When you have to walk up to 10 kilometres just to find fuel for your stove, then you know you have a problem. Yet that was the journey that some women in rural Eritrea faced as the fuelwood used for cooking stoves depleted and they had to go further and further afield to find it. Nor were the basic stoves they used efficient or healthy. Cooking on open fires was wasteful, slow and polluted their homes.
The Renewable Energy Centre (REC - formerly ERTC), a government agency, set out to develop a stove that was safer, used wood more efficiently and combined the three basic stoves that many of the women used to cook different foods, particularly the injera, a soft, pancake-like bread served with most dishes.
The result was a stove with an enclosed fireholder for improved efficiency and a chimney to take out the smoke. REC provides the metal moulds to make components like bricks out of clay, and the villagers complete they construction in their own homes. Potential users are selected in villages and two are then trained to act as guides to the community. With self-assembly, it costs only US$18 to provide a stove.
The resulting demand shows how badly needed the stoves were. By March 2010, REC had installed 105,000 improved stoves benefitting 720,000 people in 3,600 villages. Total greenhouse gas saving from all stoves installed to date is about 305,000 tonnes/year CO2. Villages can now collect fuel from the immediate vicinity and use smaller twigs, agricultural residue and even dung. And as well as more time they can live and bring up their families in healthier environments. Which is why REC is developing further stoves as it rolls out the initiative across the country.