Notes from the Field: Partnership Brings Clean Cookstoves to Uganda

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

A woman cooks on her new clean cookstove, The Rodelle Rocket Stove, in the Bugonia District of Uganda.

In the months that followed the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, a flurry of support and interest from our Colorado community led to a promising call from Joe Basta, managing partner of a successful Fort Collins company, Rodelle Vanilla. Joe explained that his supplier of vanilla beans from Uganda, UVAN Ltd, bought his stock at above-market prices from a network of 9,000 vanilla farmers throughout the country, and that UVAN had launched a series of social programs to thank them for their loyalty. Through these programs, farmers in UVAN’s network gained access to mosquito netting, HIV/AIDS awareness and counseling, rural savings and loan programs, and trees for local reforestation. The missing link, explained Joe, was to provide these farmers and their families with a cleaner, more efficient way to cook.

During an exploratory trip to Uganda in early 2011 with Joe and his business partner Dan Berlin, I had the opportunity to visit UVAN’s vast network of farming communities, where vanilla harvests ensure a twice yearly boon in an otherwise uncertain rural existence. Homes were simple, people were extremely humble, and the challenge was presented: Could Trees, Water & People (TWP) implement a cookstove program that would help these families reduce their daily exposure to smoke and reduce the rate at which they consume firewood? The result was the Rodelle Rocket stove – a double-burner household cookstove that replaces two open fires at once, and which is currently being tested in communities throughout UVAN’s supply network.

This project serves as a great example of how private businesses and nonprofit organizations can partner to make real and lasting impacts around the world.  For more information about TWP’s Corporate Partners Program, contact Megan Maiolo-Heath, Marketing & Communications Manager, at megan@treeswaterpeople.org.

Photo of the Week: Gathering Firewood in Uganda

Gathering firewoos in Uganda
A group of Ugandan women gather fuelwood to cook their family's daily meals. According to UN Women Watch, women and girls in the developing world can spend up to 20 hours per week collecting firewood, often in very isolated and unsafe areas. (Photo © Brian Martin 2012)

Uganda Clean Cookstove Project Improves Lives of Farmers

TWP’s Deputy International Director, Sebastian Africano, just returned from a 2 week trip to Uganda where he visited our newest clean cookstove project. This new project, funded by Rodelle, the largest vanilla importer in the United States, is bringing clean cookstoves to Ugandan vanilla farmers.

About 75% of families in Uganda cook over open wood fires and cannot afford electric or gas stoves or access to alternative fuel sources. These open wood fires create serious problems including deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and disease from indoor air pollution. With this project, Rodelle hopes to improve the livelihoods of the farmers that they source their vanilla from.

On this last trip, Sebastian made visits to households that received clean cookstoves in March 2011 to determine how they liked the stoves and what improvements they would like made to the stoves. In addition, he built an institutional clean cookstove for workers at UVAN, a top Ugandan exporter of vanilla. The UVAN staff were impressed by the efficiency of their new stove and how much it reduced the smoke in the building where they cook. They were so happy they built a second stove after Sebastian left!

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TWP Teams up with Rodelle Vanilla to Bring Clean Cookstoves to Ugandan Farmers

Rocket Stoves in Uganda

* Source: Thank you to Dennis Marrero for his wonderful story about this partnership and for providing the above graphics to the public. Please visit http://foodspring.com/content/rocketstoves/ for the full story.

Notes from the Field: Reflections from Africa to Haiti

Notes from the Field by Sebastian Africano, TWP’s Deputy International Director:

April 21st, 2011: Port-au-Prince, Haiti


Sebastian Africano hanging out with a group of children in the Bugonia district of Uganda.

As we begin to wrap up our Spring 2011 site visits, we begin to reflect on all that has passed since we left Fort Collins several weeks ago.  My adventure began in Kenya in late February, where I spoke at the 2011 UNEP Sasakawa Prize Ceremony in celebration of this year’s laureates and the International Year of the Forest.  This was followed by a 2-week trip to Uganda, where along with Fort Collins based partners, Rodelle Vanilla, we launched what will become TWP’s first African stove program.  Soon after we found ourselves in Guatemala, traveling the country meeting with potential new partners in the country’s Altiplano, and then El Salvador, where we visited our partner Agua y Arboles para El Pueblo’s (AAP) new projects in communities surrounding an important protected area, Cerro El Aguila.  This trip was punctuated by visits to their spectacular tree nursery, which is teeming with 28 species that will be planted throughout the country this rainy season.  This journey will end 10 days from now in Haiti, where we are halfway into a visit with partners International Lifeline Fund (ILF) in Port-au-Prince, and working hard to get our urban stove commercialization project off the ground.

Sebastian Africano (R) and a local Haitian metal worker take a break from stove building.

Upon arrival to Haiti, and with the invaluable support of stove design consultant Brian Martin of Portland, Oregon, we headed into the field to check on stoves distributed 2 months ago, during Brian’s last visit.  We collected valuable feedback from about 20 families, which began a discussion around design modifications, improvements, and production strategies.  We then assembled a group of ten tin-smiths, some of which had worked with Brian and ILF in the past, who have now been contracted to cut and assemble 1,000 cookstoves in the next six weeks.  No small feat, by any measure, but cohesion amongst the team members has been quick to form, and all share ideas, help eachother with challenging pieces, and take time to laugh and joke with us as they work.

Haitian metal workers work on building the Zanmi Pye Bwa (“Friend of the Forest”) fuel-efficient cookstove.

This week has consisted of getting to know our resource and talent pool, bringing in tools, equipment and materials from all over Port-au-Prince to centralize production at ILF’s offices in the capital.  We introduced power tools to the stove production process, which is a break from the norm, but which has increased consistency and speed, allowing us to reach impressive volumes quickly.  The office is now filled with a cacophony of metal-on-metal pings, bangs and crashes, as hundreds of charcoal bowls and other parts roll off the production line.  Centralizing production without a factory site is challenging, but allows us to improve standardization of our product while offering these skilled metal workers a positive change of environment – getting them away from rough neighborhoods characterized by burning trash, dilapidated buildings, crowds and traffic.   All in all, these workers have embarked on what we hope will be an uplifting rise out of poverty, gaining access to steady and dignified employment in what we intend to develop into a significant charcoal stove manufacturing operation over the next year.

Keep your eyes and ears on the Zanmi Pye Bwa (Friend of the Forest) project as it develops, and support TWP by spreading the word as we raise funds to increase our production capacity and impact over the coming months!

*Many thanks to Brian Martin (Working Hands Productions) for the wonderful photos from Haiti.

Sunset over Port-au-Prince

Clean Cookstoves for Ugandan Farmers

In partnership with Rodelle Vanilla, Trees, Water & People is working to provide Ugandan vanilla farmers with clean cookstoves.  These stoves will improve families’ lives by decreasing indoor air pollution, deforestation and fuelwood costs.

While in Uganda, Sebastian held cookstove focus groups in the local villages to determine the preferences and needs of women who will be receiving clean cookstoves.  Information gathered from these focus groups helps in design and implementation of a successful cookstove program.

About 75% of families in Uganda cook over open wood fires and cannot afford electric or gas stoves or access alternative fuel sources. These open wood fires create serious problems including deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. In an effort to alleviate these issues Rodelle and Trees, Water, & People will provide fuel-efficient cookstoves made from sustainable materials. This new project will work with the local farmers and people of Uganda to lay the groundwork for a better future. In creating a sustainable system, Rodelle Vanilla hopes to also create an industry that uplifts the Ugandan economy, all while changing lives.

Enjoy these pictures from Sebastian Africano’s (TWP Deputy International Director) recent trip!