Since 1998, Trees, Water & People has been working with our partners and local community members to design clean cookstoves that greatly reduce deadly indoor air pollution, deforestation, and high fuel costs. These cookstoves are designed according to specific cooking needs and cultural context, which is why they can look very different from country to country. However, all of these stoves have one important thing in common: they make cooking much safer for women and their families.
To learn more about Trees, Water & People’s Clean Cookstove Program please click here.
by Bonnie Young, Postdoctoral Research Fellow,Colorado State University
As a crispness starts to sharpen the August nights in Fort Collins, it can only mean two things: 1) fall is nipping at the heels of summer, and 2) it’s time to head back to Honduras. Admittedly, the summer in Colorado has been luxurious with yoga classes, buttercream cupcakes, and Internet access everywhere- all things decidedly unavailable in the small town of La Esperanza, Honduras where we do our cookstove fieldwork.
The past three months in Colorado has also given my colleagues and me an opportunity to dig into the rich data we collected from 525 women across 14 farming villages from September 2014 through May 2015. Of this sample, we had 85 women who owned a Justa cookstove and answered questions about stove preferences and behaviors.
Initial Findings from Justa Cookstove Users
The Justa (pronounced ‘who-sta’) clean cookstove, originally designed by Trees, Water & People and engineers from the Aprovecho Research Center, is a cleaner-burning cookstove with an insulated combustion chamber in a “rocket elbow” shape with a built-in chimney to ventilate toxic smoke from the home. The majority of Justa stoves in this region of Honduras are provided by non-governmental organizations, and most women (92%) in our sample supplied materials or paid some money to help with construction costs of their stove. Over 95% of Justa stove owners in our sample reported their Justa stove was better than their traditional stove to cook tortillas, keep smoke out of the house, and maintain cleanliness. Every single woman with a Justa in our sample said that it used less wood than their traditional stove. These findings are especially important considering that on average, our sample of Justa owners use their stoves for 10 hours a day!
There are other models of improved stoves in this region, too. Our preliminary data suggest some differences between these models regarding their efficiency and condition. For example, 74% of Justa stoves were still in good condition based on researcher observation, while only 42% of the other improved stoves were in good condition. There are many possible reasons for these differences. One reason might be that the technicians that build the Justa stoves spend time teaching the owner how to clean and maintain their stove. This education is crucial to help owners understand how to properly use their new stove and keep it working well for the long-term.
We are learning that there is so much more to explore about stove use in this area. Our next round of the study aims to build Justa stoves for 300 women between the ages of 25-55 years. We plan to carefully measure their health and household air pollution over time to see if there are improvements as they transition away from their traditional stove.
As we pack our bags to head back to Honduras for four months of fieldwork during the rainy season (or should I call it the downpour season?), I find myself weighing the pros and cons of doing meaningful work in a developing country, versus the sinful delight of my favorite vanilla cupcake at Buttercream. Sigh. Cookstoves win, again.
When you think of torrential downpours, mud-slick roads, and backcountry hiking, you might imagine an exciting episode of “The Amazing Race.” Our fieldwork in rural western Honduras was similar, although we lacked a camera crew and the promise of a grand prize.
As a postdoctoral researcher with Colorado State University (CSU), I worked side-by-side for two months with Sarah Rajkumar, another CSU postdoc, Jon Stack, a CSU volunteer, and Gloribel Bautista, a local coordinator. Our goal was to work with communities to enroll 500 women in villages in Yamaranguila and Intibucá. This was our first step in a three-year project to investigate the health impacts of cookstove-based pollution, and to learn about women’s perceptions and behaviors with different stove types.
Most people in this agricultural region use wood-burning stoves to cook, heat their home, dry clothes, and generate light. Poor-functioning and inefficient stoves create household air pollution and demand excessive amounts of wood, meaning harmful effects on people’s health and the environment. Women and children often have greater exposure to indoor smoke since they tend to spend more time in the kitchen.
Knowing the importance of this research and its potential impacts fueled our daily slogs from house-to-house during the rainy season, where every hot cup of coffee and fresh corn tortilla felt like a grand prize.
Note: The principal investigators of this study are Jennifer Peel, Ph.D., and Maggie Clark, Ph.D. Our work is in collaboration with Trees, Water & People, and a local Honduran development organization, AHDESA. Stay tuned for updates on this project during our next field session, February – May, 2015.
Community meeting in Zacate Blanco to introduce ourselves and explain the project.
Speaking on the local radio show with Don Jose “Chepe” in Yamaranguila to broadcast our research in the region.
From left to right: Local coordinator, Gloribel Bautista, and CSU postdoctoral researchers, Bonnie Young and Sarah Rajkumar.
The muddy road prevails over the 4-wheel drive truck.
I first met Maggie Clark, an environmental epidemiologist at Colorado State University (CSU) , back in 2005 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, when she came to test the health of women exposed to wood smoke from cooking over open fires. Since then, we have both worked continually on improving conditions in Central American kitchens via clean cookstoves designed and built by Trees, Water & People (TWP) and partners.
Last week I had the great pleasure of joining forces with Dr. Maggie again in Honduras, as we launch an ambitious, comprehensive study to show the benefits of improved cookstoves on the health of rural women and their families in the mountainous western region of the country. While most studies of this kind are short term snapshots of the benefits that come from improving cookstove technology, this study proposes following over 400 women over three years as they transition from traditional open fire cooking to improved cookstoves.
Trees, Water & People began working with cookstoves in 1998 as an effort to reduce deforestation and carbon emissions, and together with Aprovecho Research Center designed a culturally appropriate cookstove that reduced firewood consumption in any given household by an average of 50%. What we later learned, is that the smoke that families (mostly women and children) are exposed to daily during cooking is responsible for up to 4 million deaths a year globally, and leads to chronic lifelong health complications for millions more.
We are certain that improved cookstoves improve conditions in households where firewood is used to cook daily. What CSU and TWP seek to show, however, is that many factors play into a family’s decision to adopt, fully utilize and benefit from a cookstove over time, and that the presence or absence of certain factors influence the degree to which health improves. By using data generated by this study to optimize what technologies we introduce and how we implement them, we seek to improve the impacts of our work and inform the work of the countless other organizations working to improve life in firewood-dependent communities.
It’s an honor to be working with my friend Dr. Maggie Clark and CSU on such a groundbreaking study, and its great to see the dedication and resilience of the cookstove community as we work to improve living conditions in some of the most challenging environments in the world.
It’s been a busy year at Trees, Water & People! On Earth Day, we celebrated our 15th anniversary of community-based sustainable development in Latin America and on tribal lands of the United States. Over these 15 years, we have been honored to help tens of thousands of families live better, more healthy lives. Utilizing appropriate technology, such as clean cookstoves, composting latrines, solar heaters, and solar lights, the communities we work with are learning how to protect their local environment and make a better life for their loved ones. With access to appropriate technology, plus training in sustainable agriculture, watershed protection, and renewable energy, current and future generations will be better equipped to face a changing climate.
In 2014, our staff and local partners will continue their commitment to helping local people protect, conserve, and manage their most precious natural resources. Our work is based on the belief that natural resource conservation is absolutely essential to the social, economic, and environmental well-being of communities everywhere. Conservation and economic development can, and should, go hand-in-hand!
We hope you will continue to follow our work in 2014 and beyond. Have a healthy and happy New Year!
Poorly built pit latrines can harbor diseases such as Hepatitis A, Protozoal Amoebiasis, and Ecoli as well as contaminate the environment over time. Trees, Water & People began installing dry composting latrines in El Salvador to improve quality of life and the environment by providing more sanitary conditions and controlling human waste that otherwise leaches into the soils and surrounding water supplies.
Working with our local partner, Arboles y Agua para El Pueblo, and thanks to donors on Catapult.org, we recently installed five composting latrines for families in El Porvenir, El Salvador. A total of 19 people, such as Vilma Antonia Rivera Montano (pictured above), are now benefiting from cleaner sanitation solutions and healthier watersheds.
Thank you to everyone who supported this important project on Catapult!