The majority of Central Americans living in rural areas burn wood to cook their food, with most using an open pit or a very rudimentary cookstove in the center of the home. These cooking practices are dangerous to human health because smoke fills the dwelling, which increases the likelihood of respiratory illnesses. Burning wood in a pit or an inefficient stove also uses a significant amount of fuel, requiring people—often women and children—to spend a significant amount of time collecting wood. To fuel their cooking fires, people often cut down live trees, resulting in the deforestation of watersheds and habitat, which may also increase soil erosion and mudslides. In addition, they remove dead wood, which otherwise would improve soil fertility and promote healthy ecosystems. All of this combined results in a situation which harms both people and nature.
Juana Maria García,
EcoLogic works with local partners and communities to install fuel-efficient wood stoves in Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras to reduce the pressure on standing forests and mangroves and improve the lives of the people with whom we work. The stoves EcoLogic installs are significantly safer and more efficient than traditional cooking methods. EcoLogic’s fuel-efficient stoves include chimneys to vent smoke and pollutants from the home. In addition, they improve combustion efficiency so women and children spend less time foraging for wood, and thus have more time for study and other activities.
The various cookstove models that EcoLogic builds reduce the amount of wood fuel needed by more than 30 percent over traditional methods. These stoves are highly sought after and well maintained, as EcoLogic ensures that the stoves are compatible with local cooking practices and that recipients have the training needed to properly maintain them. Considering local tradition and culture in stove design and implementation has a significant impact on the adoption and use of a stove: If you made tortillas every day, would you want a stove that didn’t provide a surface on which to make them, or that took twice as long to cook the same number of tortillas? These factors are important, and one of the many reasons collaboration and mutual understanding of needs and goals are essential to our success in promoting fuel-efficient stove adoption.
When fuel-efficient stoves are built at one of our project sites, they are placed first in the homes of community members already engaged in natural resource stewardship activities. Also, each family to receive a new stove agrees to do specific tasks that will contribute to the protection and restoration of their natural resources. For example, at Ecologic’s Forest of the Water Spirit project in Totonicapan, Guatemala, stove recipients commit to planting and caring for a minimum of 50 trees or to volunteering at a local greenhouse or communal nursery for at least two work days.
Members of the families who receive the stoves—often women, as traditionally they are the primary cooks in the home—are part of the team that constructs the stove. They work together to build stoves at all the homes receiving stoves within that building team. An EcoLogic field technician and an experienced mason oversee the job, but the community team does most of the work: mixing the cement, laying the adobe or bricks, building the inner chamber, coating the stove, and installing the chimney. Building a fuel-efficient wood stove takes one to two days, and then it needs to cure or “settle” for thirty days before use.
EcoLogic field technicians conduct trainings in the proper use and maintenance of the stoves. The information covered includes how to clean and maintain a stove in addition to hygiene and sanitation, such as why food should be protected from flies and insects, and why cleaning kitchen utensils and surfaces regularly with soap can reduce illness. The field technician also teach stove users that burning plastic emits toxic fumes that are dangerous to people and the environment. After stoves are in use, EcoLogic technicians and local partner representatives periodically visit stove owners to confirm that they are still using and maintaining their stoves, to find out about any issues or concerns they may have, and to help with any repair needs that might crop up.
Serbelia Grave Caal
“I am ethnic K’ekchi. In 2010, I received an EcoLogic fuel-efficient stove. For its construction, I contributed two bags of sand, 20 bricks, two bags of clay, and my time assisting the mason who built my stove. I also agreed to plant and tend an agroforestry plot. The trees I plant there will help provide the firewood for cooking and will mean even less wood taken from the forest.” Read the rest of Serbelia’s testimonial.
In 2011-2012, EcoLogic engaged the Zamorano University Improved Stoves Certification Center in Honduras to conduct an impact evaluation of our fuel-efficient stoves program. With input from this study and our participation in the Clean Cookstove Alliance’s Guatemala stakeholder consultation and market assessment in June 2013, we moved forward with the pilot installation of a new cookstove model in 25 homes in Guatemala. This pilot installation will help us assess the acceptance of the stove by local communities where we work, as well as providing data to further improve fuel efficiency in the models we build.