The Onil stove has a hotplate that can be used to cook tortillas, and a chimney to take smoke out of the kitchen

HELPS’ 2004 Ashden Award recognised the work it had done to develop a safe, efficient and durable wood burning cooking stove for use in Guatemala.

The health care charity HELPS International became concerned by the large numbers of patients in Guatemala with serious burns, respiratory infections and eye problems caused by the use of open cooking fires in homes.  Guatemala also has a growing problem of deforestation, with unsustainable fuelwood use contributing to this.

The insulation on the stove makes it safe to touch – even our family cat enjoys sleeping against it!

ECAMI client, El Sauce

Background

Health care is the major activity of HELPS International in Guatemala. HELPS medical teams were concerned by the large numbers of patients with serious burns, a result of cooking on open fires in the home. They also saw eye and respiratory infections exacerbated by cooking smoke, with respiratory infection the major cause of death in childhood. Guatemala also has a growing problem of deforestation, with unsustainable fuelwood use contributing to this.

These health concerns drove the initial development of an efficient wood burning cooking stove, which would reduce the risk of burns and cut indoor air pollution while at the same time help to reduce fuelwood use. It is called the ONIL stove after Don O’Neal who led the stove development.

The organisation

HELPS International Guatemala is part of the not-for-profit organisation HELPS International, based in the USA. The organisation has worked in Guatemala for over 25 years, on integrated community development activities including preventative and curative medicine, education and income generation. It also works in other countries of Central America. In 2009 HELPS had an income of over US$2m, mainly earned from sales. HELPS employed 86 people in Guatemala and 17 in Mexico, and had assistance from over 1,000 volunteers.

The technology

How does it work? 

The main body parts of the ONIL stove are made from concrete, for strength and durability.  The combustion chamber, where the fuelwood is burned, has a ceramic (fired clay) lining, in order to withstand the high temperatures reached.   The space between the concrete and ceramic parts is insulated with ground pumice and ash.  The top of the stove is about 400 mm wide and 900 mm long, to give plenty of space for both cooking pots and tortilla cooking. Two steel hot plates fit into the ceramic top plate.  A set of covers with graduated holes allows the use of different-sized pots, and tortillas can be cooked when the pot hole is completely covered. 

The stove is normally mounted on concrete blocks, to raise it to a convenient height for cooking. A chimney made from galvanised steel takes smoke from the stove out through the roof of the house.

How much does it cost and how do users pay? 

HELPS buys the manufactured components from the producers, and sold the stoves as kits of parts at the cost price of US$68 each in 2003. HELPS is keen that users make some financial contribution to the stove, since this increases the likelihood of successful use. However, it is the responsibility of the individual extension agency (see below) to set up an appropriate financing scheme.   For instance, some require the user to contribute about one third of the cost before the stove is installed whilst others stagger payments through a micro loan facility.

How is it manufactured, promoted and maintained? 

HELPS places great emphasis on the use of local enterprises to produce the stoves.  All components are manufactured within about 100 km of Guatemala City.  A factory has been set up to produce concrete parts in Rio Bravo.  Ceramic parts are made by a brick manufacturer in Chimaltenango, and the entire production facility is now committed to making stove parts.  All steel parts are made in a small engineering company in Quetzaltenango.  HELPS has provided credit for this company to purchase improved cutting equipment, and expand production capacity.  

HELPS has run a small programme to install stoves, but the emphasis is on introducing stoves by selling them to other extension agencies, usually NGOs working on community development.  Communities in Guatemala are scattered and speak different languages, so it is essential to work with agencies who understand local needs.

HELPS provides extensive training materials.  The extension agency promoting the ONIL stove in a particular area nominates five women from the community to be trained by HELPS in stove assembly and use, and routine maintenance.  A stove technician assists these women to assemble the stoves in their own homes, and they then pass on their skills to others.  Each community will have at least three follow-up visits from a stove technician, to ensure that the stoves are working well.

Benefits

The original plan was to install 3,000 ONIL stoves over three years, but demand was so great that in 2003 alone, 2,700 stoves were installed in 1,700 households, benefiting over 10,000 people.

Environmental benefits Both laboratory studies and surveys in homes in Guatemala have shown that the ONIL stove reduces fuelwood consumption by between 60 and 70%. Thus the use of improved stoves makes a significant contribution to preserving wood stocks. It has also helped users to become more aware of the value of trees. Because wood supplies are unsustainable, these wood savings represent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Health and social benefits 

The stoves and chimneys reduce smoke and the by-products of combustion in the home and users find that respiratory and eye problems have greatly decreased. Measurements by HELPS have shown that homes using ONIL stoves have only 5% of the CO concentration of those with open fires have about 20 times higher concentrations of carbon monoxide than those with the new stoves. Under standard kitchen test conditions the reduction of CO and particulates is even greater. Because of the insulation, the new stoves are also safe to touch when in use.  

Economic and employment benefits 

Significant employment has been created as a result of the programme. One new factory has been set up to manufacture and assemble stoves, and two others have greatly increased their business because of it.  Employment has also been created for suppliers, technicians and extension workers.

Some women who previously spent time collecting fuelwood now use that time to plant small vegetable gardens to provide better food and cash income. 

There is great potential to replicate the programme, as evidenced by the enormous demand for stoves. In 2003, suppliers were trying to produce 500 sets of components per month to keep up with demand, and one NGO alone put in a request for 9,000 stoves. 

Update: what happened next?

There has been huge growth in the sale of stoves since 2004: by 2009, 106,000 ONIL stoves of different models were in use in about 80,000 households in Guatemala, Mexico, and elsewhere in Latin America, benefitting over 600,000 people.

Independent studies have measured carbon savings of 3 tonnes/year CO2 per stove, so total CO2 savings are about 320,000 tonnes/year. The project has also generated significant employment: two factories have now opened in Guatemala and one in Mexico, with another due to open in Nicaragua.

HELPS has also developed other products, including a ceramic water filter (40,000 installed by the end of 2009), a retained heat cooker and portable LED solar lights.