Fuel-Efficient Homemade Cook Stoves Help Women in Chitipa Save Money, Reduce Firewood Consumption
The adoption of these stoves comes as a response to the challenges faced by many women in the country, who are forced to travel long distances to find firewood due to deforestation.
Malawi: Women in the Mkombanyama village in the Chitipa district of Malawi have begun using fuel-efficient homemade cook stoves to save money and reduce firewood consumption, writes Victor Musongole.
The adoption of these stoves comes as a response to the challenges faced by many women in the country, who are forced to travel long distances to find firewood due to deforestation caused by charcoal burning, uncontrolled bushfires, infrastructure development, and agricultural expansion.
A 2018 National Statistical Office report estimated that over 379,164 households in the Northern Region of Malawi use firewood for cooking, and a report published on Global Forest Watch estimated that the Chitipa district alone lost approximately 8.68kha of tree cover from 2001 to 2021 due to deforestation.
During a visit to several houses in the Mkombanyama village, it was found that many residents were opting for fuel-efficient homemade cook stoves, which can use small trees, bamboo, and even fewer maize stalks.
70-year-old Faless Namsukwa from the village said, "With the expansion of Chitipa town, most areas have been cleared, and only small trees can be collected to be used for firewood. These stoves have assisted us in reducing the costs of firewood."
Namsukwa added that she used to spend K7,000 on 7 bundles of firewood monthly, but now only spends K2,000 for 2 medium-sized firewood bundles with additional maize stalks and bamboo, which were difficult to use in the traditional three-way brick method.
Steria Simfukwe, another resident of the village, said, "After observing Namsukwa's stove, I approached her, and since then I have also reduced firewood. Fuel-efficient homemade cook stoves are a bit cheaper to use as compared to the old way."
Simfukwe added that with fuel-efficient homemade cook stoves, she can cook nsima with just 12 maize stalks and some bamboo sticks, whereas with the traditional three-way brick method, more fire is lost to the wind.
Chitipa District Forestry Officer Sitwell Banda said the adoption of fuel-efficient cook stoves can help reduce deforestation in the district, which has seen its forest cover decline due to uncontrolled bushfires and firewood demand.
He said, "The fuel-efficient cook stoves, if well utilized and adopted, can reduce the number of trees cut for firewood. As a district, we are happy with the adoption of these stoves by some families in the district. Though it is less than 12 per cent of people using these modern ways, at least we are making progress as a district as compared to past years."
An environmentalist from Mzuzu University Lusayo Mwabumba encourages people to adopt fuel-efficient cookstoves as they can help reduce the number of trees required for cooking instead of the traditional three-stone ways.
He said, "Governmental and non-governmental organizations should do more in terms of sensitization so that more people can adopt these fuel-efficient cookstoves, which are cheap. The difference between one using modern stoves and one using three-way bricks to cook is big, the one using the latter may need twice or thrice as much firewood as compared to the one using modern stoves, but this should be adopted by the users themselves for a better outcome."
Fuel-efficient homemade stoves are made using bricks, dung, and clay soil.
In addition to the environmental benefits of reducing deforestation, the fuel-efficient cook stoves also have a significant impact on the lives of the women in the village.
Not only do they save money on firewood, but they also reduce the time and effort it takes to gather firewood, allowing women to spend more time on other activities such as education, work, and taking care of their families.
Furthermore, fuel-efficient cookstoves also have health benefits as they reduce indoor air pollution caused by traditional cooking methods.
This is particularly important in a country where the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 4.3 million people die annually from illnesses caused by indoor air pollution.
Overall, the adoption of fuel-efficient cookstoves in the Mkombanyama village serves as a positive example of how small-scale solutions can make a big difference in addressing both environmental and socio-economic challenges.
It is important that this initiative is scaled up and that more households in the district and across the country adopt this technology to make a real impact on reducing deforestation and improving the lives of people.