Locally produced cook stoves promote energy efficiency in Malawi

Nora Lindstrom, Lilongwe Community Manager
Lilongwe, 6 April 2015

The fourth annual Cleaner Cooking Open Day was celebrated in Lilongwe on 13 March 2015. Organised by Clioma, a partner in the DISCOVER consortium, the event brought together a variety of actors — from the private sector to community groups — involved in developing and promoting renewable and efficient cooking and household energy options for Malawi.

This is a serious issue in a country where less than 10 percent of the population is estimated to have access to electricity. In Lilongwe, the cost of electricity and, significantly, the cost of electricity connections, means only nine percent of households are connected to the parastatal provider ESCOM, and, inevitably, those represent the wealthier households in the city. This leaves Lilongwe's poor, like most of the country, to rely on using biomass — wood, charcoal — for cooking and heating needs. Although wood can be a sustainable source of energy, heavy reliance on biomass in Malawi has myriad negative impacts: extensive deforestation, respiratory illnesses (especially among women and children who are subjected to air pollution), fire hazards, and burdens on the already meagre incomes of the poor.

The issue has received high level attention in Malawi. While President, Joyce Banda made a commitment to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to make two million cleaner cook stoves available to Malawians by the year 2020. Likewise, during his keynote address at the Cleaner Cooking event this year, Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Atupele Muluzi stressed that "[w]e have to replace charcoal. We have to replace wood fuel and we have to find alternatives that are environmentally sustainable and alternatives that are cost effective, affordable and with health benefits as well."

One of those alternatives is the improved cook stove, known as chitetezo mbaula in Chichewa. Made from locally sourced clay, the simple, portable stoves sell for around USD $2.50. In Lilongwe, they are a fixture at many petrol stations, but also available at local markets in the townships where many are also produced. The key benefits of the stoves are that they consume up to 80 percent less wood and produce less hazardous smoke than a customary three-stone fire.

While any household using the stove will benefit, there are reasons the urban poor in particular can gain from using improved stoves. As there is a limited amount of firewood available for collection in Lilongwe and wood must therefore be bought, lower fuel consumption results in direct savings for poor households. According to the Maeve Project, which promotes the stoves in both rural and urban areas, the "[c]hitetezo mbaula saves one ton of wood per household per year." In addition, given the cramped living conditions in some of Lilongwe's poor settlements, a reduction in air pollution while cooking is likely to have a relatively larger positive impact in urban than rural areas.

Production of the stoves also offers gainful income-generating opportunities for the urban poor. Clay is easily available in many peri-urban settlements, and Lilongwe's growing population offers an ideal customer base. Many of the organisations providing training in the production of chitetezo stoves focus particularly on women, for a combination of reasons; the 18-women strong Kauma Stove Production Group in north-eastern Lilongwe not only generates an income for its members, but has also helped elevate the position of the women in the community more generally.

Comprehensive statistics on the reach of the improved stove in Lilongwe or elsewhere in the country are not yet available. However, the message from the 2015 Cleaner Cooking event is positive, to a large extent because the chitetezo stove has several key features that should help Malawi reach its two million goal by 2020: the stoves are quick and easy to use, they are locally made, and come with an eminently affordable price tag, even for the poor.

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