Dipendra Bhattarai

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Posts by Dipendra

  • Cultural barriers to the use of improved cookstoves

    March 25th, 2015

    We get plenty of opportunities to explore Nepal working in the local development sector. This is one of the interesting aspects of our job. I have visited around 56 out of 75 districts of Nepal during the course of my professional career, but as yet not been to the upper mountainous districts.

    A woman cooking over a traditional stove in NepalA project team from Women Economic Empowerment (WEE) asked me to join a training programme going to be held at Diktel, the administrative headquarters of Khotang district which is one of the remote rural areas in eastern Nepal. I was really excited having got the opportunity to add one more district to my list and see how people perceived improved cookstoves. I was looking forward to know how important culture is in using a cookstove and what impact the price and availability of firewood have on cookstove use.

    These questions were striking in my head while travelling along the newly constructed Banepa-Bardibas highway, which is considered as an example of a well-constructed road. After almost two hours of driving, we stopped at Bhakundey Besi Valley for a tea break. Suddenly my eyes went to a LPG stove being used to cook vegetables in the hotel. Then a boy came to serve tea that wasn’t cooked in LPG stove. I figured out that their kitchen was somewhere outside and went to have a look. I was surprised to see an old lady boiling milk in a single pot, portable, rice-husk stove without a chimney. She was using firewood instead of rice husks though. When I asked her why they weren’t using LPG to boil milk, she answered that they boil milk on a low heat for a longer time to make even more delicious yogurt. She further added that a single log of firewood was enough to boil the milk for a longer time so they avoided using LPG for it. I explained her about improved cookstove (ICS) technology and showed her some pictures. She was excited and asked me if I could deliver her an ICS that I showed her. I said, “I will try,” and bidding farewell, continued my journey to Diktel.

    After a long and tiring drive we reached Diktel at around 9 pm after travelling for almost 13 hours. We all were extremely tired so we directly went for dinner and were off to bed.

    Next morning, I along with Mr. Subarna Kapali from the Centre for Rural Technology, Nepal went for a short walk around the market in Diktel. I normally walk around new places, not to reduce my belly but to explore new things. While walking, we saw two women carrying firewood so I asked them what was the price for a bhari (equivalent to around 30-35 kgs) of firewood. They replied, “800 rupees (£5).”

    “Eight hundred!” I exclaimed, shocked, this seemed too expensive.

    Then we entered into a tea shop and ordered tea. There I saw one LPG stove and also a traditional cookstove. We ordered two cups of tea. Subarna, like me, was also curious and asked the shop owner how much a bhari of firewood cost. The owner replied, “Sometime it’s NRs. 500 but most of the time it’s NRs. 600-700.” I added, if it was that costly why they were using firewood. Instead, it would be more beneficial to use LPG. He agreed on the cost effectiveness but replied that water, milk and animal feed remain hot for a longer time if cooked on a traditional cookstove therefore they don’t use LPG for this purpose.

    Before starting the training session I met a stove master, who had built hundreds of improved cookstoves. I was more interested to know about stove and cultural influence on cookstove use. The stove master shared with me that the local indigenous community worship cookstove. They don’t let anyone enter to their kitchen until and unless they finish worshiping. They only use three-stone stoves and it is placed in the middle of the home at the ground floor.  Due to this cultural practice, the stove master could not install a single ICS in that community. The ICS needs to be placed in one of the corners of the kitchen which is well ventilated and easy to release smoke out of the kitchen.

    As the training started, stove masters were asked what they thought about cookstoves. An individual was asked to give only one example. Their answers were amazing. From the responses it was figured out that a cookstove is not only for cooking food but it is a place to gather around and chat, to heat the body, share happiness and sorrow, and also to talk about private matters between husbands and wives. It was interesting to know these facts.

    This field visit helped me a lot in figuring out and understanding how people interact with cookstoves. Although the use is same their importance and preferences are different. I observed that a household owns more than one cookstove and the use depends upon various factors. Cost can be one factor but culture and some other things also play a vital role in adopting and using improved cookstoves. It was a very useful learning experience for me.

    While 2.4 billion cook over open fires around the world, improved cookstoves reduce the deaths by smoke inhalation. I am glad that the observations made during the visit will help us find a way to remove the barriers that now prevent poor people from using the ICS technology. That will be the first step towards moving away from a state of technology injustice.

    Thanks to the WEE project team for giving me this opportunity to explore Khotang and most importantly, the people living there!

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