“I always cooked over an open fire,” mused Paulina, a mother of five who lives in the rural village of San Juan, a village in the Sarstún River Basin in eastern Guatemala. “Every time I finished preparing a meal, my arms were burning, and I was coughing up smoke. And it took so much wood! 10 years ago, there were plenty of trees for firewood right next to our home. But today, you have to walk at least 30 minutes to collect enough wood, because we are slowly killing the trees.”
Throughout Central America and much of Mexico, many rural families cook their meals over open fires—which burn day and night, filling homes—and people’s lungs—with harmful smoke. Cooking with firewood also requires people—usually women, like Paulina, and their children—to spend several hours per week collecting wood for cooking. Relying on firewood as a primary source of fuel is causing an alarming rate of deforestation and high incidences of health issues, like pneumonia and lung diseases, from breathing in smoke from the open fires.
With the support of our local partners in communities across Guatemala and Honduras, EcoLogic is pursuing one simple solution to the dual environmental and public health issues caused by open-fire cooking: building fuel-efficient cookstoves and installing them in the homes of interested families—as part of a holistic program with added incentives for conservation. In Guatemala, families interested in having a new stove in their home must first plant at least 50 trees, and spend time volunteering in local greenhouses and nurseries. Our program has slashed fuel consumption by up to 60%, begun to restore standing forests and mangroves, and reduced health risks for families.
The Sarstún region is one of the areas where EcoLogic—with our local partner in the area, APROSARSTUN—has implemented our clean cookstoves program. As a result, Paulina now has a new stove. “At first I wasn’t convinced that the stove would work,” she laughed. “But now I see nothing but advantages! My whole family doesn’t need to spend as much time gathering firewood because the new stove needs so much less wood for fuel. My children have more time to dedicate to their schoolwork—and I’ve noticed that they don’t get sick nearly as often. My family’s life has changed a lot, for the better.”
The program’s incentive to plant trees in order to earn a stove also helps families understand the big-picture connections between conservation, sustainable use of natural resources, and their own health. Ana, another stove recipient in Huehuetanango, Guatemela, said, “EcoLogic helps people see the connection between the stoves and making the forest healthier.”
EcoLogic is continuing to expand our stove program so that we can help more families like Paulina's and Ana’s protect their health, their time, and the forests around them. As part of our ongoing efforts to improve the program, we are developing tools to evaluate which stove models best fit the cultural and environmental needs of the communities we serve. Supported by the contributions of our donors, and working together with our local partners, we plan to build many more fuel-efficient stoves for families like Paulina’s.
“The projects that EcoLogic and APROSARSTUN are implementing in our community have improved our quality of life in ways that no other organization has done here, especially in such a short time,” Paulina said. “Thank you.”
EcoLogic is proud to announce that our former intern, Julian Moll-Rocek, and his brother Thomas have released a documentary: 48 Cantones: The Mayan Forest. This enlightening filmexplores the Mayan Cosmovision and tells the story of EcoLogic’s partner, Los 48 Cantones. It serves as a reminder of humanity’s diverse cultural heritage, and offers hope that the world can find a balance with nature. Please take the time to behold this beautiful and revealing documentary here: “48 Cantones: The Mayan Forest,”
The community forest in Guatemala contains 21,000 hectares of old growth pine and has been carefully preserved by the indigenous Maya Q’uiché government known as the 48 Cantones. This organization relies on each community members serving one year of unpaid service including road maintenance, acting as local mayors, and regular patrols through the forest to prevent over-exploitation. Water committees of community members are dedicated to building and maintaining water catchment systems that channel the precious resource directly to their homes. The 48 Cantones are in constant tension with the local municipal government, which contests their rights to the forest, pushing to privatize the water supply. Yet, in the eyes of the local population there is only one source of legitimate authority: the 48 Cantones, who ensure the continued supply of their sacred water. The documentary offers a lesson of the fortune of the commons: a community united through their shared efforts to protect their common resources.
Women in the communities where we work play a crucial role in the adoption and use of clean cooking solutions because of their responsibilities as cooks and managers of their households. EcoLogic’s main objective is to reduce the impact of fuel wood consumption on the forest. The stoves also make it possible for women and their children to spend fewer hours every day harvesting wood, and significantly reduce their exposure to the smoke produced by a typical open pit fire. In our project sites, we work in a holistic and collaborative way, where our goal is that the women who participate become leaders and agents of change for the protection of their environment and the safety of their homes.
The communities’ household needs and cultural preferences are an essential component in the acceptance of a stove, which leads to a better rate of uptake and continued use. One approach EcoLogic has taken is providing women access to several different stove models for testing. They spend the day in a focus group setting learning about what makes a stove more efficient and cooking typical meals (rice, beans, tortillas, plantains) on different stove models with their own cookware and utensils. The goal is for them to choose the model they prefer and then pilot it in their communities.
Hands-on training on use, maintenance, and repair of the stoves is also key. This is something that EcoLogic provides through our local technical staff. Follow-up and gauging satisfaction must be a part of the process as well. After our stoves have been installed for a period of time, we find it vital to conduct focus groups and household surveys to discuss and gain feedback about how the stoves are being used. In some stove designs, efficiency translates into a smaller cooking surface. For larger families, this can become burdensome—requiring them to cook meals in several batches or sometimes falling back on the open pit fire as a solution. To ensure the convenience and sustainability of the households EcoLogic works we seek to take all of these factors into account.
Our goal is to construct 350 appropriately-sized stoves by the middle of next summer. With your generous support, EcoLogic and its partners improve the living conditions, health, and sustainable livelihoods of women and all local residents. In total, EcoLogic has built over 3,000 fuel-efficient stoves in Guatemala and Honduras with the help of our donors and local partners. Women who are empowered and given the right tools can improve the health, environment, education, and economy in rural, subsistence communities. We hope that you will continue to support the strides we are making towards safer, fuel-efficient households in Guatemala.