From the Board: Building the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change

by Jon Becker, TWP Board Member

Nicaragua clean cookstove factory
TWP Executive Director Richard Fox at Proleña’s cookstove factory in Managua.

It’s Wednesday in Managua, which puts me in the middle of my 10 day Central American journey. Here in Nicaragua, Trees, Water & People’s Executive Director Richard Fox and I are completing a series of meetings with our long time partner, Proleña.  It is a very exciting time here – we are truly getting our hands dirty to launch one of our biggest projects in the region – the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change.

NicaraguaSeveral years ago, with support from our donors as well as funds from the Rio Tinto Prize for Sustainability, we helped Proleña purchase a property in a rural area near the town of La Paz Centro, an hour northwest of Managua.  After years of planning, fundraising, and dreaming, we have finally started construction of the Center. Today I had the pleasure of walking the seven acre property with Proleña’s Director Marlyng Buitrago, Technical Director Leonardo Mayorga, Board member Juan Torres. We visited the two buildings that have already been constructed, chatted with our caretaker and his family who are living on the land, and imagined the day (soon!) when the views, including majestic Mt. Momotombo in the distance, would also feature the classrooms, dormitory, agroforestry demonstration areas, clean cookstove workshops, and more that will make up the Center.

A view of Momotombo from the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change
A view of Momotombo as it rises near the shores of Lake Managua – a beautiful backdrop to the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change.

The Center is a unique and critically important addition to the entire region’s capacity to restore and maintain forest health, expand the use of clean energy and appropriate technologies, and develop adaptation strategies to the already present impacts of climate change.  As such, it will embody a model worthy of replication as all of the world steps up to the challenge of climate change and the transition to renewable energy.

I was flashing back to similar feelings of excitement, concern, and hope that I felt just a few years ago walking the grounds of the mostly unfinished Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.  I was remembering the flood of joy and satisfaction I reveled a little more than a year ago, when I was attended the grand opening of the Sacred Earth Lodge training center and dormitory at Pine Ridge. We did it before – we can do it again.  And I want to be there for La Fiesta!!

To learn more about the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change in Nicaragua please visit our website.

Community Voices: Juan Francisco Velasquez

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

clean cookstove guatemala
Chico and Florida are happy to have a safer and healthier home with their new clean

In every country where Trees, Water & People (TWP) builds clean cookstoves, we train local citizens in the design and construction of the stoves. These dedicated individuals work with community members throughout the entire process to create stoves that meet their specific cooking needs. In addition, stoves are built using local materials. Families invest in the stove by providing a portion of the materials needed as well as investing time in helping to construct the stoves.

Imagine: more than 63,000 cookstoves built to date, all designed and constructed by local citizens! This accomplishment gets at the core of TWP’s mission and vision – an emphasis on community-based natural resource management that benefits both people and the planet. Our projects are not successful unless local people are involved each step of the way.

Sebastian Africano clean cookstove
Inspecting Chico’s cookstove and happy to see how well it works for the family.

During our most recent visit to Guatemala, we saw this model in action. Juan Francisco “Chico” Velasquez and his wife Florida Vitalia welcomed us into their home to see their new clean cookstove. Chico and his family have benefited from the stove for eight months now, greatly reducing their fuelwood use and indoor air pollution in the home. Our partners at Utz Che’ worked with community members to design this stove to meet their unique cooking preferences.

Chico says, “Before we had the clean cookstove, I never knew food could smell so good! Now that there is no smoke in the kitchen, you can smell dinner cooking from outside the house and all the way down the street.”

To learn more about our Clean Cookstove Program click here.

Project Update: 100 Clean Cookstoves in Guatemala

clean cookstove guatemala

In partnership with Catapult, we have raised funds to support 100 clean cookstoves in Guatemala. Thanks to generous donors, the project was fully funded. Ut’z Che’, a local environmental conservation and community development organization on the ground in Guatemala, will install the cookstoves. These life-changing stoves will replace open fire stoves that consumes massive amounts of wood and pollute homes with indoor air pollution.


Local partner Ut’z Ché has had preliminary meetings with three communities, in which we will implement the next phase of the cookstove program.  Our approach always involves several initial meetings to ensure community buy-in and to establish the co-investment plan.  Usually home visits are conducted to ensure a match between cooking customs and the proposed cookstove design, the community is given a list of materials for each household to prepare prior to construction, and a timeline is set to 1) build a few demonstration stoves for feedback, and 2) begin full roll out of the program.

Construction in the three communities is scheduled to start this month, with two new clean cookstove models being tested for efficacy and acceptance by beneficiaries. Among those trained to install the cookstoves will be youth groups in the different communities, adding an important, specialized skill set to their portfolio, and some much needed income to their pockets.

Nuevo Modelo a Construir Propuesta
A new clean cookstove design to be tested by community members.

Risks and Challenges

With any clean cookstove project, you have to make sure that the technology you propose matches the needs and cooking habits in the community where it will be used. In Guatemala that challenge is especially pertinent, as there are over 20 ethnic groups in the country, many with their own specialized cooking preferences. For the 100 cookstoves funded by this Catapult project, we will be presenting three variations on our local cookstove design, the Emelda stove, to account for cultural and culinary differences. Additionally, due to our limited capacity, we will have to stagger the implementation of these projects to coincide with demand, availability of materials and road conditions during the rainy season.

Up Close

Rosa Jerónimo de Ortiz: “With the traditional stove I used before, my kitchen walls were always black from the amount of smoke that it produced.  My husband and children didn’t like to spend time in the kitchen with me because their eyes would tear up, especially during the rainy season when firewood comes damp. When this cookstove project started, the women of my community were overjoyed, as these projects benefit us principally.  Now I even have my kitchen table in the same room as the stove!”

Next Steps

Next steps include building demonstration stoves in the three communities where we plan to work.  We always learn from this experience, as we get direct feedback from the eventual users about what will work for them and what will not.  After the designs are agreed upon, we will initiate construction in groups of 20 – 25 in each community, aiming to entice even more participants to invest in an improved cookstove design as we install the 100 funded by this project.

new clean cookstove design Guatemala

To learn more about this project please visit

Photo of the Week: Gathering fuelwood (and hunting lizards) in Guatemala

gathering fuelwood guatemala

About this photo

In Guatemala, more than 71% of the nation’s 14.7 million people are dependent on wood to cook every meal. This demand for fuelwood has put a huge strain on one of the country’s most precious natural resources: the forests. In addition, the many hours spent collecting wood is time that could be spent working or going to school.

Our clean cookstove programs in Guatemala aim to decrease fuelwood consumption and, at the same time, improve the health of families and the overall environment.

“A young boy from Nuevo Todos Santos near Escuintla, Guatemala proudly shows off a juvenile iguana that he shot with his home-made slingshot while collecting firewood.  While we were merely coincidental bystanders to his hunt, we were more focused on the 30+lbs of wood he had hanging nonchalantly from his forehead the entire time he scouted for the lizard, aimed, shot and retrieved it.  Gathering firewood is an everyday reality for women and children in rural Guatemala who consume thousands of pounds of wood per year cooking with inefficient, three-stone fires.” -Sebastian Africano

Photo by Sebastian Africano, International Director

First Look! The National Center for Biomass Energy & Climate Change

National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change_Nicaragua
Click image to enlarge

We are working with our long-time NGO partner, Proleña, in Nicaragua, to establish the National Center for Biomass Energy & Climate Change near La Paz Centro, Nicaragua.

The Center will be an educational resource where communities can learn about managing forests, renewable energy, cleantech, and clean cookstoves. In addition to the core training, we will develop the Center as a global facility, where people from around the world will be empowered with the skills that will help them adapt to climate change in their region.

Features of the National Center for Biomass Energy & Climate Change:

  • Biomass Forest Plot
  • Classrooms for Trainings & Workshops
  • Clean Cookstoves & Fuel-Efficient Kilns
  • 2kW Photovoltaic System
  • Cleantech Products
  • Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Demos
Nicaragua Climate Change Center
Click image to enlarge

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)

Household Solid Fuel Use Around the World

Household Solid Fuel Use

*Click on the image above for a more detailed, interactive map.


This Map shows the percentage of the total population that burn solid fuels in their households, primarily for cooking fuel. Solid fuels include coal or biomass fuels such as wood, charcoal, agricultural residues, and animal dung.

Worldwide, solid fuels are still the primary energy supply for many households, particularly rural poor households in developing countries. Combustion of solid fuels in traditional stoves causes high levels of indoor air pollution (IAP), emitting dangerous pollutants such as carbon monoxide and particulates. IAP from solid fuel use is therefore a serious health concern. Prolonged exposure to IAP can lead to acute lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer. Women and children are most susceptible due to household roles. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 2 million people, mostly women and children, die each year from illness caused by IAP.

Photo of the Week: Charcoal Markets of Haiti

Photo of the Week: Did you know 90% of the Haitian population is dependent on charcoal to cook every meal? The bustling charcoal market (pictured here) is a reminder of this dependency. The charcoal industry employs over 200,000 Haitians each year, making it even harder to reduce charcoal consumption in the country.

**NEW VIDEO: The Zanmi Pye Bwa Haitian Clean Cookstove Project**

After the devastating January 2010 earthquake, TWP was able to raise significant amounts of funds to support relief efforts, donating $30,000 to Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team for aid in the construction of a child-friendly space and school in Port-au-Prince and sending 1,776 Stove Tec Rocket stoves to the country, for distribution by partner International Lifeline Fund (ILF).

Since the end of the emergency relief phase, TWP has worked with ILF on developing a local charcoal stove design, intended for micro-entrepreneurial manufacture and dissemination during 2011.  This stove, the Zanmi Pye Bwa (“Friend of the Trees”), has posted fuel-use reductions on par with many of imported stoves in Port-au-Prince, but can be produced at a lower cost with local skills and materials. Keep an eye on the ZPB project as it develops throughout 2011 and 2012!