When I was a child, all households in my village (including my parents’) used three stone cook stoves. The vast majority still cook the same way now.
I left home at 17 and came back home many years later. The first wrong thing I saw (according to my perception) was the smoke coming out from my mum’s kitchen.
I was already an engineer and was working on small scale renewable energies. Although I wasn’t working on stoves at that time, I was aware of the harmful effects of smoke and the excessive fuel consumption of three stone stoves. I also had read about improved stoves and had seen designs being spread out in different parts of the world in developing countries.
The same day I arrived home, I asked my mother to change her three stone stove for an efficient and clean one that I would bring and install in her kitchen. I explained the benefits of the new stove, which from my point of view were great.
I told her they use less fuel and have lower smoke emissions which meant less of her time for fuel collection and better health. She listened patiently to my proposal and explanation of the benefits and replied: “Like the one of your aunt Maria? No thank you son.” She said she hadn’t seen such benefits. “Your aunty spends the same amount of time collecting fuels, and as for the smoke, I don’t see much wrong with it”. She gave me examples of large families all with smoky kitchens and said she had never seen a child dying from smoke inhalation, and the doctor or nurse had never told her that it could happen.
I started to think that sometimes one expects other people with other backgrounds to have the same perception as we have. I asked myself why she had a such a firm perception regarding clean stoves with “no benefits” or perhaps too little, too simple benefits compared to the big sacrifice she had to make to change her three stone stove for another one that she does not like and she does not like it for many good reasons from her point of view.
Now that I had become an advocate of energy access for the poor and I knew how important is for the poor to have clean and efficient cooking stoves, I asked myself why I was unable to convince my mother at that time. I asked myself whether other people had experienced similar situation where the perception of the potential users are very strong and they stick to their traditional three stone stoves. And what do they do to persuade these sorts of users to change their minds?
I would also like to add that poor people like the majority who use three stone stoves, generally lack information about many important issues. People living in isolated rural areas do not have access to information, they hardly listen to the radio, do not watch TV and most cannot dream to access to internet. Therefore, their perception is based on their own experience.
With that short personal story and introduction, I would like to ask other practitioners and advocates of energy access for the poor to share your thoughts about how to overcome this issue of strong perception of the poor in rural areas of no benefits or not enough benefits.
Consider that those using three stone stoves perceive many good qualities of a three stone stove: they find that the three stone stove is very simple; it costs no money; it is versatile – with a three stone stove the user can use as many pots as she/he wants and users do not need to carry their stove if they move from one to another place – they can quickly have a new one. These people have not seen or have not perceived the harmful effects of smoke and even the doctors or nurses who very occasionally talk to them have not told them anything about the harmful effects of smoke. Could you suggest how to overcome those issues of perception?