Fuel Stoves: Out of the Woodshed at last

Stuart Conway with Local Tree Growers in El Salvador
Stuart Conway of Trees, Water &
People with local tree growers
in El Salvador.

SAN SALVADOR – The thousands of miles between tropical rainforests and activists in developed nations present a problem for conservation efforts. Implementing projects in far-flung areas becomes even more challenging when the people have different cultures and economic resources. These barriers to sustaining our rainforests create a certain degree of uncertainty regarding their fate, but groups that push through these barriers have steadily increased hope that rainforests can be saved through restoration.

In early 2002 worldwide there are over 140 action groups working to maintain the forests we have and restore those that have been lost. The formation of groups such as these are a huge step towards conserving the earth’s forests.

One group that has worked tirelessly through the obstacles involved in the conservation of our rainforests is a nonprofit organization by the name of Trees, Water and People. Along with their local and regional treeplanting and watershed protection programs, Trees, Water and People has an international program in Central America that serves to conserve, protect and replenish forests and their ecologically important resources. Trees, Water and People, or TWP is an example of how a few people with a good cause and a lot of dedication are making a difference in the fate of the world’s forests.

The key to this groups’ success has been their cooperative effort with other nonprofit organizations as well as local inhabitants. In particular, the local people are essential to the successful implementation of the projects, as they are the ones who must continue to sustain and protect their environment when the volunteers leave.

Map of El Salvador
El Salvador

The main focus of their conservation work in Central America has been in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, as these regions are particularly riddled with environmental problems.

Central America has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world as deforestation in this region has already resulted in the loss of 2/3 of its forestland. The main reason why Central America has such high rates is that it is a region whose economy is primarily dominated by agriculture and logging. The increased rate seen in the most recent 50 years is due to an increase in population, which has increased the need to clear land for agriculture and increased logging for household fuelwood. The situation has been further worsened by the fact that if countries such as Guatemala and Nicaragua can get more money for the export of their crops or the selling of their land to large logging companies they will deplete their forests for profit.

Clearly, there is a great need for groups such as Trees, Water and People who are addressing numerous environmental problems through the creation of conservation, restoration and protection projects. In the four Latin American Countries previously mentioned, TWP are currently implementing projects such as their micro enterprise tree nursery project in Guatemala, Guacerique Watershed Protection Project in Honduras, reforestation, riverbank restoration and protected area management projects in El Salvador. Most recently, TWP are introducing a fuel-efficient stove into Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

These projects not only aim to improve the health of the environment but they also act to improve the health of the local people. In particular, their project involving the adoption of a properly vented, fuel-efficient stove, called the justa stove, is now underway in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Justa Stove and Family
A Justa Stove in action.

The justa stove offers many improvements to open fire stoves as well as to more efficient stoves, such as the rocket stove and plancha stove. The efficient design of the justa stove is obtained through the synthesis of the rocket stove and the plancha stove. The result is a stove that has an elbow shape to provide a combustion chamber and insulation that acts to increase the heat available to cook food.

Because of its efficient design, the justa stove uses less fuel-wood and thus decreases logging needs in these regions. Another important benefit of the justa stove is that the chimney component eliminates the toxic smoke that is typically produced by open fire stoves. This is a major improvement since smoke produced by the open fire stoves is a major health hazard for women and children who work in the kitchen, as it is a main cause of acute respiratory infections.

According to Stuart Conway, who is the director of TWPs’ international programs, the key to the successful implementation of the stoves has been in getting the women in each community to see the benefits that the stoves have to offer. Their first step in implementing the stove has been to identify the women leaders in the community and build the stove in their homes. In doing this they not only get feedback about how the stove may need to be adapted to meet the communities cooking needs, but also they use the community leaders as a means of spreading the word to other women in the community. TWP has found that the benefits of the stove speak for themselves.

Justa Stove Schematic
Justa Stove schematic

Mr. Conway reported that after using the stoves for only a short period of time many women said that the redness of their eyes and persistent coughing had improved. The women’s health and the health of their children is very important to them so the health benefits associated with these stoves are essential to the success of the program. The other aspect of the stoves which encourages their continued use is that they reduce the amount of fuelwood needed to cook by 60%. The reduced need for fuelwood means less money spent on fuelwood, which obviously acts as huge incentive to use the stove.

In asking Mr. Conway about the difficulties they have come across in implementing the stoves he said that the initial problem is that the different countries cook different food and prefer different ways of cooking. Therefore, in order to get the women to want to use the stove it must be adapted so that it meets their specific needs.

The second problem they have come across is that part of using the stove is maintenance. Over time, soot builds up and needs to be removed and the stove needs to be cleaned. This follow up work, which is done by groups within these countries, makes the program even more time consuming.

TWP believes that the program would be more successful if it were self-sufficient such that the stoves would be built by their own people and then sold to locals. In Nicaragua, Prolena (The Wood Energy Development Association) is attempting to do this, but the problem is that many people need to take out loans or buy the stoves on layaway because they cannot afford them.

Aside from these problems, Mr. Conway said that he is “especially excited about the fuel-efficient stove program because it is cheaper to save trees than it is to replant new ones.” Also, he said that he has very high hopes for the program and its continued success in Central America and there are already plans to expand the use of the stoves to Chiapas, Mexico. Also, further in the future he hopes to expand their use to South America.

Working directly with Central American communities over the years, Mr. Conway has seen many improvements that he believes are a sign of hope for the future of the worlds’ forests. First of all, while training people to build and use the stoves he has had many opportunities to speak to locals about he importance of environmental protection. He has found that as compared to twenty or so years ago there has been an increase in education in regard to environmental concerns which he attributes to the increase in environmental writings and publications that have come out of Central America.

In terms of the fuel-efficient stove project, he has been told by locals that fewer fuelwood trucks have been seen going into many areas where these stoves are being widely used, such as in Suyapa, Honduras. He believes is a definite sign that the project is proving to be very effective.

Central America has proved to be a good place for TWP to start implementing international restoration programs because especially in the case of El Salvador, the environment has gotten so bad that farmers started to see water drying up in their fields, which made them finally start to see the effects of the pressure they have put on the environment. Mr. Conway stated that, “it is unfortunate that things had to get this bad in order for people to see the damage that is being done, but at least now many people are being more cooperative in changing destructive practices and working with conservation groups.”

To find out more about Trees Water and People, go to www.treeswaterpeople.org, or call 970-484-3678.

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One Response to “Fuel Stoves: Out of the Woodshed at last”
  1. Don Pinder says:

    Please feel free to drop by my site, lots of info and bargain priced stoves.


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