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The cookstove means women have to spend less time carrying wood
Image: RIPPLE Africa

Sparing trees, saving lives

Tamsin Walker
April 1, 2016

Even the best planned journeys can follow an unexpected course. A wrong turn spelled the start of an adventure that brought Malawi a simple cookstove capable of saving lives. And trees.


#Doingyourbit: Cooking without smoke

It all began twelve years ago, when an English couple, Liz and Geoff Furber, were travelling through northern Malawi. While trying to find the lodge where they were planning to stay, the couple took the wrong road and ended up in a village called Mwaya. And, as it turned out, at one of life's surprise crossroads.

Quickly falling in love with the place they had stumbled upon, they decided to make a contribution to the area through environment and education projects. RIPPLE Africa was born.

One of the issues facing Malawi is deforestation. With more than 95 percent of the country's households reliant on wood for cooking, the national tree stock is under constant threat. Cooking on open fires also causes indoor air pollution, which the World Health Organization (WHO) says was responsible for 7.7 percent of global mortality in 2012.

Against that backdrop, RIPPLE Africa worked with local communities to develop what it calls the Changu Changu Moto cookstove – which translates to "fast, fast fire". Over the past three years, the simple yet revolutionary mud brick construction has been introduced to nearly 41,000 homes in the country's northern Nkhata Bay district.

A woman next to a cookstove in Malawi
The cookstove massively reduces the amount of smoke created during cooking, and also saves wood and reduces the risk of serious burnsImage: RIPPLE Africa
Made for efficiency, it has resulted in a 67 percent reduction in firewood for cooking needs. In other words, those households equipped with the new technology are collectively using 80,000 fewer bundles of firewood every week. RIPPLE Africa believes it will ultimately "save millions of trees."

And in the meantime, the stove implies greater self-sufficiency for women and girls by shaving up to ten hours a week off their time spend collecting wood. It also helps reduce the number of serious burns and the rate of premature deaths due to smoke inhalation.

Despite all the benefits Charlie Knight, UK General Manager of RIPPLE Africa, says the introduction process has not always been easy. "There has been some skepticism," he said. "They have used three-stone fires for generations and it's been difficult to change habits."

A traditional three stone fire
The traditional three-stone fire generates a lot of smokeImage: RIPPLE Africa
But determined to see the simple cookstove become the centerpiece of the nation's hearth, the organization has come up with strategies to ensure integration, not only into the home, but into the mindset. That means offering training to householders, and being prepared to make multiple return visits to ensure it is being properly used and maintained.

"We have a community volunteer living in each village," Knight said, adding that householders are involved in the construction process. "We needed to get them involved so they would take greater ownership."

And they have. In the words of one user: "I love it. And I like it very much."

RIPPLE Africa employs 150 Malawian staff and some 2,000 volunteers involved in conservation committees. The charity actively encourages others to make the cookstove by following the instructions found here.
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