Smokeless cookstoves: Spreading like wildfire in India

Its 8am in Chamalapura, a tiny village in Yelandur district, in the south Indian state of Karnataka. With great concentration, 27-year-old Suma drops a fistful of concrete into a sieve, expertly letting the particles separate. On the tiled roof of their single room hut, her husband Chinnaswamy is fixing a narrow chimney. They’re in the process of installing a smokeless cookstove for their home.

Since 2009, villagers in the forests bordering the famous Nagarhole National Park and BR Hills Wildlife Sanctuary have installed smokeless cookstoves in their homes. Over 2,000 families have cut down on the firewood consumed by traditional cookstoves, halving CO2 emissions and protecting forests. In addition, women are freed from the daily search for firewood and families are healthier.

Highlights

  • 2,000 households in villages in Karnataka have replaced their traditional, polluting cookstoves with smokeless ones.
  • The smokeless cookstoves have significantly reduced the consumption of firewood by 40-55 percent and halved CO2 emissions.
  • The innovation has transformed the lives of the villagers, especially women, who don’t have to walk long distances in search of firewood and now have cleaner air to breathe

The climate mitigation initiative, which began in 2009, is supported by the Global Environment Facility’s small grants programme, administered by UNDP and implemented by India’s Centre for Environmental Education. The success of the initiative led to an additional grant in 2012, allowing the project to expand and reach more households.  In addition, NGOs and community-based organizations have replicated the design of these cookstoves throughout five additional states of India (Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar, and Maharashtra).

The efficient cookstoves have, on average, reduced the wood intake by 40-55 percent. For these poor households, buying expensive wood was an additional burden; instead, they cut wood from the forests. Now they are able to cut less wood and use the dried drop leaves of the area’s abundant coconut trees, preserving the region’s forests. So far, 8,648 tonnes of firewood have been saved, preventing an equivalent of 15,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

Four years ago, the traditional cookstove in Jayamma’s kitchen caught fire, burning down the family kitchen. The devastation to her house and subsequent rebuilding caused months of hardship for the family of six that relied on daily wage labour for an income. With support from the project, Jayamma installed a smokeless cookstove. “The traditional stove consumed around 25kg of firewood in a single week, but with the new stove, the same amount of firewood lasts 15 days,” she says.

The World Health Organization estimates that indoor pollution causes one million premature deaths each year in India. The cook stoves are designed to prevent smoke from accumulating indoors, removing smoke through chimneys in the roof or side walls. Now twenty-six year old Bhagya can cook without coughing or her eyes burning. “I don’t even notice the smoke from the new stove, as it neatly filters out through my chimney,” she says. Smokeless cook stoves are also more efficient, halving cooking time and freeing up women’s time.

To help women cash in on the few precious free hours they have, the project has set up tailoring units in the area where women are trained to make garments. It also established 74 women’s self-help groups, totaling 1,704 members. Some of their collective savings—more than US$21,000 in total—have been invested in buying more tailoring machines, storage bins and other products for livelihoods.

The smokeless cookstove has transformed the lives of villagers. 18-year-old Lata has suffered from asthma since she was a child. But since Lata’s family installed a smokeless cookstove, she has fewer respiratory troubles and today she walks to the tailoring unit every day, learning how to stitch garments.

These stories of change have inspired many from nearby villages to install their own cookstoves. The project provides the materials and a mason to build the stoves, but families pitch in, working side-by-side to build a sustainable future.

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