500 More Clean Cookstoves in Guatemala

By Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

Since 2006, Utz Che’ has been a tireless advocate for over 40 indigenous Guatemalan communities committed to protecting and sustainably managing their forest resources. Utz Che’ acts as a loudspeaker for indigenous causes and concerns, which are otherwise easily dismissed from the public discourse and policy-making dialogues.

Trees, Water & People (TWP) was introduced to Utz Che’s leadership in 2010 and has worked with them to add fuel-efficient cookstove technology to their services to reduce pressure on the local forests from which fuelwood is harvested, as well as reduce indoor air pollution. After several years of prototyping designs with Utz Che’ communities and Guatemalan manufacturers, last year we embarked on the full-scale implementation of 500 clean cookstoves manufactured by two local enterprises — ECOCOMAL and Estufa Doña Dora. The project was so successful that this year we are raising funds to install 500 more in high-need communities.

Learning about the new Doña Dora stove
In 2016, this community in southern Guatemala received Doña Dora stoves and were all trained by Doña Dora employees on how to install, use, and maintain their new clean cookstoves.

The cookstove models selected for this project are partially pre-manufactured for consistency but are installed in a brick and mortar body constructed by trained community members. In 2016, this included 159 men and 371 women. Hands-on training in installation, use, and maintenance of the stoves increases local investment in the program through sweat equity and allows community members to become more intimate with the technology. Community engagement improves the local support network around the cookstoves.

New clean cookstove in Guatemala
This woman in southern Guatemala uses her clean cookstove that was built last year to make tortillas for her family.

Cooking is a very personal tradition in Central America, so new technologies must be able to cook the same foods, with the same fuels, in the same amount of time as the traditional designs if they are to be accepted by all members of society. Trees, Water & People’s years of expertise, coupled with a locally fine-tuned design, and the trust and rapport that Utz Che’ has with its member communities make for an extraordinarily effective, participatory, and meaningful partnership.

If you would like to help us build clean cookstoves in Guatemala, or would like to learn more about the importance of this project, click the button below.

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Corporate Partner Spotlight: Houska Automotive

dona dora clean cookstove
The Doña Dora clean cookstove reduces household air pollution and fuelwood costs for Guatemalan families.

by Megan Maiolo-Heath, Marketing Manager

Houska Automotive, a long-time donor and friend to Trees, Water & People (TWP), is supporting one of our new cookstove projects that will bring hundreds of families in Guatemala cleaner burning stoves. The grant will go towards the building and installation of 500 clean cookstoves in the homes of families living in the municipalities of Camotán and Jutiapa, Guatemala.

The project will give local people knowledge and skills of clean cookstove technology, installation, use, and maintenance. Families will benefit from reduced firewood consumption and improved respiratory health. In addition, there will be a reduction in local deforestation and carbon emissions, which will help mitigate global climate change.

Guatemala fuelwood

The Problem

In Guatemala, deforestation is a serious issue. Cutting down forests for firewood is a principal culprit, with an annual demand of 15.8 million tons. Sources show that between 47% and 49% of the energy consumed in Guatemala comes from firewood; 70% of the country’s 15 million people rely on wood for their everyday cooking needs.

Excessive firewood use also has adverse impacts on health, especially for women and young children. Research shows that women and children spend the most time in the kitchen, inhaling the toxic smoke emitted at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. In fact, it has been compared to smoking three packs of cigarettes every day.

“The bottom line is that cooking in Guatemala is killing far too many people and destroying the natural environment at an alarming rate,” said Sebastian Africano, Trees, Water & People’s International Director. “Each improved cookstove installed will have a measurable and positive impact on the family that it serves, as well as on our global environment. We are thankful for the support of businesses like Houska who give back to our local community as well as communities in Guatemala who need our help.”

A Positive Impact for People and the Planet

TWP will implement this ambitious cookstove project with Guatemalan NGO, Utz Che’, a local umbrella organization that helps 36 small grassroots groups (mostly indigenous) organize and plan community development projects. Cookstoves with increased fuel-efficiency improve human health and family livelihoods, while protecting the environment.

Compared to traditional open cooking fires, our clean cookstove models use 40-50% less firewood. Less time spent collecting daily firewood means more time for other important activities necessary to support the family and invest in the future, such as education or home businesses. By removing up to 80% of the toxic smoke from the kitchen, this clean technology significantly reduces indoor air pollution which is responsible for four million deaths globally every year. Also, each cookstove decreases hazardous carbon emissions by an average of 68%, helping to combat climate change.

Thank you Houska Automotive for your continued generosity and support! To learn more about the many organizations that Houska supports please visit www.houskaautomotive.com/community-support

Houska Automotive logo

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: Dema Rios Dubon

solar home system Guatemala

Doña Dema and her family live in the community of La Gloria. The purchase of a solar home system from TWP’s social enterprise, Luciérnaga, has saved her family a great sum of money each month. Prior to owning the solar energy system, they used a gasoline generator for energy, which cost them 3,000 quetzales ($391USD) to purchase, plus the cost of fuel.

“Now it is better with the solar panel. We no longer have to purchase gasoline for the generator just to charge our cell phones.”

With a solar home system, Dema is able to work later into the night sewing and embroidering, activities that she loves to do and also make her extra income. Furthermore, her children are able to study later into the evening after the sun sets.

The system has four LED lights plus USB ports for charging cell phones and other electronics. A great example of how clean energy is changing lives for families living in rural, last-mile communities!

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
cookstove.

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.

Access to Clean Energy: From Pilot Project to Sustainable Enterprise

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In 2011, armed with a grant awarded under the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA), nonprofit organization Trees, Water & People launched an initiative to increase the use of clean technologies in several Latin American countries. That pilot project has since spawned a social enterprise that is making solar lighting products accessible to customers in rural areas of Central America.

It all began with a three-year, $1.2 million ECPA grant awarded by the U.S. State Department to Colorado-based Trees, Water & People (TWP) for an initiative called “Improving Access to Clean Energy in Latin America.” The goal was to develop effective ways to reach off-grid markets with climate-friendly products such as clean cookstoves, solar lanterns, and small solar home systems.

While such products provide tangible benefits—cleaner indoor air, reduced expenditures on conventional energy, and higher-quality lighting and cooking—a major challenge is how to create a sustainable supply chain to reach markets with the greatest need. Last-mile distribution is complex, unpredictable, and expensive. Roads are sometimes impassable, mobile communications are often unreliable, and many rural households have no access to financing.

TWP worked hand in hand with a social enterprise called PowerMundo—which had tackled some of these problems in Peru—and with partners in Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador to develop a sustainable commercial model for hard-to-reach areas in Central America.

After trying several different approaches, TWP found that existing rural institutions such as agricultural cooperatives, nongovernmental organizations, and rural savings and loans groups could be effective distributors and retailers of the clean-technology products. Since such groups often already have a credit relationship with small-scale farmers for agricultural investments, they can provide these same farmers with the payment terms they need to invest in products that have a true impact on their lives.

solar light Honduras

Last year, TWP took a step toward making the initiative sustainable by establishing a social enterprise called Luciérnaga LLC (the name means “firefly”) to serve Central America with solar lighting products. “We wanted to create a vehicle through which the project could continue to grow,” explained TWP International Director Sebastián Africano.

Luciérnaga fills a business niche by providing a link between manufacturers and small local distributors. It imports solar lighting products in bulk to a central location in El Salvador, handling logistical details and ordering in large enough quantities to keep the price per unit low. The items can then be distributed over land to partners and clients throughout the region, in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. Any profits would be reinvested in the company.

The growth of this business model and the birth of Luciérnaga as an independent company with an international presence show how short-term grant funding can be leveraged toward longer-term sustainable development objectives, according to Africano.

Today, TWP is working to standardize its methods in each country and implement a mobile phone-based monitoring system where distributors can keep track of their sales, collections, and warranty processes through a common online database. The goal is to keep costs low and provide a new source of income for rural individuals and institutions while potentially reaching millions of households in Central America that don’t have access to electricity.

Since launching this program, Luciérnaga and PowerMundo have sold close to 10,000 solar lighting products through their networks, providing illumination, device-charging capabilities, healthier households, and over $200 in cash savings per year, per product, to more than 50,000 people in Latin America.

This post was originally published by the Energy and Climate Partnership of Americas. To view the original blog post click here.

Project Update: Lighting homes in rural Honduras

solar light Honduras

Nearly 50% of the 600 solar household lighting systems we sent to Honduras have been installed. We’re providing 1,200 new LED light points, 600 USB charging ports for cell phones and other small devices, and a new level of dignity for rural families that have lived their entire nocturnal lives by the light of candles, low quality flashlights, and contaminating kerosene lamps. Donors to our Catapult project helped to fund 125 of the lights in this shipment, allowing us to reach many more families in need of clean energy solutions for their homes.

Get personal

solar light Honduras
Miriam Leonel Bonilla

“Many of our customers used to use ocote (a local pine that is used as a candle), and the smoke really bothered them. Or else they would buy candles and flashlights, and that was really expensive. They are very happy with their plantitas – solar lights!” -Miriam Leonel Bonilla, solar light user and distributor, Las Marías, Honduras

Risks and challenges

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and our vendors and promoters live with risk every day. We are lucky to have a dedicated team of people across the country that see the opportunities that exist in solar energy. They believe that the benefits that solar energy brings to their families and communities who buy the systems outweigh the challenges in getting them into the field.

What we’ve learned

solar light HondurasThis order of Barefoot Power solar household systems were our first test of a new international supply chain that has us ordering product in bulk to a central warehouse in El Salvador, from which the products are distributed by land to four different countries. Every step of that process contained a lesson in how to be more efficient in getting these products to the families that need them most. On a macro level, we have learned that we have one of the most innovative approaches to getting products to several Central American countries at once. In Honduras, we have learned that whoever can provide households with the best customer experience will be the one to succeed in expanding the great opportunities in renewable energy for the developing world.

Next steps

Working with social impact technology company Dimagi, we will be piloting a new mobile data collection app called CommSell. This app will allow our field staff to complete surveys on an Android phone, in the field, and automatically populate a database that tells us where our products are, how long they’ve been there, and how much money they are saving users. We can also use this information to conduct follow-up visits and maintenance as needed.