EcoAct is partnering on a project that replaces traditional cookstoves with improved, energy-efficient stoves in rural Nepal to help tackle climate change and improve the lives of local communities. On a recent field visit to Lamjung, Nepal, we spoke to Brice Hoskin from the Ganesha Cookstoves Project and Dharma KC from Climate Advocacy International.
More than 70% of Nepal’s population live in remote rural conditions with up to 4 million households currently reliant on biomass for cooking, including firewood and agricultural waste. Traditional methods of cooking predominantly used throughout Nepal cause indoor pollution and place significant pressure on surrounding forest resources.
EcoAct is working with Climate Advocacy International to implement Annapurna Stoves, a Clean Cookstoves project that is working towards certification by the Gold Standard. The purpose of the project is to distribute up to 23,500 highly efficient cookstoves designed by the Ganesha Cookstoves Project, reducing more than 800,000 tCO2e throughout the project’s lifetime.
EcoAct assisted in the definition of the business plan and will support the financing of the project by marketing the carbon credits throughout its lifetime.
Following a recent field visit to Lamjung, Nepal, EcoActors Valentin Bouvier and Solène Happert met some of the future beneficiaries of the project and assessed community needs on the ground, we spoke to Brice from the Ganesha Cookstoves Project and Dharma from Climate Advocacy International.
Brice is the inventor and supplier of the Ganesha Cookstoves. He is a serial entrepreneur and has a long-term interest in Nepal after first visiting the country 1986. Dharma is the Executive Director of Climate Advocacy International, an organisation he formed after the earthquakes of 2015 that killed nearly 9,000 people and caused massive destruction. Its aim is to help improve the lives of Nepalis living in rural areas. He is a carbon offsetting expert, with extensive experience in the South Korean and Nepali offset sectors.
Although EcoAct only recently became involved in the development of the Annapurna Stove Project, this initiative was launched in 2016. Could you tell us a bit about how it all started and both of your current roles in the project?
Brice: The Ganesha Cookstove Project was founded in 2016, in response to the devastating earthquakes that hit Nepal in 2015. Across Nepal, over 75% of households cook on open fires for every meal. In our project areas, nearly 100% of households cook on open fires.
Adoption of improved biomass cookstoves (ICS) has historically been very low. We observed that most of the ICS have been introduced without considering the actual needs of Nepali women, who do most of the cooking. So, we set out to develop a cookstove in collaboration with Nepali women. Each design was tested in Nepal and improved based on user feedback, until we created a stove that was well-loved and used in place of traditional cooking methods.
Dharma: I began working with Brice and the Ganesha Cookstove Project because we both had a desire to work with the rural people of Nepal and they desperately needed clean cooking solutions. Villagers in Nepal use very traditional cookstoves – essentially an open fire in the middle of the home – which produces a huge amount of smoke. Many people had respiratory disease. They also consume a lot of firewood, and they had to go to the forest frequently. We wanted to solve that problem. After talking to users who had cooked on the Ganesha stove for years, I concluded that this stove would be the best alternative for them to solve this problem.
My inspiration for this project comes from my childhood. My mother, who has been affected with asthma since her late fifties, used to cook foods in traditional stoves using firewood until I was in my undergraduate studies. I also started cooking food when I was 12 years old. My family transitioned to a clean cookstove, and I am looking to help other families– particularly ones in remote villages—make the same transition by providing healthier cooking facilities.
Cleaner cookstoves projects are thriving and there is a growing number of options in the market. What makes the Ganesha stove special?
Brice: The Ganesha stove is different in several key ways. First, it is a large, high-powered stove that can generate up to 10 kW of heat, as compared to 2-4 kW for other Improved cookstoves (ICS). Second, it is made entirely of stainless steel and so is incredibly durable. Third, to the surprise of many, the stove collapses to 25% of its assembled size, making it easy to ship, pre-position and transport into remote villages. At 3.2 kg, it is also lightweight. We’ve learned that humanitarian aid agencies want a stove that packs flat for storage and re-positioning, so these features make it easy to get Ganesha stoves to disaster areas in times of need.
Finally, it uses firewood sizes that are normal for Nepal, in addition to bio-waste such as corn cobs, and dung. No compromise was necessary in this design – it performs very well both in lab testing and in actual use.
The acceptance rate of the Ganesha stove is considered to be 93%. Was it always this high or did you make changes over the years to improve performance and adoption?
Brice: The Ganesha stove has been redesigned multiple times in response to user feedback. This generally involved making the stove bigger, ensuring that small and large biomass fuel could be added to the stove from the front, and making the stove pyramid-shaped so it is very stable and can hold large pots and pans.
We distributed Ganesha stoves in six different parts of Nepal, and then returned six weeks later to interview the users. One of the key questions we asked was, would you buy this stove? 93% said yes. So that’s what we call the “acceptance rate”.
Bhaghirati Tilsina of Bethanchowk, Nepal: “The stove performed better than I expected,” she smiled. “I cooked dal, vegetables and boiled water for my 4 family members. The milk boiled on this stove is tastier too.” She proudly announced, “I am also making best use of the corn cobs now.”
How have locals been engaged in the development of the Ganesha stove? Would you say their participation has influenced its acceptance?
Brice: Locals have provided absolutely critical feedback that has greatly improved the Ganesha stove. Design of the stove has been an iterative and interactive process (often with much laughing), as we worked toward creating a stove that really meets the needs of Nepali villagers.
In Brabal, Rasuwa, villagers used an early prototype for several days before presenting their conclusions. They wanted a stove that was bigger (they gave us their cooking pots to measure), with more firepower. And they wanted to feed the stove from the front or side with their normal firewood. The next version of the stove, which we brought to them a few months later, met their needs much better. This time their feedback was, “Can I buy one?”
Dharma: The participation of the local people is crucial for the successful implementation of this project. We will be working with the local mothers’ groups that exist in each village. They will carry out the distribution of the stoves to the right households. There are also community forest groups in many villages, and we will be working with them. In some instances, the local government will provide us places to store the stoves and will work with villagers on distribution.
Clean cookstoves contribute to the reduction in the use of firewood and, consequently, the protection of natural resources. How is the project expected to protect local ecosystems?
Brice: In Bhujung village in Lamjung, where we will distribute the first Voluntary Project Activity (VPA) for 23,500 stoves, we learned that deforestation has been a persistent problem. When the area became part of the Annapurna Conservation Area about 20 years ago, new forest management regulations let the forest grow back. But villagers’ need for fuel still exceeds what the surrounding forest can provide, so there is ongoing tension between forest managers and the village. Ganesha stoves require less wood. Once they are in use throughout the village, we expect this tension to ease.
What other, lesser-known co-benefits do they provide and for whom?
Dharma: Collecting firewood can be dangerous for women in Nepal, since it exposes them to attacks from humans and forest animals. Each year, dozens of incidents of rape associated with fuel collection are reported in Nepal. Close encounters with animals including tigers and elephants are also frequent there.
Women in Nepal do the vast majority of fuel collection and cooking. By using a stove that requires half the fuel to do the same amount of cooking, their workload is greatly reduced. Users report that because the Ganesha stove starts quickly and burns hotter, the time they spend cooking is cut in half. Altogether, our current users report that they spend half the time collecting firewood and cooking as before.
Nepal has committed to installing 500,000 clean cooking technologies in rural areas by 2025. How will the project contribute to this and other national adaptation goals?
The Nepali government, particularly the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), will require support from the private sector in reaching this ambitious target of 500,000 stoves distributed by 2025. Private sector led projects such as Annapurna Stoves can contribute to achieving these broader goals whilst reducing CO2 emissions and improving local wellbeing.