Yesterday I went to a really inspiring event put on by the GIZ under the topic of “Gender, Climate Change and Food Security”, which highlighted different aspects of how gender (in)equality can be highlighted in climate change negotiations and how women are affected by the challenges of adapting rural self-sufficient farming communities to the future of climate change – both as victims and as powerful initiators of change. One idea that stood out to me is as simple as ingenious and combines so many aspects of successful development work – helping people make better stoves!
The background is this: more than 3 billion people globally – in many developing and especially the least developed countries – rely on open fires or inefficient stoves for their daily cooking.
Most of these stoves are powered by biomass or coal, and thus people are strongly dependent on firewood as their source of cooking fuel. Either they have to walk for long distances to harvest it, or they have to spend a disproportionate amount of money to purchase it. As population growth increases demand and climate change leads to more arid conditions and less vegetation, these distances and costs increase, leading to lost time – especially for women and children, who are the main providers of firewood – and income.
In addition, often they are using rudimentary open fires indoors, leading to indoor air pollution and up to 1.5 million deaths annually according to WHO estimates. The high demand for firewood also leads to deforestation around large settlements (and, for example, refugee camps) and a decline in the area’s ability to sequester carbon dioxide through vegetation – plus the additional CO2 emissions that stem from burning that wood.
What if I told you that there was a simple project that could lead to:
- More gender equality
- Employment opportunities
- Health improvements
- Increased community savings
- Climate change goals
- and even a decreased level of violence?
Well, the Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves (GACC) may have just found such an idea – the dissemination of know-how to produce more efficient cooking stoves that use up to 50% less fuel.
The GACC is a public-private partnership made up of thousands of governmental, non-governmental and industry partners, including the German ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and its implementing organism, the GIZ.
The GIZ implemented their project in Kenya through the EnDev (Energizing Development Initiative), in which they gave workshops to interested Kenyans from rural communities on how to build up a successful business model to produce such fuel-efficient stoves. They took care to include at least 50% women and 50% youth in the workshops and to offer them to anyone motivated and interested in manual labor, irrespective of education level. The EnDev project itself, started in 2005, used a market-based approach and only aided the establishment of businesses through capacity development (training) and the establishment of financing mechanisms, in effect linking the prospective “stove entrepreneurs” with banks – all stoves were paid by the customers themselves, making for a sustainable model. The run-down?
- 4,200 formerly unemployed Kenyans, half female and half male and mostly youth, are now “stove entrepreneurs” (and are thus off the streets and less likely to participate in violent strife such as after the 2007/08 elections).
- By December 2011, 1.3 million improved cooking stoves had been sold, reaching an estimated 6.5 million people.
- Each stove saves 1.09 tons of firewood per year, which means 1.3 million stoves saved around 1,417,000 tons of firewood – equivalent to 77,857 ha of Kenyan forest.
- The summed CO2 reduction is of about 936,000 tons per year.
- In addition, each household saved around 9,000 Kenyan shilling (around 80 Euros) per year, increasing their purchasing power (including for more food items – this is where the food security aspect comes in).
- The women and children needed less time to search for their fuel (potentially leading to other employment opportunities and increased school attendance, though I don’t think that was measured in the impact survey).
- And the residents of these households are no longer exposed to polluting substances! Yay!
- (note that these were the December 2011 estimates I took from the brochure available from the event; the numbers for 2010 on the EnDev website are a little different.)
This successful initiative was only one of many implemented around the world, however – check out this overview of European-financed projects all over and the “quick pulse” of the GACC to get an understanding of the scale of the issue and the initiative.
One of the points that really stood out to me was when the presenter said that improving cooking stoves was inherently a “gender-sensitive technology” – in the past, women as the homemakers had often been left out of technological development aid and were thus stuck with traditional, rudimentary, inefficient methods to do their daily chores. Since providing food and cooking is such an important part of daily life for many women around the world, making it healthier, more efficient and more enjoyable is therefore definitely a great step in the right direction.
The Global Alliance for Cooking Stoves’ goal is “to foster the adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels in 100 million households by 2020.” Check out their website (the story is particularly well done) for more information or the video below to see Julia Roberts explain the issue once more (come on, how could you not – it’s Julia Roberts.)