2 Responses to What encourages the purchase of a fuel-efficient cookstove?

  1. Have you all studied how cooking is traditionally done in the communities where you wish to sell these stoves? Have you got a cultural anthropologist on your team who would think about how these stoves might relate or compare to traditional cooking methods? For example, Can traditional foods be cooked on this stove? Will the food taste the same? Will the same amounts of food be easily prepared? Does the same kind of biomass work in the stoves as it does with traditional cooking?

    The way we cook is a deeply embedded part of everyone’s culture. Just because it improves health or saves time and money might not be the point. Tiny example: we can make s’mores in a microwave, but they just aren’t the same–the best ones are made over a campfire.

    In other words, changing how an ethnic culture cooks is asking a lot, and I’d expect resistance unless the issue were somehow forced by external causes. On the other hand, I wonder if this idea might catch on among refugee groups who have had to be displaced from their native setting–their culture has already been upset by displacement and they may be at a point of being willing to adopt new cooking methods too.

  2. Hi Linda (full disclosure for any readers, Linda is my mom),

    I think your comment is exactly correct. The way things taste and also the ease of use of an appliance in a kitchen matters a lot. To specifically answer about the logistics and make-up of our team. We had a team of Ugandan social scientists from various fields helping us do preliminary investigative work in some test communities before the roll-out of the experiment. In the post, you can click on the link to CIRCODU, which was the Ugandan group that we worked with if you want to see more details on their background and collective experience. We touched on many of the topics you brought up in community focus groups, but perhaps not all of them.

    To touch on your bigger question about how much these new stoves are used. This post is based on the first in a series of papers, and it only looks at the binary decision of purchasing a new stove (what economists call the extensive margin) rather than the intensive margin (how much the technology is used once it is owned, the topic you are raising). So the short answer is that, in this paper, we don’t tackle the question you are raising.

    The longer answer is that we are currently working on another paper that will delve much more deeply into the topic you raise (use on the intensive margin), but a preview of those findings is that households seem to use the cooking technology that works the best for whatever they are cooking (just like most of us do in our own kitchens). The fuel-efficient stoves are designed to be very heat efficient, and as a result they get very hot, very quickly and thus are superb for boiling tea. However, due to their insulated collars and heat-efficient design, the fuel-efficient stoves are not really that great for lower heat activities such as simmering beans or rice (common dishes in much of the world). And just like none of us would cook a steak (or s’mores) in the microwave, it looks like rural Ugandan households are no different. They seem to use the technology most appropriate to what they currently want to cook.

    Our current paper is targeted more to policy makers like the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves which currently list their two main pillars to demand creation for cleaner burning cookstoves as “consumer awareness” and “consumer finance.” To a group like the GACC, we hope that our research would inform how much resources they should spend on “consumer awareness” and on “consumer finance.” Based on what we found in Uganda we would weight funds allocated to “consumer finance” much more heavily than funds allocated to “consumer awareness.”


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