The diffusion of fuel-efficient biomass stoves throughout the 

developing world began in the early 1980s and was largely justified as a 

"demand side" solution to the fuelwood crisis (Barnes et al., 1994).  

Although limited numbers of improved stoves had been promoted worldwide 

since the 1950s, these were concerned mainly with reducing health 

problems related to wood smoke exposure (Chege, 1993).  By the 1970s, 

however, with annual human population growth rates peaking at over three 

percent in developing countries, and stocks of renewable resources such 

as fresh water and wood rapidly declining, problems related to 

population-environment interactions began gaining the attention of 

policy-makers.  The fuelwood problem was placed on many national 

agendas.  Over half of the world relied on fuelwood for home energy.  

Numerous studies reported that villagers spent greater amounts of time 

searching for firewood and increasingly resorted to the burning of dung 

and crop residues for domestic energy -- tell-tale signs of fuelwood 

shortage (Agarwal, 1986; Barnes et al., 1994; Mellor, 1988). Rural 

communities such as those in mountainous regions of Nepal and Peru, and 

arid countries in the Sahel, were depleting their surrounding fuelwood 

stocks at alarming rates in order to supply household energy needs 

(Mellor, 1988).  Total fuelwood demand was exacerbated by the oil crisis 

of the 1970s when many poor urban dwellers, previously using kerosene and 

natural gas to cook, reverted to woodfuel (including charcoal) use in 

response to the rising cost of petroleum (Chege, 1993). As the Table 1 

illustrates, by 1980, fuelwood scarcity affected major regions throughout 

Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America.

        Besides the direct concern that decreased stocks of fuelwood 

would lead to a widespread rural energy shortage, the fuelwood situation 

was regarded as dangerous for other reasons.  Excessive fuelwood 

consumption was believed to be a major cause 

 of local deforestation, leading to a cascade of ecological problems such 

as soil erosion and species extinction.  Furthermore, because fuelwood 

shortage caused an increased

          Table 1:  Fuelwood use by selected ecological regions: 1980 

                         (in cubic meters per cap. per year)
Region                          Need        Availability        Fuelwood status
Sub-Saharan Africa
         -arid                   .5             05 - .01        Acute scarcity

         -mountainous           1.4 - 1.9       .5 - .7         Acute scarcity

         -savanna               1.0 - 1.5       .8 - .9         Deficit

         -mountainous           1.3 - 1.8       .2 - .3         Acute scarcity

         -indo-gangetic plains   .2 -  .7       .15 -.25        Deficit

Latin America
         -Andean plateau        .95 - 1.6       .2 - .4 

Acute scarcity

         -semi arid             .7 -  1.2       .6 -1.0         Deficit

         -arid                  .6 -   .9       .1 - .3         Acute scarcity

reliance on crop waste and dung to supply household energy, concern arose 

that farmers were returning less biomass to the earth, thereby lowering 

soil fertility and agricultural output (Barnes et al., 1994).

        Wide-spread rural diffusion of fuel-efficient cooking stoves, 

therefore, was seen as a promising way to reduce overall fuelwood demand 

-- since an average 75 percent of biomass energy is used for cooking -- 

and allow rural communities to restore their fuelwood stocks until they 

made the transition from woodfuel to other fuels (see Diagram 1 and Graph 


Diagram 1.
Graph 1.

With great enthusiasm, programs were launched by national governments, 

international development organizations such as UNICEF, the Food and 

Agriculture Organization (FAO) and CARE, dozens of smaller aid 

organizations, and private companies. By the mid-1980s, over 100 improved 

cookstove programs were underway in more than 60 developing countries 

(see map entitled Improved Cookstove Projects: Selected Countries). 

        As early as 1983, however, feedback on cookstove projects was not 

encouraging.  After initial introduction of stoves to rural areas, 

dissemination was not spontaneously taking place as predicted.  The 

seeming advantages of fuel-efficiency did not appear to be an adequate 

incentive for the local purchase of new stoves, even with subsidies.  

Moreover, many new stoves did not meet local needs, did not live up to 

their laboratory efficiency rates, and did not hold up to the rigors of 

daily use. Within months, many dissatisfied households abandoned their 

improved stoves and returned to their previous way of cooking -- over a 

three-stone fire, or with other low-efficient traditional stoves.  By 

1986, fewer than 12 of the more than 100 woodstove projects world-wide 

were believed to have distributed or sold over 5000 stoves (Agarwal, 

1986).  A 150-page report by the International Institute for Environment 

and Development (funded by the World Bank, United Nations Development 

Programme, and several other foundations) seemed to seal the cookstove 

coffin by questioning the basic value of most projects worldwide: The 

wrong stoves were promoted for the wrong reasons in the wrong way, 

(Brown, 1985, Foley, 1983).  

Map 1.

        Nevertheless, in its 1994 review of stove programs throughout the 

world, the World Bank reaffirmed the value of cookstove projects, and the 

capacity for cookstove diffusion to take place: 

        The social, economic, and environmental benefits of promoting 

improved stoves under suitable circumstances are quite large, and the 

existing successes demonstrate the usefulness of well-managed programs. 

(Barnes et al., 1994). 

        In order to explain this attitude transformation toward cookstove 

programs  -- stemming from the failures of many cookstove projects in the 

early 1980s followed by their rebound in the last decade -- I will focus 

on three countries where dissemination of cookstoves has been greatest: 

India, Kenya and China.  Because these countries represent three 

disparate approaches to cookstove program design and implementation -- 

resulting in poor dissemination in India, moderate dissemination in 

Kenya, and overwhelming success in China -- they offer important lessons 

to present and future efforts to spread fuel-efficient cooking technology 

throughout the developing world.  I will not address whether improved 

cookstove diffusion does, in fact, reduce woodfuel demand or improve 

environmental conditions.  Rather, I will focus my discussion narrowly on 

the elements of successful and failed cookstove dissemination efforts by 

presenting case studies of  the aforementioned countries.


        Indias fuelwood shortage, serious 20 years ago, has now reached 

critical heights.  Indian per capita consumption of woodfuel has held 

steady for the past 2O years while its total population has grown by 

nearly two-thirds (see Graph 2).

Graph 2.

A sharp increase in the price of commercial fuels (kerosene, coal and 

charcoal) over the last 15 years explains the persistent use of fuelwood 

for cooking among urban poor, while fuelwood scarcity in rural areas has 

caused many families to turn to the burning of dung and straw for 

household energy (see Table 2).

Table 2: Fuelwood Prices in Selected Indian Cities

CITIES          1960    1986    1992
Ahmedabad       90      740     1191

Bangalore       47      657     1135

Bombay          84      1232    1812

Calcutta        93      1040    1585

Hyderabad       66      667     917

Today, India still relies on woodfuel to satisfy 24 percent of its total 

energy consumption. The World Resources Institute report for 1994-95 

indicated that Indias forests can sustainably provide 41 million cubic 

meters of fuelwood per year, although current annual demand for wood 

stands at 241 million cubic meters (World Resources Institute, 1994). In 

the village of Gujarat, India, it takes an average of 3 hours per day to 

collect wood for a family of 5; one family member --usually a child -- 

often spends all of her time outside the home completing this chore 

(World Resources Institute, 1994).

        Hoping to abate this national thirst for woodfuel, the Indian 

National Programme on Improved Chulhas (stoves) was launched in 1983 

(Barnes et al., 1994).  Administered by the central bureaucracy, as well 

as in six regional offices (and in numerous state and district offices), 

the program aimed to disseminate hand-made clay and mud stoves (equipped 

with chimneys) in order to double the fuel-efficiency of traditional 

three-stone fires and reduce indoor air pollution (Barnes et al., 1994).  

The government took a campaign approach to dissemination, implementing an 

aggressive country wide effort, with special emphasis on rural India.  

Ten-day demonstration camps were held to motivate and involve villagers, 

local government functionaries and students in the rapid diffusion effort 

(Agarwal, 1988).  Local women, especially,  were targeted for the 

building and marketing of chulhas (Chege, 1993).  A major component of 

the diffusion strategy was the provision of a government subsidy to all 

households purchasing an improved stove.  A minimum 50 percent subsidy 

was available, reducing the cost of new stoves from $10 to $4.30 (Kammen, 

1995; Barnes et al., 1994).    

        As a result of this massive campaign, India quickly disseminated 

improved stoves to about 8 million households.  However, fundamental 

weaknesses in this approach gradually became apparent.  Because it 

involved multiple levels of government bureaucracy, program 

administration was cumbersome and fractured (Kammen, 1995).  Furthermore, 

the program lacked an adequate budget for consistent monitoring and 

evaluation so that problems were not detected and corrected early on.  

Lastly, the program was quickly diluted, being only one of several 

national campaigns occurring at the time.  

        Presence of a large government subsidy also presented its share 

of problems. Because the government automatically paid builders for half 

the cost of stoves, producers incentive for construction was directed 

more toward the government than toward the needs of the consumer (Barnes 

et al., 1994).  Producers took a less aggressive role in marketing than 

would private entrepreneurs, and were cued to follow overly-general 

government specifications for stove construction, rather than tailor 

stoves to meet the particular needs of the community.  Consequently, 

local stove construction was often hasty and technically faulty. Many 

stoves did not accommodate the household cooking pot or crumbled under 

excess heat. In two Indian villages, inadequate training of students (of 

urban background) resulted in the construction of numerous chimneys that 

expelled smoke within the house (Sarin and Winblad, 1983).

        Moreover, many of the stoves simply did not provide the promised 

savings in household woodfuel consumption. Its very hard to get the 

critical dimensions for efficiency without highly-trained craftspeople, 

explained John Lippert of Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA), a 

US-based development organization involved in stove dissemination until 

1987 (Brown, 1985).   Similar cookstove projects in areas such as Central 

America and Nepal, where stoves were constructed from mud, sand and clay 

by poorly-trained individuals, also attained efficiency and continuation 

rates much lower than predicted (Barnes et al., 1994).

        The heavy government subsidy for cookstoves also squelched 

efforts by private entrepreneurs to disseminate their own improved stoves 

as they could not compete with the government price.  As will be 

illustrated in the cases of Kenya and China, commercialization of 

improved stoves is key for long-term, self-sustained cookstove dissemination.

        Another flaw in the Indian program was its failure to target 

regions where fuel shortages were especially acute, or where woodfuel was 

an expensive commodity, such as in urban settings.  Many rural households 

could not afford or were not willing to make even the modest $4 

investment, especially if they could gather fuelwood for free; the 

purchase of a new stove, especially in the eyes of men, did not seem to 

provide adequate return.  Attempting diffusion in impoverished, 

non-critical zones wasted precious financial resources for Indias 

cookstove program, and discouraged program implementers (Barnes et al., 


        In sum, the Indian effort at cookstove diffusion progressed 

rapidly at first, but, riddled with administrative, technical and 

marketing mishaps, resulted in poor wide-spread dissemination. By 1990, 

the average discontinuation rate for improved cookstove use in India was 

50 percent -- among the worst globally.  Today, approximately one in 40 

Indian homes is equipped with an improved woodfuel stove (see Figure C).

        Nevertheless, faced with worsening population pressures and fuel 

shortages,  India remains determined today that improved chulhas can play 

an important role in mitigating woodfuel demand. The government has 

modified its top-down strategy, and has begun to integrate some of the 

successful aspects of cookstove programs that will be enumerated in the 

remaining discussions on Kenya and China.


        With few domestic sources of energy such as coal or petroleum, 

approximately 80 percent of Kenyas total energy consumption is in the 

form of traditional woodfuel (WRD, 1994). With higher rates of total 

fertility and per capita consumption of traditional woodfuels than either 

China or India, Kenyas woodfuel crisis risks progressing at a much more 

rapid pace (see inset of map entitled Total Fertility Rate: Cookstove 

Countries, and Graph 3).  As a proxy measure for fuelwood shortages in 

Kenyas arid regions


Graph 3.
(representing 80 percent of Kenyas total land area) the fuelwood gap in 

neighboring Sudan illustrates the grave woodfuel situation in arid East 

Africa (see Table 3):

Table 3: Woodfuel Gap Forecasts for Sudan (million cubic meters of tree stock)
                        1980    1985    1990    1995    2000
1. Forest stock         1994    1810    1539    1145    607

2. Forest growth        44      40      34      25      14

3. Woodfuel consumption 76      88      102     121     141

4. Woodfuel gap (3-2)   32      48      68      96      127

By 1983, rural women in Kenya were traveling on average 3.5 hours per day 

to collect wood.  Facing high woodfuel prices, but having no cheaper fuel 

alternative, urban Kenyans spent an estimated 20 percent of their average 

annual income on household fuel (Kammen, 1995).

        In the early 1980s, the Kenya Renewable Energy Development 

Project, a collaborative effort between the U.S. Agency for International 

Development and the Kenyan government, was created.  Over the next 15 

years, the project used a cyclical refinement process to design and 

disseminate appropriate cookstoves for Kenya.  Their first fuel-efficient 

stove -- capable of burning both wood and charcoal -- was modeled after 

an improved metal stove developed in Thailand (Kammen, 1995).  Since many 

Kenyans had traditionally employed metal cookstoves for years (made from 

scrap metal by local artisans), it was assumed that the switch to the 

modified Thai Bucket would be a smooth one.  After minimal field testing, 

therefore, this first generation stove was disseminated to villages 

throughout rural Kenya. 

        Consumer response to this new stove was equivocal.  First, the 

stove had a narrow base, making it unstable for heavy pots, especially 

with rigorous stirring.  Second, the laboratory-designed stove did not 

match the size of Kenyan pots and pans fitted for the traditional metal 

stove.  Third, the stoves ceramic and vermiculite liner proved too 

efficient: it retained so much heat that the metal exterior fatigued and 

structural segments cracked easily (Barnes et al., 1994, Kammen, 1995).  

Map 2.

        Furthermore, like India, efforts to diffuse new cookstoves in 

Kenya were focused in rural areas, where people could ill-afford the 

initial cash outlay for a stove, and had little monetary incentive to 

save wood.

        Early monitoring and evaluation of cookstove projects, however, 

picked up on the poor diffusion rates much more quickly than in India.  

Consequently,  the Kenya Renewable Energy Development Project began to 

develop a second generation of cookstoves.  Enlisting feedback from 

womens organizations involved in community health and environmental 

protection, as well as  focus groups from several regions, a new stove, 

the jiko, was recast in the mid-1980s.  The jikos hourglass shape 

provided greater stability at the base of the stove. Its insulative liner 

-- extending only within the upper portion of the stove --prevented the 

overheating and cracking typical of the previous version.  Finally, its 

mouth accommodated a greater variety of pots (Kammen, 1995).

        Next, the Kenyan cookstove program began working with private 

craftspeople to ensure on-going, mass production of the jiko.  As one 

analyst described, Project managers debated whether to give the job to 

the formal or informal sector -- and ultimately decided to involve both, 

(Chege, 1995).  A loose consortium of artisans engaged in traditional 

stove production was selected to manufacture the metal cladding of the 

new jiko, and existing pottery companies began producing the more 

complicated ceramic linings (Chege, 1993; Kammen, 1995).  Mass production 

and competition brought down the price of the jiko, making it affordable 

to more Kenyans.

        Finally, surveys were conducted to determine the strongest 

potential markets for the jiko (Barnes et al., 1995).  The stove was 

targeted specifically for urban dwellers who faced unavoidably high fuel 

costs and who did not rely on fire for uses other than cooking. The new 

stove, while costing between $2 and $5 (approximately two to three times 

as much as the traditional metal stove), provided a total yearly savings 

of about $64.70, paying for itself in two months (Chege, 1993; Kammen, 

1995; Barnes et al., 1994). Moreover, purchase of jikos by highly visible 

organizations such as schools, businesses and churches helped to spark 

interest within the general population (Kammen, 1995).  Additionally, 

possession of a new jiko became a symbol of status among lower-income 

Kenyans, increasing cultural diffusion of this technology throughout and 

beyond the city.

        The design changes of Kenyan cookstoves, coupled with new 

marketing strategies as well as training programs on production, use and 

maintenance, have made huge strides in the stoves acceptance. Diffusion 

of the jiko currently stands at approximately 20,000 per month (Chege, 

1993).  Because of its success, moreover, the jiko has been disseminated 

in several other East African countries -- Sudan (28,000), Tanzania 

(54,000), Uganda (25,000) as well as Zambia and Burundi (Kammen, 1995).

        The diffusion of a third generation of improved cooking device 

tailored for rural Kenya is currently underway.  With the assistance of 

numerous womens groups in the rural regions (forming an alliance called 

Maendeleo ya Wanawake --  womens development), government and aid 

organizations have designed a cheap and simplified version of the jiko -- 

the Maendeleo (Kammen, 1995)., This innovation is essentially the ceramic 

portion of the jiko without the metal frame.  It is placed directly over 

an open fire, and accommodates large pieces of wood.  (This is a major 

advantage to rural women, many of whom do not have the tools or 

inclination to chop wood into fine pieces for small, portable stoves). 

While less efficient than the jiko (attaining 15 to 35 percent efficiency 

versus the jikos 20 to 40 percent efficiency), the Maendeleo still 

requires 25 percent less wood than a three-stone fire, and costs the 

consumer between $.80 and $1.20 (Kammen, 1995).

        To be expected, diffusion of improved cookstoves in rural Kenya, 

as well as in rural India, will progress slowly as long as fuelwood is a 

free commodity and womens time is not monetized (see Figure B).  With 

increased womens education and entrance into the labor market, however, 

rural husbands may be more willing to invest in time-saving technology 

for their wives, knowing that the time they save will be used to earn 

family income (see map entitled Education of Women...Cookstove Countries).


        Chinas motivation for initiating a national cookstove program was 

rooted less in a concern over fuelwood shortage, and more in a desire to 

reverse households rapid conversion to coal as their fuel of choice 

(Smith et al, 1993).  With the liberalization of the rural economy in the 

early 1980s, average family income steadily increased in the countryside, 

bringing with it a general desire to climb the energy ladder.  Mass 

ascension from woodfuel to coal use caused nation-wide supply shortages 

of coal, especially to large industry .


        As part of its strategy to mitigate coal demand, the government 

devised a plan to disseminate highly-efficient biomass stoves so that 

woodfuel consumption would become cheaper than coal use. The Chinese 

National Improved Stoves Program was initiated in 1982.  In the following 

10 years, over 125 million improved cookstoves and parts reached homes in 

China; today 7 out of 10 rural households possess stoves that are at 

least 30% more fuel-efficient than older stoves (World Resources, 1994) 

making the Chinese program the most successful worldwide (see Chart below).


        The Chinese government played an important but limited role in 

cookstove dissemination.  First, the central government restricted itself 

to providing up-to-date research on cookstove technology and identifying 

areas of greatest potential for stove adoption.  Local rural energy 

offices took charge of technical training, implementation, standards for 

manufacturing production, and program monitoring (Kammen, 1995; Barnes et 

al., 1994).  Second, with direct contracts between the central and county 

governments, the program bureaucratic entanglement (Barnes et al., 

1994).  Third, government subsidy of improved stoves was extremely 

limited ($.84 for every stove costing $9) and was directed toward stove 

producers -- to provide assistance with construction training,  

administration, and promotion support -- rather than toward consumers 

(Barnes et al., 1994).  Most rural Chinese, considerably wealthier than 

their counterparts in Kenya or India, were able to lay down the initial 

funds for this investment in fuel-efficiency.

        With design, production and sale of the improved stoves occurring 

at the ground level, stoves were created to suit the local community. 

Improved brick and mortar stoves (with accompanying chimney) replaced 

older models.  For those families unable to purchase completely new 

stoves, insulative parts (such as mortar and ash) were sold as packing 

around the stoves circular opening where the wok sits (Kammen, 1995).  

Stoves in the cold Northern States were designed for the dual purpose of 

cooking and heating.  Stove design also took into consideration 

attractiveness and convenience (Barnes, 1994).  

        Although it began with a custom-built approach, the Chinese 

cookstove program is gradually moving to mass-production of stove parts, 

in order to increase profit margins for private manufacturers, as well as 

reduce the cost to the consumer.  This approach, it is hoped, will assist 

in the long-term sustainability of Chinas cookstove program and allow the 

improved technology reach the poorer and more remote populations (See 

Figure A).


        The experiences of India, Kenya and China offer valuable lessons 

to other countries engaged in cookstove dissemination. First the 

overwhelming success of Chinas cookstove program, and eventual 

improvement of the Kenyan effort attest to the fact that fuel-efficient 

stoves are indeed popular among select populations.   Such populations -- 

usually urban -- already purchase fuel, and thereby stand to benefit 

directly from fuel-efficiency.  In some of the most successful cookstove 

programs, such as in Kenya and Rwanda,  consumer payback for the stove 

investment has occurred within only a few months (Barnes et al., 1994).  

Figures A, B, and C.

        Market surveys should be undertaken before improved stoves are 

disseminated; as India learned, precious funds should not be wasted on 

attempting diffusion in regions where it is likely to fail.  

Low-potential markets typically include impoverished rural areas where 

fuelwood is still free or accessible, and where fire is used for many 

purposes other than cooking (such as lighting, heating, smoking meat, and 

as insect repellent) (Munslow et al., 1988; Barnes et al., 1994).  For 

these populations, separate fuelwood/energy approaches may be necessary, 

including tree nursery programs, agricultural interventions, and other 

indirect methods to improve overall economic prospects, to monetize 

womens labor, and to address land-use management practices (Munslow et 

al., 1988). 

        Second, to the greatest extent possible, stoves should be 

modified versions of traditional stoves and should be durable, 

attractive, and user friendly. Extensive pilot testing, involving the 

input of actual consumers and local artisans, should precede stove diffusion.

        Third, as illustrated in China, the government should play an 

important but narrow role in cookstove dissemination.  The national 

government may provide technical research on cooking technology, and 

spread knowledge about improved cookstoves (information, education and 

communication), while local governments see to production quality, and 

local monitoring and evaluation (Barnes et al., 1994; Munslow, 1988).  

Government subsidies, as India discovered, usually cause stove producers 

to neglect consumer needs, resulting in inferior stove quality and less 

aggressive marketing. Hence they should be avoided, or replaced with 

opportunities to attain credit for the purchase of a stove.  Donor 

agencies may also assist in the above-mentioned roles, but only if their 

support is sustained (at lease 5 years) and coordinated with other public 

and private cookstove diffusion efforts (Barnes et al., 1994).  

        Finally, for long-term success, commercial enterprises involving 

local experts should become the primary producers and disseminators of 

cookstoves.  As with the Kenyan program, mass producing stoves and their 

parts, as well as using local scrap material, helps to lower costs.  

Conversely, mass campaigns and folk construction to disseminate 

cookstoves, as Indias program illustrated, are not conducive to the 

sustained production of high-quality stoves.  Applied to similar projects 

in other countries, these lessons may further the rebound of cookstove 

dissemination throughout the developing world.

bar chart


Improved cookstoves in Kenya, Chaina and India
Improved Stoves          Efficiency (%)         Cost ($US)          Dissemination
Jiko                     25-40                  $2 to $5            1 million plus

Maendeleo                15 -35                 $.80 to $1.20       100,000

Chinese brick and mortar 20-40                  $8 to $9            125 million

Indian mud & clay chulha 10-40                  $8 to $10           8 million


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