alternatives due to lack of affordability or accessibility. The challenge is to design stoves that burn traditional fuels more efficiently, emit significantly less fumes, use less fuel… and then find a sustainable way to get these improved cook stoves into developing world homes.”

One such effort is a tie-up with stove manufacturer Envirofit, whose products promise environment-friendly cooking. At Avaragere village near Bidadi, in Karnataka, Ratna, 16, who has used this stove for about a month now, says it “saves time as I can cook faster and uses less wood as well. In fact, the usage of wood has been halved so it's a good investment.” Her neighbour Pooja, 21, agrees, “Not only do I need less time to cook but we can even use smaller twigs and pieces of wood instead of logs.”

Besides the savings on time and money, the stove promises to safeguard health too. Carbon monoxide and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) present in cooking fuel emissions penetrate deep into the lungs, leading to illnesses including pneumonia, chronic respiratory disease, heart disease, low birth weight and even tuberculosis. By cutting down emissions, the Envirofit stove also reduces exposure to these toxic chemicals.

Tayamma, 25, a young mother says, “Earlier there was so much soot on the walls and on the vessels as well; it was a hard task to cook. Now it's so much easier and my eyes don't burn, and I save a good 30 minutes of cooking time.” Agrees 35-year-old Jayamma from Ramnagar, “We only need to make sure we stir the food continually, and Grameen Koota's (microfinance institution) demonstration helped us decide to buy the stove.”

Grameen Koota and its associate NGO Navya Disha together spread awareness on the dangers of indoor air pollution and on the benefits of the improved stove; for the first time ever, Grameen Koota began offering loans for product purchase — the Envirofit stove.

Even small wayside hotels have started using this stove. Hotel owner Suresh, 25, says he saves up to Rs 60 a day on fuel cost. This saving can also help him own the stove in less than a month (the stove is priced Rs 999 and Rs 1,499 for two variants); most of the buyers repay Grameen Koota through weekly instalments.

Shell Foundation believes any successful and sustainable transformation must tackle the 4A challenges: availability, affordability, accessibility and accountability; it sees the answer in enterprise-based solutions. Over the past two years, it has tested multiple strategies in various markets before rolling out the ‘Room to Breathe' campaign within Karnataka.

A pilot campaign in 2008 in the districts of Raichur, Koppal, Udupi and Mysore showed that although small measures such as ‘keeping the kitchen windows open', ‘installing a chimney or ventilator', ‘keeping children away from smoke' or ‘use of dry firewood' can greatly reduce indoor air pollution, the focus should finally be on motivating people to use improved stoves.

“We have worked at the State Government level and succeeded in garnering the support of the Chief Minister's office, Ministry of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, Ministry of Social Welfare, and the Ministry of Women and Child Development,” says Anuradha. Community gatherings or ‘Village Baithaks' featuring a host of campaign-based interactive games, mobile van campaigns and street plays, and demos at weekly markets have been useful too. “Subsequently, with the support of the Women and Child Development Ministry and the RDPR Ministry we engaged with Anganwadi workers in an identified taluk in Shimoga to create another awareness raising module. We trained 100 Anganwadi workers on the issue of IAP, equipped them with flipcharts and leaflets, as well as an improved cook stove, to conduct demos among self-help groups in the area,” says Anuradha.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 1.5 million people die prematurely each year and several millions experience ill-health because of the fumes they are exposed to while cooking on open fires and traditional stoves.

A survey conducted in Shimoga among a random sampling of people covered by the Shell Foundation campaign showed that 94-99 per cent were aware of smokeless stoves and the respondents clearly associated smokeless stoves with low fuel use (73 per cent). About 67 per cent said they would consider buying a smokeless stove in future, which shows that awareness is prompting people to opt for a healthier solution.

Over the past year the programme has been rolled out in 40 Grameen Koota centres within Karnataka, covering about 480 villages. “We have reached out to over one lakh people, and sold over 5,000 stoves,” says Pradeep Pursnani, Business Director, Breathing Space.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is roping in Academy Award winning actor Julia Roberts as Global Ambassador, helping draw wider attention to the dangers of inefficient cookstoves. Converting most of the world's poor to more efficient stoves would do as much to prevent global warming as taking 134 million cars off the streets. That's something few can argue with!

Published on September 08, 2011

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