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Cleaner cooking technologies for forest-dependent women in India

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Promoting good health and well-being while reducing emissions

Cooking accounts for around 80% of the total household energy consumption in rural India. Biomass is the predominant cooking fuel, with firewood contributing to around 75% of cooking energy needs in rural areas. Fuel wood is the main forest produce used as energy source by Forest Dependent Households (FDHs) and, in the past few years, its use has notably increased. The skyrocketing demand for firewood, the shrinking of forest cover and limited access to forests due to the enactment of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006, have brought FDHs to a severe firewood shortage.

With a commitment towards achieving SDG 12, the Government of India has been pushing to provide clean cooking fuel to every household, prioritising Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) as a cooking solution. In 2019, this has turned the country into the world’s largest LPG consumer. Nevertheless, challenges persist in India’s most rural and disadvantaged areas where refilling charges are still high and lack of infrastructure makes it difficult for FDHs to adopt LPG. 

Cooking competition with cook stoves, India
Cooking competition with cook stoves - Copyright: CARE India - EU SWITCH-Asia Evolving a Women-centred Model of Extension of Improved Cook Stoves for Sustained Adoption at Scale

The EU SWITCH-Asia funded project "Evolving a Women-centred Model of Extension of Improved Cook Stoves for Sustained Adoption at Scale" was implemented in the states of Odisha and Chhattisgarh, India to evolve a women centric adoption approach towards Improved Cook Stoves (ICS). The main aim was to address the demand for cleaner cooking energy access, following the principles of accessibilityaffordability and availability in a context where majority of the population is made up of poor people (45% in Chattisgarh and 36% in Odisha) and tribal communities (31% in Chattisgarh and 23% in Odisha). These communities are largely forest dependent. 

Cleener cooking methods, India
Cleaner cooking methods - Copyright: CARE India - EU SWITCH-Asia Evolving a Women-centred Model of Extension of Improved Cook Stoves for Sustained Adoption at Scale

From 2016-2019, CARE India and CARE France have worked directly with 10,000 women from FDHs, 200 women collectives known as Sustainable Household Energy (SHE) Schools and 200 men form FDHs in 107 villages of 3 districts – Jashpur in Chhattisgarh, Kandhamal and Kalahandi in Odisha. The project has engaged and influenced around 100 ICS Value Chains actors with the aim to strengthen the value chain and make it inclusive through the participation of women entrepreneurs. It has also facilitated the adoption of 4,300 ICSs in targeted areas and has been instrumental in awareness raising on Household Air Pollution through door-door to campaigns and learning sessions conducted at the SHE Schools. A training curriculum on sustainable cooking practices while preserving environmental and forest resources has also been developed. 

Switching from traditional cook stoves to LPG requires a long jump on the development ladder; a jump that poor households are still not equipped to make. Accessible, affordable and available Improved Cook Stoves could provide an interim solution until all Indian households can access clean cooking fuel.
- Sagar Kumar Mahapatra, Project Manager, CARE India

The project has facilitated the transition from polluting traditional cook stoves to improved cook stoves and was instrumental to creating a community level women- centric platform of Sustainable Household Energy (SHE) Schools. SHE School is a collective of 20 to 30 women led by a SHE Champion, and comprising mostly of local Self-help group members committed to develop a women-centric ICS extension model. The project has operated with 200 SHE-Schools in Odisha and Chhattisgarh. The knowledge of both women and men has been strengthen on clean and efficient cooking technologies and fuels, while taking into account their existing cooking practices, available forest resources, and local cultural practices. The sessions also accelerated the process of gender-neutral decision making at the household level. 

EU SWITCH-Asia Evolving a Women-centred Model of Extension Improved Cook Stoves for Sustained Adoption at Scale
Copyright: CARE India, EU SWITCH-Asia Evolving a Women-centred Model of Extension of Improved Cook Stoves for Sustained Adoption at Scale

SHE-Schools shortlisted the most economically viable ICS options to test. Cooking tests have been standardised and women have been educated on the benefits of using ICS models. Qualitative and quantitative data was also collected to inform on the choice of the most suitable ICS models to adopt at the household level. The project also created a pool of micro entrepreneurs who worked closely with SHE-Champions to bring in the business acumen of ICS as product. Frequent Buyer-Seller-Meets were organised for ICS entrepreneurs and manufacturers to demonstrate their innovative products along with their financing models and engage directly with the community. 

Project Achievements in a Snapshot 

  • More than 4,300 households have adopted ICS; 
  • Capacity development programmes have been conducted in 200 Schools; 
  • Training curriculum for SHE-Champions, SHE Schools and members, and entrepreneurs has been developed and implemented; 
  • 400 Self-help Groups or estimated 4,000 people, majority of which are women, are engaged in the project; 
  • 10 (5 out of which are women) ICS entrepreneurs have been promoted; 
  • 10 (5 out of which are women) ICS technicians have been trained and certified by the Government of India. 

Through capacity building programmes conducted by this project, women collectives and SHE-Champions have strengthened their skills and gained increased knowledge to voice out their concerns and prepare their proposals in clean cooking energy polices and programme dialogues. Their credibility has also increased and both women collectives and ICS VC entrepreneurs are now able to plan their funding or access financial institutions and ICS credit products to continue their activities in a more sustainable way. Moreover, engaging both women and men in the project and educating the latter on clean cooking practices was an important factor to ensure the long-term sustainability of the action. 

Contributing to Sustainable Development Goals 

By ensuring use of clean cooking technologies that offset use of traditional, polluting stoves and fuels, the project has contributed to the achievement of several SDG goals, in particular SDG12 and climate mitigation. It has done so through a significant reduction of biofuel consumption among forest dependent households (FDH). Moreover, regular use of ICS at the FDHs have safeguarded the forest and, collection of significant amounts of fuel wood for cooking has also been reduced. 

SHE Champions

Santoshi Bande is a 45 years old resident of Chitkwain Village of Jashpur district in Chhattisgarh, India. Her husband is a teacher in a primary government school. Due to the secured income of her husband, she can prepare her household meals using Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). But, majority of households in her neighbourhood still cannot afford (LPG). Those women use traditional cook stoves.

For Santoshi, seeing the smile of her friends while cooking and socialising is the greatest joy. This is the reason why she chose to motivate other women in her village to adopt improved cook stoves. She could not stand seeing her friends travelling long distances to the forest to collect firewood every alternate day, cooking with teary eyes in smoke filled kitchens, and struggling hard to clean the blackened utensils. 

When a Sustainable Household Energy School was established in the village, Santoshi chose to be one of the first to join. By participating in the SHE School sessions, she decided to learn about ICS and share her learnings with others. Since then, she became a strong advocate of ICS in her village.

“Taking a step forward requires a lot of courage and time. Attending the SHE School has equipped me with the knowledge and skills to persuade other women and their families to bring ICS home for a healthier cooking experience. I am thankful to my husband for supporting me. Sometimes, my husband also attends the SHE School sessions and project events and that’s how he has acquired the right information to speak confidently among villagers on the benefits of cooking with improved cook stoves”, says Santoshi.

In spite of the great efforts needed to educate community members on household air pollution, the adverse health impacts of cooking in traditional cook stoves, and the impacts of climate change, Santoshi takes pride in having motivated more than 25 households to adopt ICS. A few households have also purchased ICS as gifts for their relatives. The journey towards more sustainable consumption and production practices continues. 

Santoshi Bande, resident of Chitkwain Village Jashpur district
Santshi Bande, resident of Chitkwain Village of Jashpur district - Copyright: CARE India, EU SWITCH-Asia Evolving a Women-centred Model of Extension of Improved Cook Stoves for Sustained Adoption at Scale
Prabashini, a farmer who had to take on several responsibilities after her husband’s death
Prabhasini is a farmer who had to take on several responsibilities after her husband’s death - Copyright: CARE India, EU SWITCH-Asia

In a widow’s story of love, loss, and renewal Dianne Dettmann says, “I realised, it is not time that heals grief, but what we do with our time that creates positive change.”  The plight of widows transcends the borders of geography and culture. The importance of time in the life of a widow in the United States or any other country in the world, is not different from that of an Indian widow in the Sikerguda village of Odisha. Prabhasini is a farmer who had to take on several responsibilities after her husband’s death. Time did not heal her, but an improved cooking stove in her kitchen was a source of inspiration and a game changer in her life.  

With more free time available, Prabhasini teaches her child twice a day, goes to the field a hour in advance in the morning for cultivation, engages in additional income generating activities and actively participates in community life. In addition to farming, she is engaged in the collection of Non-Timber Forest Products such as kendu leaves, mahua, and vegetables and mushrooms cultivation. With the formation of the ‘Pragati’ self-help group, she is viewed by her village as a public influencer. Women who have joined Pragati were able to purchase the portable model of an improved cooking stove, and are advocating for the adoption of clean cooking energy technologies to reduce health risks and improve livelihoods. 

“BACHAT – the name of this SWITCH-Asia CARE India initiative, translates into saving. This is exactly what improved cooking stoves have done for our village women. They have saved our lives, our time, our energy and resources. Becoming an active agent of change in the community has also brought me renewed strength and hope”, says Prabhasini.

Consumption of traditional sources of energy, like firewood, negatively affects the growth and health of girls and women and exposes them to many health hazards. One village where this problem is quite evident is the Podapada village, situated in the Phiringia block of the Ratanga Gram Panchayat in Kandhamal, home to approximately 107 families.

Ramesh Sahu is a businessman who runs a small grocery shop to support his family of five. He believes that collection of firewood is a physically strenuous task, one which puts the security of the women in his family at risk. This is what led him to join the SWITCH-Asia BACHAT programme implemented by CARE India. Ramesh learned about the benefits of using improved cooking stoves, energy efficiency and saving. At the Buyers-Seller Meet, he bought 2 ICS for his household and gradually started engaging in conversations around healthy cooking and living practices in his village.

As the first man in his village to adopt ICS, Ramesh has set an example for other community members to seriously consider the well-being of women in their families. Even though this project focused on women empowerment and leadership, it also identified men as change makers in the transition towards clean energy practices. “Change is possible in many ways, and every change has a starting point. One ‘stove’ at a time, we will achieve a greater impact for the well-being of our community”, Ramesh explains. 

Ramesh Sahu is a businessman who runs small grocery shop to support his family of five
Ramesh Sahu is a businessman who runs a small grocery shop to support his family of five - Copyright: CARE India, SWITCH Asia