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Stoves Are Not One Size Fits All

Don’t underestimate the impact a stove can have on a woman’s life. In rural communities in Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and Mexico, women do most, if not all, of the cooking for their families. In many homes, this means spending hours bent over an open fire, breathing in damaging smoke and carbon monoxide. Cooking over an open fire is detrimental both to women’s health and to forests. Harvesting firewood for cooking is a driver of deforestation in many rural areas in Central America and Mexico. By building fuel-efficient, clean-burning stoves in our project communities, EcoLogic helps improve the health of both families and forests. All of the stoves that we use reduce families’ fuel wood consumption about 60 to 70%, compared to traditional open-fire cooking methods. This saves women and children time and energy harvesting wood, and also reduces pressure on forests.

Building a new Justa stove in Honduras

Volunteers in Honduras build the base of a new Justa stove

Stoves, however, are not one size fits all.

A family in Oaxaca, Mexico, will have different local conditions, cooking needs, and traditions than a family in Atlántida, Honduras. Some features are constant throughout most models. For example, “Throughout Central America, people like to cook tortillas, so most models we use have a tortilla griddle, or plancha,” explained Reyna Guzmán, an engineer at the Stove Certification Center at Zamorano University in Honduras. However, to make sure that a woman gets the most out of a new stove–and continues to use it for a long time—we build different models depending on the needs of communities in different regions.

EcoLogic currently uses six different kinds of stoves, depending on the region and community. The best way to decide which model is right for a community is, of course, to ask the women who will use them. Usually, EcoLogic field technicians use their knowledge of a given community to propose a few stove models. We bring women together to discuss the features of different stoves, and they decide which model they think would work best for them. Then, we choose a small number of families to pilot the stoves, to make sure that they work well for that community’s needs. Finally, we expand the stove program in that community, with the ultimate goal of building a fuel-efficient stove in the home of every family who needs one. After we build the stoves, we also train women to correctly use and take care of their stoves, and our field technicians regularly check in on families with new stoves to help them with the transition and to answer their questions.

Here are three of the models we use the most—and some of the foods you might see cooking on them, in case you’re hungry!

Plancha stove

A new Plancha fuel-efficient stove in Guatemala

A community volunteer smooths concrete on a Plancha stove in Sarstún, Guatemala

Where we use it: Guatemala

How it’s built: Plancha means “griddle,”and the name refers to the iron cooking griddle on top. The Plancha stove usually features three burners for cooking, which are made by simply cutting holes in the iron. The body of the stove is made from a mixture of clay and sand. There is a combustion chamber for fuel wood and, importantly, a chimney to let smoke escape from inside the home.

A meal of rice and beans with stewed chicken served in Guatemala

A meal of rice and beans with stewed chicken served in Guatemala

Good for cooking: The separate burners make it easy to cook pots of rice and beans at the same time. Rice and beans, or arroz y frijoles in Spanish, is a staple dish throughout Guatemala. Black beans are simmered for hours until they are tender and creamy, and then mixed with sautéed onions, peppers, and garlic and white rice. Rice and beans are often served with corn tortillas—ideally also freshly made on the Plancha stove—and fried plantains.

Justa stove

Cooking on a Justa stove in Honduras

A woman cooks a rice dish on a Justa stove in Honduras

How it’s built: The Justa stove is built from bricks or blocks of concrete or adobe. As with all the fuel-efficeint stoves that Ecologic uses, Justa stove models feature a combustion chamber for wood, as well as a chimney for ventilation. The Justa stove is topped with one large metal griddle, or plancha, for cooking. Justa models also feature an attached shelf on the side to store food, plates, or cooking equipment. “Cats and small children can sit there, too, although that’s not what the shelf was built for…” laughed Guzmán. Many women in Honduras decorate the stoves with painted ceramic tiles at the end of construction.

A baleada - fresh tortilla, black beans, and cheese

A fresh baleada stuffed with black beans and cheese

“Cats and small children can sit there, too, although that’s not what the shelf was built for…” laughed Guzmán. Many women in Honduras decorate the stoves with painted ceramic tiles at the end of construction.

Good for cooking: The large griddle makes the Justa stove ideal for flipping fresh corn tortillas. For a hearty breakfast, stuff a hot tortilla with refried black beans, crumbled queso duro cheese, and the Honduran-style sour cream known as mantequilla to make baleadas. Some recipes also add fried eggs, avocado, or seasoned ground beef or pork.

Patsari stove

Where we use it: Oaxaca, Mexico

Patsari stove in Oaxaca

A Patsari stove in the small community of San Bernabé, in Oaxaca, Mexico

How it’s built: the Patsari is a squat stove that is usually built from brick, but can also be constructed from concrete. It features two or three burners. One or two are smaller, which makes them good for pots of rice or beans, and the third is larger, which makes it an ideal griddle for cooking fresh corn tortillas. A small combustion chamber is located near the bottom of the stove, and like all fuel-efficient stoves, it features a chimney to keep smoke and soot out of families’ homes.

Fun fact: Patsari means “the stove that cares” in Purépecha, a language spoken by the indigenous Purépecha people from the state of Michoacán.

Mole negro in Oaxaca

Chicken in mole negro sauce in Oaxaca. (Photo: Ryan Pikkel)

Good for cooking: Oaxaca is famous for its delicious cuisine, and the state is home to more than 200 known recipes for mole, a rich, complex sauce made from chili peppers and a long list of other ingredients, which sometimes includes chocolate. Because mole takes a long time to cook, it is usually saved for special occasions. Mole negro, or black mole, is slightly sweet, dark in color, and can made from toasted chili peppers, plantains, onions, tomatoes, tomatillos, cloves, cinnamon, chocolate, nuts, and more, depending on the recipe. On Día de los Muertos in November, the aromas of smoky mole negro simmering in pots on Patsari stoves perfumes the air in the village of San Bernabé, located within EcoLogic’s project site in Oaxaca.

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