By Ramé Hemstreet, Capital Projects Director
“Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing.” — Oscar Wilde
It seems too good to be true. A technology that improves indoor air quality, saves money and reduces the emissions that are causing climate change. Even better, it is simple and inexpensive. Early this year we introduced this technology to the families we assist in Chingwere, Zambia. During our visit in January, I brought along a cookstove and left it for the women to try out. Subsequently Rabecca Musonda-Machiya, UNFF’s country director, and our local volunteer Dorien Van Halperin arranged for a demonstration, comparing the amount of charcoal needed to prepare the local staple nshima – a thick porridge made from maize flour and water – using the typical method as compared to a cookstove. In April the women gathered to have a cooking demonstration to compare traditional charcoal cookers with the high efficiency cookstove. For comparison purposes, identical pots and pans were used and the ingredients were equally divided between them.
The traditional burner has to be bigger than the pot used for cooking, because the pot has to stand on the charcoal. During the cooking process the pot shifts as the coals burn unequally and as a consequence the cook has to watch the fire constantly. The high efficiency burner has a small platform above the charcoal. The pot is put on that platform without touching the charcoal, which makes it more stable and thus safer.
The traditional cooker has holes on the side of the cooker and a large opening on top. The high efficiency cooker has no holes on the side but instead ventilation valves at the bottom of the burner to regulate the air flow.
The traditional burner heats up much quicker than the high efficiency cookstove because of the unlimited air supply to the charcoal. The women however, didn’t mind that the cooking time was longer with the high efficiency cookstove. They commented that they have no problem starting preparation a bit earlier.
The traditional burner needs to be filled with 5 Kwacha of charcoal while the high efficiency cookstove needs only 1.5 Kwacha of charcoal. The women have to put new charcoal in the burners for every meal. They try to cook two meals a day but often only cook one meal that is eaten around 16.00 hrs. The minimal yearly costs for charcoal with a traditional cooker is 1825 Kwacha; If the women cook with a high efficiency cookstove the minimal yearly costs will be about 550 kwacha.
The women were enthusiastic about the high efficiency cooker because it uses much less charcoal. The fact that it takes longer to prepare the meal is not an issue, as they can start earlier with the cooking. And, the higher efficiency means that less gases are emitted, reducing negative impacts to both human health and the environment.
However, a high efficiency cookstove costs about 500 kwacha in Zambia, as opposed to 25 kwacha for a traditional cooker. While the women cannot afford the $50 needed to purchase a stove, they are all willing to sign contracts to repay the cost using the charcoal savings. So, we are now purchasing a cookstove for each of the 27 families that we assist in Chingwere. Their subsequent repayments will go into the working capital fund for the agricultural cooperative we have helped the women create. Through these simple, straightforward means families that once survived off the refuse in the Chingwere trash dump are becoming self sufficient.