Don’t underestimate the impact a stove can have on a woman’s life. In rural communities in Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and Mexico, women do most, if not all, of the cooking for their families. In many homes, this means spending hours bent over an open fire, breathing in damaging smoke and carbon monoxide. Cooking over an open fire is detrimental both to women’s health and to forests. Harvesting firewood for cooking is a driver of deforestation in many rural areas in Central America and Mexico. By building fuel-efficient, clean-burning stoves in our project communities, EcoLogic helps improve the health of both families and forests. All of the stoves that we use reduce families’ fuel wood consumption about 60 to 70%, compared to traditional open-fire cooking methods. This saves women and children time and energy harvesting wood, and also reduces pressure on forests.
Stoves, however, are not one size fits all.
A family in Oaxaca, Mexico, will have different local conditions, cooking needs, and traditions than a family in Atlántida, Honduras. Some features are constant throughout most models. For example, “Throughout Central America, people like to cook tortillas, so most models we use have a tortilla griddle, or plancha,” explained Reyna Guzmán, an engineer at the Stove Certification Center at Zamorano University in Honduras. However, to make sure that a woman gets the most out of a new stove–and continues to use it for a long time—we build different models depending on the needs of communities in different regions.
EcoLogiccurrently uses six different kinds of stoves, depending on the region and community. The best way to decide which model is right for a community is, of course, to ask the women who will use them. Usually, EcoLogic field technicians use their knowledge of a given community to propose a few stove models. We bring women together to discuss the features of different stoves, and they decide which model they think would work best for them. Then, we choose a small number of families to pilot the stoves, to make sure that they work well for that community’s needs. Finally, we expand the stove program in that community, with the ultimate goal of building a fuel-efficient stove in the home of every family who needs one. After we build the stoves, we also train women to correctly use and take care of their stoves, and our field technicians regularly check in on families with new stoves to help them with the transition and to answer their questions.
Here are three of the models we use the most—
Where we use it: Guatemala
How it’s built: Plancha means “griddle,”and the name refers to the iron cooking griddle on top. The Plancha stove usually features three burners for cooking, which are made by simply cutting holes in the iron. The body of the stove is made from a mixture of clay and sand. There is a combustion chamber for fuel wood and, importantly, a chimney to let smoke escape from inside the home.
Good for cooking:The separate burners make it easy to cook pots of rice and beans at the same time. Rice and beans, or arroz y frijoles in Spanish, is a staple dish throughout Guatemala. Black beans are simmered for hours until they are tender and creamy, and then mixed with sautéed onions, peppers, and garlic and white rice. Rice and beans are often served with corn tortillas—ideally also freshly made on the Plancha stove—and fried plantains.
How it’s built: The Justa stove is built from bricks or blocks of concrete or adobe. As with all the fuel-efficeint stoves that Ecologic uses,Justa stove models feature a combustion chamber for wood, as well as a chimney for ventilation. The Justa stove is topped with one large metal griddle, or plancha, for cooking. Justa models also feature an attached shelf on the side to store food, plates, or cooking equipment. “Cats and small children can sit there, too, although that’s not what the shelf was built for…” laughed Guzmán. Many women in Honduras decorate the stoves with painted ceramic tiles at the end of construction.
“Cats and small children can sit there, too, although that’s not what the shelf was built for…” laughed Guzmán. Many women in Honduras decorate the stoves with painted ceramic tiles at the end of construction.
Good for cooking: The large griddle makes theJusta stove ideal for flipping fresh corn tortillas. For a hearty breakfast, stuff a hot tortilla with refried black beans, crumbled queso duro cheese, and the Honduran-style sour cream known as mantequilla to make baleadas. Some recipes also add fried eggs, avocado, or seasoned ground beef or pork.
Where we use it: Oaxaca, Mexico
A Patsari stove in the small community of San Bernabé, in Oaxaca, Mexico
How it’s built: the Patsari is a squat stove that is usually built from brick, but can also be constructed from concrete. It features two or three burners. One or two are smaller, which makes them good for pots of rice or beans, and the third is larger, which makes it an ideal griddle for cooking fresh corn tortillas. A small combustion chamber is located near the bottom of the stove, and like all fuel-efficient stoves, it features a chimney to keep smoke and soot out of families’ homes.
Fun fact: Patsari means “the stove that cares” in Purépecha, a language spoken by the indigenous Purépecha people from the state of Michoacán.
Good for cooking: Oaxaca is famous for its delicious cuisine, and the state is home to more than 200 known recipes for mole, a rich, complex sauce made from chili peppers and a long list of other ingredients, which sometimes includes chocolate. Because mole takes a long time to cook, it is usually saved for special occasions. Mole negro, or black mole, is slightly sweet, dark in color, and can made from toasted chili peppers, plantains, onions, tomatoes, tomatillos, cloves, cinnamon, chocolate, nuts, and more, depending on the recipe. On Día de los Muertos in November, the aromas of smoky mole negro simmering in pots on Patsari stoves perfumes the air in the village of San Bernabé, located within EcoLogic’s project site in Oaxaca.
EcoLogic designs all of its project activities with an emphasis on building long-term capacity for local communities to manage forests through proper monitoring, evaluation, reforestation and protection techniques. After a plan for fuel-efficient stoves and reforestation is implemented in a community, we work with our local partners to monitor the reforested and restored areas to make sure great progress is being made! We set short term milestones for each project that lead to overall goals to improve the livelihoods and natural resources in all the areas we work.
Our fuel-efficient stove projects significantly reduce the amount of trees cut in the forest because they use less fuel wood. In tandem, as part of our forest protection solutions, we teach farmers an agroforestry technique called “alley cropping” or planting Inga edulis trees along with their crops. Agroforestry, an alternative to slash-and-burn agriculture, improves the soil and reduces the need for clear-cutting forest land to make new arable farmland. This year with our partner, APROSARSTÚN in Guatemala’s Sarstún region, our goal is to achieve the following short-term and long-term conservation outcomes:
We at EcoLogic are excited that these communities are making so much progress conserving their land and water - and we have you to thank for supporting us!
“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.”
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.
EcoLogic Development Fund would like to thank those of you who have helped with our Construct 150 Fuel-efficient Stoves in Guatemala project highlighted on the GlobalGiving platform! We appreciate all that you have done and together we have been able to accomplish amazing things over these past couple of years.
Just last year, with your help we exceed our goal by building a total of 175 fuel-efficient stoves in three regions where we work in Guatemala! In Sarstún we built 100 fuel-efficient stoves, in Ixcán, 50, and finally in Totonicapán, we built 25. As we mentioned in our last report, we are also committed to a process of finding the best possible type of stove with the highest efficiency-rating for each community by piloting various models in different communities. In 2014, we will continue the process of testing new models and working on our monitoring and evaluation of the stoves’ benefits, fuel-efficiency, community uptake, and cultural fit.
Why is this work important?
Most rural households in Guatemala use wood as their primary source of energy for cooking, using traditional open-pit fires. According to the World Health Organization, this wastes 85 percent of generated energy and contributes greatly to indoor air pollution to the detriment of women and children who spend significant time in the home. Furthermore, the excessive use of wood negatively impacts forests that hold valuable biodiversity and regulate the flow and quality of water. Our fuel-efficient stove program enables rural people, primarily women, to construct and maintain new stoves that improve indoor air quality, take pressure off forests, and build social capital among neighbors.
This community-led stove program is a shining example of our mission and approach. Beneficiaries receive the materials and training necessary to build a stove using a participatory methodology, where stoves are jointly-constructed by women with the help of a mason. In exchange, a member of the family agrees to participate in conservation initiatives, such as planting trees or tending a tree nursery. Through this “participation commitment” the program encourages beneficiaries to give back to their community and fosters solidarity among neighbors in solving the environmental and economic challenges that face them. Since 2005, EcoLogic’s stove program has benefited over 2,500 families in Guatemala and Honduras.
So far, you have been a part of a great group of individuals who have helped us raise $7,045 towards a goal of $20,000. We have $12,955 left to raise. This amount would help an additional 77 families and we know that with your continued support we can meet this goal by the end of the year.
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