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Fuel-efficient stoves: a win-win strategy for women and the environment?

Mar 08,2017

Women are at the front and center of an initiative promoting fuel-efficient stoves in Ethiopia. Adoption is slowing deforestation rates and generating multiple benefits for women and their wider communities: income-generating opportunities, reduced workloads, and improved health.

Ethiopia’s rapid population growth is causing widespread deforestation. Current estimates suggest that the country’s forests are being cleared at a rate of 40,000 hectares (ha) per annum. In the Gumera-Maksegnet region - where ICARDA is managing a community-based watershed management initiative – forest cover declined by 19% between 1986 and 2007. 

This rapid clearance is driven by a multitude of factors, including: clearing land for settlement and agricultural expansion, exploiting timber for construction, and producing charcoal for income-generation. The rising demand for firewood to sustain household cooking and heating requirements is another factor. One potential solution is the fuel-efficient stove - a more sustainable alternative to traditional open fires that uses significantly less wood.

Fuel efficient stoves, the way to go?

Fuel-efficient stoves have been the focus of several initiatives in Ethiopia since the 1980s, but their adoption by rural communities has been constrained by excessive costs and inaccessibility. In Ethiopia, they cost around 150 Birr – equivalent to 8 USD – which is beyond the reach of most farmers and rural households.

ICARDA and the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), however, attempted to raise adoption rates by stimulating local production. With the help of District-level offices, we identified young landless women and trained them to produce fuel-efficient stoves.

The initiative opted for ‘Mirt’ stoves which have several advantages: they have an energy efficiency gain of approximately 24% over conventional open fires; reduce household demand for firewood by up to 45%; and decrease carbon monoxide (CO) concentration and particulate matter (PM) by 89% and 17%, respectively, over an 8-hour timeframe.  

It also introduced a ‘stove-for-work’ program for those who still could not afford the locally-produced models. Instead of money, they contributed family labor to the development of soil conservation structures and afforestation activities, resulting in the planting of some 40,000 trees.

Benefits for women and local communities

Beyond increased income-generating opportunities and the advantages of a healthier and more productive natural environment, women received additional benefits: fuel-efficient stoves reduced the time they needed to collect firewood – therefore substantially decreasing their workloads; and less exposure to smoke and open flames substantially improved health outcomes. 

In total, energy efficient stoves were distributed to over 800 households. The initiative demonstrated that it’s possible to address the excessive costs and inaccessibility routinely associated with fuel-efficient stoves, while generating positive gains for rural women and their wider communities. Our task now is to apply this learning to national development and conservation strategies so we can extend benefits across Ethiopia - and beyond.  

Author: Bezaiet Dessalegn, Livelihoods Specialist, ICARDA.