Nearly 3 billion people in the developing world cook food and heat their homes with traditional cookstoves or open fires, resulting in negative social and environmental impacts. Exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves and open ﬁres causes four million premature deaths annually, with women and young children the most affected.
Reliance on biomass for cooking and heating forces women and children to spend hours each week collecting wood, time that could be better spent on income generation, education, or other activities. Where fuel must be purchased, primarily in urban areas, families struggling to meet their basic needs can pay as much as one-third of their income to purchase sufficient fuel to cook their daily meal. Inefficient traditional cookstoves also increase pressures on local natural resources (e.g. forests, habitat) and contribute to climate change at the regional and global level.
There are several reasons why people keep cooking with their traditional cookstoves. The following factors can challenge the widespread uptake and penetration of improved cookstoves:
- Lack of awareness – Many end-users are not aware of the health hazards and environmental degradation, or may not understand how severe these issues are.
- Affordability – Many people are unable to afford the upfront cost of an improved stove, even if they could save money (or time) in the long term with a more efficient stove.
- Failure to meet consumers needs – Cookstove preferences are as varied as the different foods that they are used to cook, with flat-top plancha cookstoves for cooking tortillas in places like Peru and Guatemala built for a different set of culinary needs than the small two pot cookstoves used to cook rice and curry in Nepal and India. Even within individual countries, local preferences for particular fuels and cookstove designs can complicate the development of products that can be sold to and used by large segments of the population
- Fuel availability – in some regions (especially those with proximity to forests), fuel is abundantly available for the households free of cost and collection time is also not substantial. In these cases, the benefits of an improved cookstove are less visible and end-users may be unwilling to use improved cookstoves.
- Religious beliefs – in some regions, the traditional cookstove plays an important role in religious lore and practices. People are reluctant to abandon items of religious significance, it may be even forbidden or taboo to do so.
All these issues need to be addressed by a successful project to make sure that end-users can accept their new cookstoves and keep using them after their introduction.