Efficient Cookstoves Help Rural Populations



Fuelwood is currently the principle cooking fuel in rural households in developing countries, and this causes severe indoor air pollution and environmental degradation. In Mexico alone about 27.5 million people rely on fuelwood for cooking. Research institutions, NGOs and local communities are now seeking to address this problem by disseminating improved woodstoves among the rural population. Through actively involving local women, relying on traditional knowledge, providing training and a small in-kind subsidy in the form of a chimney tube, the programme has successfully distributed more than 1000 stoves and improved the lives of users considerably.


The idea: 

About 75% of all wood-use in Mexico is dedicated to fuelwood, with 27.5 million people relying on wood for cooking. This intense wood usage causes severe indoor air pollution, resulting in respiratory health problems. Collection of fuelwood also takes up a considerable amount of time and effort, usually for the women, and also puts significant pressure on forests.

15 years ago the National University of Mexico, together with two local NGOs and local communities initiated a programme to disseminate improved woodstoves in the Patzcuaro Region of rural Mexico, in an effort to address these problems and provide better living conditions at a household level.

Under this programme, local women are trained in workshops that emphasize the damaging effects of fuelwood, and are given training and guidance about how to build a more efficient stove. Households are then given, free of charge, a tube for the stove's chimney and other construction materials worth about US$10. Total costs for each stove are about US$15, so households are expected to make up US$5 worth of materials and provide their own labour. Local women actively participate in the construction of their own woodstove, and then use their expertise to help other village households construct stoves.

The Patzcuaro programme adopts a user-based and integrated approach. It actively involves local women, and relies on their own priorities and traditional knowledge - with the women themselves helping to design the improved stove. This has proven essential to ensuring high uptake of the programme. Adoption of a flexible stove design has also been key to the programme's success - the stove is based on basic principles and critical dimensions, rather than on a single fixed design. User-adaptations of the stove are very common, and thus a flexible design is essential.

The programme has success rates of over 85% with more than 1000 more efficient 'Lorena-type' stoves having been disseminated within the region. Stove construction time has reduced from 2 weeks to only 4 hours, and stoves usually last about 4.8 years. Fuelwod consumption, fuelwood collection time, and indoor air pollution have all been reduced by more than 30% compared to traditional stoves. Scaling up of the programme has now been initiated, and local municipalities are now providing funds to enlarge the programme - using the same subsidy incentive. More than 100 women have now been trained in stove construction and dissemination, with stove demand now surpassing current supply in many villages.


Where and When: Patzcuaro Region, Mexico, 1990s.

Initiated By: The National University of Mexico, two local NGOs (GIRA and ORCA) and local communities.