I worked for Bellerive Foundation for six years, developing efficient cookstoves for use in East and West Africa. This site includes information about some of these stoves and related programs, which have also been the subject of articles on appropriate technology.
With this website, I wish to create a forum and explore entrepreneurial, results-oriented approaches to creating jobs and reducing firewood consumption by both launching an institutional cookstove enterprise in West Africa and assisting the dynamic pot-making foundries whose wares are ubiquitous. I believe the Benistove design can spearhead this proposition.
Allow me to back up a moment and give you a brief account of what brought me to this point. I first got involved with this kind of work through the Fondation de Bellerive (The Bellerive Foundation) founded by former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadruddin Aga Khan. One of the most intractable problems Sadruddin Aga Khan and his agency faced was supplying firewood and charcoal to refugees. In order to assure their safety, agencies often placed them on the most marginal of lands where they were unable to forage for firewood for their daily cooking needs.
Reducing consumption of fuelwood through the introduction of efficient wood-burning cookstoves, Sadruddin Aga Khan determined, would make it possible to address both the logistical difficulties and pressures of supplying fuelwood to refugees. He engaged the service of Waclaw Micuta, a colorful former Polish cavalry man of longstanding U.N. reputation and energy. He worked with Swiss engineer Emil Haas to design appropriate cookstoves. Their work is embodied in Modern Stoves for All and in Stoves to Save Our Forests, both published by Fondation de Bellerive. A version in French, Fourneaux Modernes pour Tous was published in collaboration with Association Bois de Feu.
It was my privilege to work closely with Waclaw Micuta and Emil Haas before their retirement from Bellerive Foundation. They trained me, taught me well, and inspired me to find the optimal way to make a difference in this field.
During the early, heady days of launching an improved cookstove program in Kenya in the mid 1980’s, our focus was on domestic use. We identified local materials, perfected designs and engaged aspiring artisans and farmers whom we could train. Our goal was that these young men would add stove making to their construction skills. We hoped they would leave the centre we set up in Ruiru outside of Nairob iarmed with wooden moulds and simple plans they could use to replicate these chimneyed stoves wherever they might end up working. These smokeless domestic stoves accommodated locally made and imported cylindrical aluminum pots. But they were made of grogged clay and straw and were therefore heavy and hard to transport. Installation required several men.
We reconsidered our use of materials and shifted to brick and metal stoves. Even so, we were not getting as far as we wished, and it became increasingly clear that many women were unwilling to spend money for a cookstove when they collected their wood free! Further, as popular as our models were, people were reluctant to cut their wood into small pieces in order to feed the small fire chamber. This is not to say that they did not appreciate the stove’s benefits – the lack of smoke, reduced fuel consumption, its modern look. But when they used wet or green wood, chimneys would clog over time and, in the worst cases, people reacted by giving up on the stove! After all, a well managed, traditional three-stone fire provided more light and sense of hearth.
To reduce fuelwood use, the foundation honed a three-pronged program:
– designing, making and monitoring efficient institutional stoves,
– addressing fuelwood management curriculum, Cooking to Conserve.
– promotion of nurseries and woodlots at schools, the Green Islands Project.
We soon became known for our large capacity stoves that accommodated cylindrical stainless steel pots with capacities of 50 lt., 100 lt., 150 lt., and 200 lt., made specifically for our stoves. It is important to note that these large capacity, durable stainless steel pots were expensive and accounted for about 40% of the stove cost. Although the stoves were used primarily with firewood they could easily be adapted for use with other fuels. Local fabricators copied the design and its reputation spread by word of mouth – especially among institution bursars who kept track of fuel expenses. Even well appointed kitchens with the latest “Zanussi” appliances would have our stoves installed alongside as insurance against regular gas supply shortages.
In order to begin replicating this work in Tanzania, we teamed up with the Swedish International Development Agency (S.I.D.A.) which had set up vocational training centers throughout the country. I
designed an institutional stove based on our earlier all-metal models for fabrication at the NVTC (National Vocational Training Center) in Moshi. Their program is best summed up by the banner in the product display sales office: Training With Production. Pattern making, technical drawing, foundry work, sheet metal and carpentry trades were taught here with the aim that the center might become self sufficient when the Swedish Administration, engineers and instructors left and indigenized the whole operation. We made prototype stoves with the name Be-Ta (Bellerive-Tanzania), tested their performance and monitored their use in different kitchens around Moshi. Yngve Svensson, Production Manager, kept track and oversaw future production of stoves for other institutions after I left.
One of the Foundations biggest excitements and disappointments happened mid-way during my time at Bellerive. We were invited by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (N.C.F.) to look at adapting our stove designs in East Africafor introduction to N.E. Nigeria, Borno State, specifically as part of an EU sponsored Agricultural Improvement plan. A group of us went to Nigeria and throughout our tour came upon spherical sand cast aluminum pots of varying sizes everywhere. Upon returning toKenyawith various sample sizes, I began developing the BeNi (Bellerive-Nigeria) stove with my colleagues Harun Baiya, Myles Allen and Lawrence Ndekere. After a year of work, we had a good prototype and I returned to Nigeria to make one there, installing it in a school kitchen in Gashua,BornoState, alongside cut-off oil barrel “murfus” stoves, as they we called. An EU panel along with local dignitaries spent time in the kitchen, asked a myriad of questions and was most complimentary and enthusiastic about having a stove component added to the Arid Zone Agricultural Project. Trees were planted in celebration and positive discussions followed as to how to proceed. Unfortunately, the project evaporated and it was never quite clear why. The Governorship in Borno changed hands and Nigerian officials fell out with the project.
Nevertheless, the more I looked around West Africa, the more it became clear that these spherical pots are by far the most popular cook ware, ubiquitous across the Sahel, where efficient cookstoves are needed most. This is still the case.
It has been 20 years since I left the now closed Bellerive Foundation and the first chance to explore the belief that I’ve nurtured ever since: That large capacity, institutional fuel-efficient cookstoves provide an unparallel opportunity to both create jobs and supply a needed product.
In 2007, I chose to travel by bus around Ghana and Burkina Faso to see what institutions are cooking and how, the cost of charcoal and firewood and its supply, most commonly used pots etc. Little has changed in many years in this regard. Ghanais stable and Burkina Fasois calm. In fact, on my third visit in 2008 to Ghanain 2008, I had the privilege to witness peaceful elections. All parties are commended for honoring their pledges of play fair. What is most impressive about Ghanaians is that that they have mastered the really hard tasks most nations struggle with. Orderliness, courtesy and civility and honesty dominate daily life. The object of my tour was to locate an institution where good large capacity stoves could be made. I worked my way down a list of leads from the Ministry of Energy and the most promising one seemed to be the ITTU system headquartered in the port city of Tema40 minutes drive east of Accra. . The Intermediate Technology Transfer Unit system is essentially a loose association of nine Vocational Training Centers, one per region. The Centers were outfitted with much equipment, donated by ODA, CIDA, GTZ and the EU. The idea driving the ITTU was that these centers would lend technical assistance to local enterprises, would make available their heavy equipment and tools for a fee, and produce agricultural machines such as cassava graters, corn mills, peanut shellers, fish smoking ovens, palm kernel crackers etc. that would keep the center afloat, free from government monies. The Tema HQ, under the name GRATIS, Ghana Regional Appropriate Technology Industrial Services oversees the ITTUs in the country. After a brief visit in 2007, I approached GRATIS to see if they would be interested in my coming for 5 weeks in order to make a Benistove model, using their equipment and manpower, an item they could add to the list of things they made.
The General Manager, Regional Manager, Technology Transfer Manager were most accommodating and agreed. Although the level of activity at the center was modest I was impressed at the equipment that was pointed out and indeed, advertised in the Daily Graphic, a major Ghana newspaper: ½”sheet metal guillotine, profile gas cutting machine, spot welding set etc. When I returned at the end of 2008, I was welcomed and put up in a spare room by a most gracious GRATIS employee, on annual leave at the time.
It soon became apparent to me that all the fears the Swedish engineers, managers and instructors at the NVTC in Moshi I had worked with years ago were justified. The NVTC administration was being turned over to Tanzanian directors and the running of the Center indigenized at about the time I completed my work with the Be-Ta stove project, I recall the Swedish managers and instructors despairing. Misappropriated tools and funds became a problem as did the declining level of instruction and increased absenteeism by students. I thought of this as I began working at GRATIS. Much of the donated equipment had not been maintained nor was it functioning. For a start, the hydraulic Swing Beam Shears (guillotine) inside the workshop did not work and consequently sheet metal placed on plywood and was cut with a cutting disc affixed to a hand held grinder along scribed lines. A magnificent circle cutter that would have made fast and clean work of some major components was inoperable, as was the plasma cutter and spot welder. The skill needed to run the foundry was absent. Easy money that could be earned is lost. In fact, 2 guillotines, 2 bending machines, (4 foundry sand milling machines) and other equipment destined for other ITTUs had gone to ruin as their crating and covers surrendered to the elements. Simple hand tools were often broken and disorganized. Repairs on returned cassava graters and flour mills stymied their production. Easy money that could be earned is lost on multiple fronts.
The work force was made up of paid workers and many “trainees.” The latter worked for a One Cedi ($1) meal coupon (for many, the only meal of the day) redeemable at the canteen. The Trainees aspired to be hired permanently with a modest salary after 3 years apprenticeship. GRATIS depends on government funds, funds that have repeatedly been threatened.
Finding the right approach and venue is the main obstacle to overcome in such an enterprise as this. There is no single way to set up a successful enterprise (link to ‘Entrepreneurial Approach’ under 1st comes the pot) but flexibility, imagination and location of proper tools and skill are key. It will have to consolidate itself in stages and this will depend where it is launched. Initially, it will necessarily be dependant on existing businesses that have the tools required in order to contract them to make the main components. A small team would them assemble them before installation and monitoring. Production costs and quality of suppliers will be monitored closely as the next steps are planned. These steps ideally would include the purchase of equipment and fine tuning the production of stoves in order to bring down prices and expenses. A close relationship with the pot makers will prove invaluable.
West Africa development is in need of more small businesses and less dependency on NGOs, Foreign Aid and quasi-governmental bodies. Let’s have a Go!
Feel free to contact me through the comments.