A simple device could spell relief for Ethiopia’s beleaguered forests by making cooking more efficient while reducing carbon emissions, new research shows.
Improved Cooking Stoves (ICS) have a long history in nature conservation and development projects, as they bear the potential to reduce the pressure on forest resources and improve local livelihoods at the same time. Nevertheless, the success of ICS activities depends on a variety of different factors including the quality and adequacy of the specific cooking device as well as the scope of associated implementation activities such as local trainings and information campaigns.
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Recently, the journal Land published a study, conducted in part by researchers at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), on fuelwood savings and carbon emission reductions through the use of ICS in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve in Ethiopia. The study featured stove efficiency tests and a household survey with 140 interviews to evaluate the potential of ICS to mitigate negative impacts of fuelwood harvesting on the forests.
Deforestation and forest degradation are major problems in Ethiopia—the country has lost approximately 140,000 hectares of its forest cover annually in the years between 1990 and 2010. The Kafa Biosphere Reserve in Ethiopia’s southwest is one of the country´s last natural high-forest areas; it has been recognized as part of the Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot, a Key Biodiversity Area, and a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
From 2009 to 2014, The Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) implemented the large-scale project “Biodiversity under climate change: Community-based Conservation, Management and Development of the wild Coffee Forests,” funded by Germany’s International Climate Initiative (IKI). The dissemination of ICS was an integral component of the project, given that fuelwood collection is among the leading drivers for deforestation and forest degradation in Ethiopia.
The fuelwood is used to cook in the traditional way, on an open fire with a clay plate (mitad) resting on three stones (known as the three-stone method) to bake injera, the typical Ethiopian bread made from teff flour. However, this form of cooking does not use fuel efficiently, and creates health risks due to the smoke emitted and the risk of burns.
The so-called Mirt stoves—designed specifically for this style of cooking—have a combustion chamber that channels the heat to the mitad and to an additional chimney. The stove is more efficient, can use of a wider variety of fuel sources such as biofuel waste like wood chips, and it enables the preparation of food in parallel (a pot for sauce on the chimney, injera on the mitad). Additionally, the stove reduces the amount of smoke produced—as well as the risk of burning oneself while cooking.
Some 11,000 ICS have been made available for local communities in the biosphere reserve. Stove beneficiaries were selected according to social criteria intended to guarantee access to stoves, independent of income and educational level. The aim of introducing ICS was to reduce the need for fuelwood—and through this to reduce the pressure on the forests by supporting more efficient combustion in the new stoves.
According to the study nearly 40 percent of fuelwood was saved compared with traditional cooking methods for injera production. The fuelwood reduction translates to a saving of 11,800 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, which equals the amount of carbon stored in more than 30 hectares of forest area in the biosphere reserve.
Assuming a four-year lifespan for each stove, with 80 percent of stoves being used regularly, the scientists estimate savings of more than 45,000 tons of fuelwood saved. Given the low-tech nature of this solution, the researchers expect neighboring households to seek to copy this approach to save wood, increasing demand for the stoves.
Furthermore, the study documented positive side effects for households in the form of minimized risk of burnings, reduced smoke development, better taste of prepared food and reduced expenditures for fuelwood.
Potential redesigns of the Mirt are possible, with different sizes, components and the possible replacement of the traditional clay plate with an iron plate, according to the study. These recommendations will support future ICS activities in NABU’s follow up project.
The ICS program is just one of many stove-dissemination programs worldwide—there are many even within Ethiopia, though the NABU project is one of the largest. The Mirt stove is designed for the cooking habits of Ethiopia and Eritrea – limiting its replicability outside of the region.
Martin Herold is a CIFOR Senior Associate. Nils Horstmeyer is a trainee in the Africa program at Natuerschutzbund (NABU), Germany. Elisabeth Dresen is a forester and Geoinformation expert at SILVANUM, Germany.