There is currently a movement to increase the use of clean cooking stoves in Sub-Saharan Africa. Clean cooking stoves can take many forms, one of which is a variation of traditional mud-built stoves. Sometimes they are referred to as energy-saving mud stoves because they burn less fire wood. As part of our sustainable livelihoods programme, Trax has taught 2400 women how to construct improved mud stoves in six years. The many potential benefits from using improved mud stoves were initially unrecognised.
Saving trees and saving time
Environmental conservation has been a central concern of Trax’s activities since the organisation was established 25 years ago. Trax recognises that agricultural production relies on natural resources and it is essential to work sustainably with the surrounding environment. As such, Trax has been teaching women beneficiaries how to construct improved, energy-saving mud stoves. These women were not cooking on any mudstove yet, but used the three-stone cooking fire.
The improved mud stoves is covered on all sides except one which has a hole to shove fire wood through. This means the air flow to the fire is reduced so the fire wood burns more slowly, thus using less wood to produce the same amount of heat for cooking. Needing less fire wood to cook with means that fewer trees are cut down to provide fuel. Our beneficiaries told us that they need three times less firewood since they started using the improved mudstove instead of the three stone cooking fire. This also means that women spend less time collecting fire wood. These are commonly cited benefits of energy-saving mud stoves.
Safer, quicker, and time-saving
The women in Trax’s operational areas who now use the improved mud stoves list additional benefits of using the energy-saving stoves. We recently spoke to women farmers in the communities of Kabusgo and Pelungu, Upper East Region and we heard a similar story from both communities. The women acknowledged that the improved stoves need less fire wood so they are cutting down fewer trees, and they spend less time gathering wood.
The improved stoves also save time cooking. A lot of heat from the three-stone cooking fire is lost because of the space between the stones. The closed construction of the improved stoves means all of the heat from the flame is directed only at the cooking pot, meaning food cooks quicker. One woman told us how beneficial this is because they have many jobs to do around the house, caring for the family, as well as farming, trading and seeking other sources of income.
Women explain that they used to have to sit with the cooking pot the whole time because there was an open flame and there was a risk that it could set alight something near the pot when there was a gust of wind. Now, not only does food cook quicker, but the women can put food on to cook and then leave it unattended to continue doing other work around the house rather than watch it the whole time.
By having a closed flame the improved mud stoves are also safer. When women used to sit around their three-stone fire cooking, the open flame would burn their legs when there was a gust of wind which blew the flame outside the three stones. One woman in Kabusgo showed us a scar and explained that once they had a burn on their leg from cooking on an open stove, the flesh wound 0ften became infected. The closed construction of the improved stoves means that the women no longer get burned while cooking, preventing injury and the risk of infection of the wound.
The stoves are constructed out of readily-available materials (mud, clay, cow dung) and they are portable so can be moved should the women need to relocate. So improved, energy-saving mud stoves have multiple benefits on top of reducing the rate of deforestation. You can watch women constructing their improved mud stoves in Trax’s video here (go to 29:25 for video of mud stoves).