Beyond fuelwood savings: the economic, environmental and health benefits of improved cookstoves

UNDP Zimbabwe
Jan 15 · 3 min read
A woman carrying firewood for her household

Drought has lowered the water levels in Kariba Dam, which is responsible for supplying 60% of Zimbabwe’s electricity through its hydro-power plant. This has left Zimbabweans facing power cuts that last up to 18 hours a day. Some have turned to diesel or petrol generators, solar power or cooking gas for their energy needs — for the majority, these options are to expensive too use.

Firewood and charcoal have become two of the main energy sources for many in the country’s urban areas which has increased the demand for wood. Each year, 300 000 hectares of woodland are cut down and 9 to 11 million tonnes of firewood are used for domestic cooking and heating (Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe, 2019).

A bundle of firewood costs $10 which cooks approximately two meals using the conventional open fire cooking methods. With a declining economy, not many can afford to part with ZWL$10 to buy firewood. The task of cooking is therefore posing an additional burden on women as some are walking long distances to source this essential ‘fuel’ for their households.

Improved Biomass Cookstoves

A participant checking her cookstove before adding fuelwood

Through the urban resilience programme being implemented by UNDP and BOOST Fellowship Trust( and its partner BioHub Trust), 120 residents from Glen View, Budiriro, Gwanda and Chipinge have received training on how to manufacture and use improved biomass cookstoves. Women who are the most affected by the power crisis made up 80% of the participants.

The improved cookstoves use less firewood in the cooking process which will reduce the overall income being spent in purchasing firewood and the burden of labour on women in sourcing it. These stoves also emit less hazardous smoke, which will improve the overall health of women using the stoves. Exposure to smoke from traditional cook stoves and open fire causes two million premature deaths annually, with women and young children being the most affected (Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, 2019).

Edith one of the participants of the programme , explains in the video below the benefits of using the cookstove:

Training participants on how to manufacture the cookstoves has been a key component of the programme. Participants were taught how to design and construct the biomass cookstoves with readily available low cost materials.

Eunice, one of the young women who has gone through the training demonstrates how a biomass cookstove is made:

With the more efficient cookstoves, community members can now cook for up to a week with the same bundle of firewood which previously lasted for 1–2 days. Additionally, the cook stoves are also providing community members with a source of income,

“There is a market for these stoves. We are currently selling one stove for ZWL$200(US$10). We understand that the economy is struggling, as such some people who may want the stoves, may not have the money to pay all at once, so we come up a payment plan where they pay 50% deposit and then the balance at the end of the month.” — Simbarashe, Glen View

For the participants, specifically women, the improved cookstoves programme has shown the potential to positively impact communities through: improved health benefits; more efficient use of the fuelwood and additional income earned through the manufacture and sale of the cookstoves. Beyond these benefits, the reduction in use of firewood will help protect our local forests.

The improved cookstoves were developed under the Partnership for Building Urban Resilience in Zimbabwe project which is a joint initiative of UNDP, UNICEF and the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works. The overall goal of the programme is to improve urban resilience, strengthen the provision of basic social services and the Local Economic Development (LED) targeting unemployed youths, women, and vulnerable groups in urban and peri-urban areas. The Programme was piloted in three local authorities in Harare (Budiriro and Glen View), Gwanda and Chipinge from November 2018 to December 2019.

To find out more about the programme read the blog post below:

UNDP Zimbabwe

UNDP Zimbabwe

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