This post is not about best practices. It is from my memory of a cook-stoves programme I have seen from close quarters; about what can go wrong. Although the intervention had features that could have made it work, it faced numerous challenges that made field workers and communities weary and progress, slow. The stoves were built using locally-available mud, using metal casts. A few individuals in every community were taught to build and maintain the stoves. This was also presented as an opportunity for self-help groups of women to adopt as an income-generating activity. Local potters were engaged to built a set of detachable pipes for the stove so that it would be easy to clean. Households paid for their own stoves.
- Smokeless cook-stoves required uniformly sized small pieces of firewood – which was a nuisance for women used to collecting firewood from the forest and using it directly in their stoves. Often, I have seen a whole tree trunk shoved into the fire, being used to cook.
- In the particular design that was being used, although a double-pot design, only one pot got the full heat, while the other pot only got the transfered heat from the first one. This usually meant they would have another stove burning since the new improved stove would not cook fast enough.
- The new stoves also came in fixed sizes and one could only use pots of a certain size, unlike traditional stoves which could easily be adjusted to accommodate larger or smaller pots by merely moving bricks around.
- In dense neighbourhoods, houses were much too close to each other and directing pipes through the nearest wall could mean smoking out the neighbour’s bed room. This was after we somehow convinced families that we were not going to break their house down in trying to make a hole in the wall.
- Communities also saw these chimneys/smoke pipes as a serious fire hazard, and rightfully so, since most houses had thatched roofs.
- Mud pipes often broke during transportation; field workers and households wanted to use asbestos pipes – another health hazard.
- In multi-caste villages, higher caste families would not allow individuals of lower castes to enter their kitchens. This was in spite of years of living together in the same community, attending social events collectively – the kitchen was still out of bounds
- Often these were one or two room houses, with no particular kitchen space. Such houses would often have no covered space outdoors where a new smokeless cook-stove could be installed. Where there was a kitchen, it was often small and would have no space to build a smokeless cook-stove. Of course, most families wouldn’t allow their old stove to be dismantled.
- When the chimney started getting blocked, the stove would emit fumes, often worse than before. Households who were not taught to clean and maintain the cook-stoves or if pipes broke while cleaning – would then stop using them and move back to their traditional chullas. Having paid for stoves was not enough to ensure ‘ownership’.