Ewan Bloomfield


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Posts by Ewan

  • The Himalayan Hood

    December 5th, 2013

    This weekend I visited a remote village in the north-west of Nepal, called Arushwanra, located in Gorkha district just below the Himalayan peaks.  Its location is breathtakingly beautiful but life is hard and made worse by reliance on locally collected firewood.  This fuel is collected for free from the surrounding areas, and burned in traditional stoves within small, enclosed homes, leading to very high levels of household air pollution.  Practical Action, together with Bosch Siemens (BSH), has been piloting a new appropriate technology project – the installation of smoke hoods – which reduce smoke emissions within each household by over 80%, dramatically improving people’s lives.

    Jamila with HoodI met Jamila, who recently purchased a hood through the assistance of the local cooperative-managed rolling fund Practical Action helped establish. She is very happy with the results.  She now uses much less wood than she used to (more than 30% less), her home is much cleaner, particularly the walls, and cooking is much quicker (by up to 50%).  Most importantly her health is much improved – she no longer has eye irritations, problems breathing and headaches.  She can continue to dry meat and other foods above the stove, as the smoke exits through the hood, a traditional practice in these areas.

    She still has one cooking problem – sometimes cats enter her kitchen while she’s in her fields and steal her drying food.  She’s suggested the development of a shutter in front of the hood to stop this happening – an idea that’s being investigated by the hood producer. Out of the 32 houses in the village, 22 have already installed smoke hoods, and are all so happy with the results that the other 10 households are now on a waiting list once the rolling funds are available.

    I entered one house in the adjacent village of Dhanubanse which did not have a hood installed, just to see the difference, and almost as soon as the stove had been lit the kitchen filled with smoke.  My eyes started to water and my throat to itch.  The owner, Dhunraj, said he’s used to the smoke, but the difference in air quality compared to the houses with smoke hoods installed was enormous.


    Lastly, I visited the house of Nabiha, whose daughter is the only female stove producer in the area. She currently uses 2 main types of stoves, a wood stove with a smoke hood and a cooker which runs on liquid petroleum gas (LPG).  She uses the LPG mainly to prepare meals that need to be made quickly, particularly for meals in the morning and for tea when guests come.  However she still uses her wood stove and hood for most meals and prefers it to cooking with LPG.  She says the LPG canisters are difficult to transport and very expensive, and she finds the wood stove and smoke hood easy to use and more affordable.

    I had heard a lot about this project before visiting but seeing the hoods working in practice really made me appreciate what a huge difference this relatively simple technology can make to people’s lives in this remote district of Nepal.

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  • What’s cooking in India?

    November 27th, 2013

    India clean cookstove forumYesterday I attended a workshop in Delhi, on clean household cooking in India – the first of its kind – attended by a range of organisations and hosted by the Minister of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Dr Farooq Abdullah.  It has been estimated that, so far, around 35 million improved cook stoves, or chulhas as they’re locally know, are being used.  This sounds like a lot, but when you consider it’s taken more than 30 years, and there are more than 166 million households in India that rely on wood to meet their cooking needs, there is still a lot of work to do.  As one attendee pointed out “there is Coca-Cola in every village in India but not improved cook stoves, so why is this?”

    More efficient cook stoves on display

    More efficient cook stoves on display

    One presentation highlighted how an Indian woman, Kalibati, currently pays more than R100 (about £1) per month on medication for a respiratory problem caused by her inefficient cook stove, which is almost as much as she pays for her child’s education.  However she feels she has no choice and continues to use her stove as cannot afford LPG or kerosene.  It has also been recently estimated that more than a million people in India die of emissions from household cooking so the problem is huge.

    New innovative biomass cook stoves and cooking solutions, such as Practical Action’s smoke hood, are being developed to overcome the problems, as well as new ways of distributing and marketing them.  The workshop generated a huge amount of excitement and energy to find ways of overcoming these significant barriers.  What was most heartening was the open acknowledgement by the Minister that no one organisation or institution can solve the problem themselves, but if everyone can work together, including government institutions, NGOs, such as Practical Action, and private sector companies there is hope for the future and people like Kalibati.

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  • Biogas in Viet Nam – ”All good…..no bad!”

    October 22nd, 2013

    On a recent trip to Viet Nam I had the chance to visit the house of Mrs Le Thoa, about half an hour from the capital city, Hanoi.  She had had a household biogas digester installed in about 2001 by a micro-enterprise trained by two local Vietnamese NGOs, CCRD and VACVINA as her family are small-holder arable and livestock farmers.


    Cooking with biogas

    As well as growing rice and vegetables her family keep between 8-10 pigs within their living compound.  Her neighbours used to complain about the terrible smell of the dung the pigs produced.  Previously she had no way to dispose of it and it quickly festered in the hot sun.  The dung attracted a lot of flies and her pigs would often get sick.  Fortunately, pig dung is highly suitable for feeding a typical biogas system.

    The system cost Mrs Le Thoa about £300, as she was able to take advantage of a 30% “early bird” marketing promotion offered by the micro-entrepreneur.

    Since she installed the system, she says it’s transformed her family’s life.  Her pigs are much healthier and she’s much more popular with her neighbours as the smell is greatly reduced.  In addition the flies are almost all gone so her home is a much more pleasant place.


    Health and financial benefits

    The biogas system produces enough clean burning gas to completely replace the smoky and unhealthy wood and coal they used to use.  Sometimes it produces excess which she uses to prepare rice wine for local community celebrations, such as weddings.

    As the biogas is produced every day with no cost she saves about £6 per month on her cooking fuel bills.  In the 12 years the system’s been operating it has not needed to be repaired or maintained even once, and only takes about 15 minutes to deal with the pig’s dung, which is washed into the biogas reservoir beneath the pigsty once a day.

    All-in-all she says “the biogas system is very good for me.  There is nothing bad about it.  No bad!”

    After having visited her home, her spotless healthy looking pigs, and clean and smoke free kitchen on which her son made us fresh green tea, I could certainly see no reason to disagree!

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  • How I became …“Cage Man”

    October 9th, 2013

    A few months ago I signed up to do the Royal Parks half marathon in London. I have two young puppies so I’d been doing a bit of jogging with them, and I thought a half-marathon sounded like a bit of fun to help me burn off some excess weight.

    Ewan 'cage man'

    Ewan ‘cage man’

    However, after signing up and setting up a fundraising page I started to wonder how I was going to meet my target. As I was running for Practical Action, I decided to try and follow in their footsteps and use an appropriate technology to help me with the race – ideally a technology that the poor in a developing country use to help get themselves out of poverty.

    After receiving a host of suggestions from Practical Action staff from around the world, including a donkey plough, duck rice and a compost toilet, I decided on a fish cage developed in Bangladesh to help poor farmers obtain a sustainable supply of fish at a very low cost.

    I built the cage out bamboo and netting, with straps over my shoulders to keep it in place. Apart from restricting my vision and arm movements, it didn’t seem to be too bad to wear – although I did get some funny looks carrying it on the tube on my way to the starting line on Sunday morning!

    Practical Action half marathon team

    Practical Action half marathon team

    The Royal Parks Half Marathon has an amazing route from Hyde Park to the Houses of Parliament, on to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, before heading back around the parks again. The support for the runners was fantastic, with crowds all along the route, shouting and cheering support, particularly for anyone dressed up in a costume.

    After a while I started to hear shouts from the crowd, from “yeah, man in a cage!”, to “whatever…”, “run, fish cage, run” and, above all others, “cage man!!” As the run went on and the cage, and the distance, started to weigh me down, the continuous encouragement from the spectators, as well as the other runners, really spurred me on.

    The low point was towards the end of the race, when, with my energy levels starting to flag, I was overtaken by a giant testicle! However, spurred on by the cheers from my fellow runners, I made it to the end.

    All round it was a great experience and I’d encourage anyone to give a half-marathon a go, particularly dressed as an appropriate technology!

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  • Black carbon

    September 26th, 2013

    According to the BBC News on Tuesday, black soot-containing smoke from cook stoves is heating the atmosphere and accelerating glacial melt in the Himalayas and elsewhere. Soot (or black carbon) released from the incomplete combustion of biomass and biofuels among other things, enters the atmosphere and eventually is deposited on ice and snow, causing it to attract solar radiation rather than reflecting the sun’s rays. As millions of people in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region rely on the melt water from snow and ice melt, the disappearance of glaciers and the resulting impacts of this, is unimaginable.

    A haze of smoke hangs over a village in Nepal

    A haze of smoke hangs over a village in Nepal

    The first part of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to be released on Friday 27 September, will provide the most up to date assessment of the physical science basis of climate change (i.e. the man made and natural causes of climate change). The report will include evidence on black carbon and its impacts.  The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), which focuses on addressing short-lived climate pollutants that can have harmful impacts on human health, agriculture and ecosystems, has released literature which provides evidence that while there are several sources of black carbon, a significant one is believed to be from household cooking in developing countries.Practical Action has been addressing the problems associated with indoor smoke from cook stoves for more than twenty years.  Currently almost 3 billion people worldwide still cook on open fires using wood, animal dung, crop waste or coal. Every year this results in the death of 4 million people, of which the majority of victims are women and children under five. This is more deaths than malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB combined!

    In addition, tackling black carbon releaed from cook stoves, is not as “straightforward” as the BBC suggests, especially if you consider the development as well as environmental challenges. In the 3 years since its inception, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (a partner of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition) has led the drive to promote the uptake of clean cookers, but progress has been slow. Although there are a number of improved cook stoves on the market – the challenge is to persuade women (who invariably do most of the cooking in most developing countries) to purchase and use these improved cook stoves for all their cooking needs.

    Improved cook stove with smoke hood

    Improved cook stove with smoke hood

    Improved stoves and smoke hoods are designed to use less wood, so that women spend less time collecting fuel and it burns more efficiently – and healthily.   The environmental impact of minimising black carbon from more complete combustion should be considerd a positive co-benefit rather than what motivates us to promote cleaner cook stoves, or the reason for poor women to use them.As part of Practical Action’s programme of work on energy, household energy is a key focus area; delivering clean energy to poor men and women who need it most.  As an issue of justice, reducing carbon emissions must be regarded as a secondary issue to people’s health and well-being.  Why should those people who have contributed nothing to the warming of the planet be unjustly burdened with lowering their emissions of black carbon or other greenhouse gases? If the International Community is going to start focusing its attention on black carbon, we should rather start with our own activities that contribute to the problem, such as gas flaring and fossil fuel power plants.

    If household cooking is found to be responsible for some of the world’s black carbon, this might result in more funding and a higher profile for this serious health problem, but should not be the driving force for taking action.

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  • Cook your Tomatoes Using the Tin they Came in!

    Milan, Italy, Milan
    July 4th, 2011

    Stove made from old tin cans, a plumber's punch and a can opener!

    When I was asked to present Practical Action’s stove work at a University in Northern Italy the last thing I expected to end up doing was making small wood burning stoves out of old tinned tomato and vegetable cans.

    The workshop was organised by a collection of Italian Universities with presentations by several Italian NGOs and PhD students on various issues of stove production, mixed with short films from Tanzania and Chad, as well as a stove camp organised by Approvecho from Oregon, USA. Topics covered ranged from efficiency and health impacts of stove designs, through to usability, affordability and gender issues, always followed by in-depth discussions and debates.

    I gave a presentation on Practical Action’s stove projects from around the world, which covers more than 20 years of experience.  This includes our long-term support of the Anagi stove in Sri Lanka and the Biogas sector in Nepal, through to our work on wood stoves in western Kenya and Alpaca dung stoves in Peru.  More recently, our stove work has focused on LPG stoves in Sudan, ethanol stoves in Kenya and two stove training projects in rural and urban areas of Rwanda.

    On the second day we all switched between two workshops.  The first was on a range of appropriate technologies including a bicycle-powered water pump, a solar powered DJ platform, used for raising the awareness of improved stoves in Tanzania, and a solar fruit-drying rack. The second was very hands-on: we made our own super-efficient, low smoke emitting gasifier stoves from old tin cans, a plumbers hole punch and a can opener – materials available almost anywhere in the world.  It only took us about 10 minutes to make the stoves, and then using bits of twigs and pine cones found lying around the grounds, we all had our stoves roaring away, boiling water for our afternoon tea.

    I’m now a true “tin can” stove convert and hope Practical Action will be able to introduce this incredibly appropriate technology to communities we work with in the very near future.

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  • Water and Biofuels

    October 15th, 2010

    One of the big questions we’re looking at at the moment, as part of the PISCES project, is how the water requirements for basic food crops are balanced with the increasing demand for fuel crops. This demand is for both household energy for the very poor, such as for ethanol stoves, as well as blending with petrol in rich countries.

    The issue is a very complex one, but is becoming increasingly important while populations continue to increase and the effects of climate change are being increasingly felt around the world, particularly in very poor countries where people live with very fragile environments such as northern Kenya.

    We’re currently working on a report which we hope will start to look at the scale of the problem and decide on sustainable solutions for the future.

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  • Sustainable bamboo energy in Ethiopia

    East Shewa, Ethiopia, Horn of Africa
    October 8th, 2010

    I didn’t know much about bamboo, beyond it being a plant that grows in China and Panda Bears like to eat, until a recent trip to Ethiopia. I spent about a month working very intensively with a local Ethiopian furniture producer, Fortune Enterprise, who recently decided to stop relying on imported wood for their furniture production and start developing and managing their own supply of sustainable wood – by using Bamboo.

    It’s been recently estimated that 67% of Africa’s naturally growing bamboo is in Ethiopia, a total of approximately 1 million hectares, an area bigger than Cyprus, which has, up to now, been largely ignored.  As well as using bamboo for locally produced, high quality, furniture, the project is aiming to train farmers, in the highlands of western and south-western Ethiopia, to manage their own bamboo forests to supply sustainable energy to the country. This will include new planting and management techniques to efficiently produce charcoal and charcoal briquettes mainly for household cooking, already widely used in Ethiopia.

    Currently about 90% of Ethiopia’s energy needs are supplied by biomass in the form of wood and charcoal, and Ethiopia has been undergoing a rapid period of deforestation to meet these demands, particularly for cooking fuel in its towns and cities.  It was fascinating seeing Ethiopia’s bamboo forests up close, one of the fastest growing plants on earth, and meeting the local farmers who are very excited about this new opportunity, which has been largely ignored up to now.  

    To try and meet the growing needs of its population, countries like Ethiopia need to effectively manage their natural resources in innovative ways and this project was a fascinating example of how plants like bamboo, not normally associated with Africa, might provide some of the answers.

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  • Tanzania energy

    Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Dar es Salaam
    August 2nd, 2010

    Following my visit to Practical Action’s Kenya office, I travelled overland from Nairobi to Arusha in Tanzania, with 2 colleagues from Kenya and Sri Lanka. We got a first hard view of the extensive major road works being undertaken between the two countries, which turned the 250 km journey into a 7 hour journey, as well as magnificent views of rural life and the snowy peaks of Kilimanjaro. 

    The following 3 days of meetings were hosted by the University of Dar-Es-Salaam, for the 5-year Pisces bioenergy consortium meeting, which brought partners from the UK, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Tanzania together. 

    Each group presented their recent research, which is aimed at influencing policy on the sustainable use of bioenergy, including work on biofuel production and usage, charcoal production, cook stove projects and climate change adaptation.  The meeting allowed a fantastic opportunity for in depth discussion and collaboration between the partners and across continents on a wide variety of bioenergy issues. 

    Jatropha oil stoveThe meetings ended with a number of very interesting field trips to visit a household biogas facility which has been in operation for more than 10 years, an organisation producing efficient and locally manufactured cooking stoves (picture included) and an organisation producing locally grown Jatropha products including oil for lamps, medicinal soap and efficient Jatropha seed stoves (picture included).  The trip was highly successful and enormously energising!!

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  • Energy in developing countries

    March 3rd, 2010

    My first trip away with Practical Action, to East Africa, has been with a focus on our energy work, and it’s already been quite an eye-opener to the challenges and opportunities for our organisation in the region. 

    Practical Action is aiming to develop energy sources that can meet the needs of the very poor, while being affordable and without depleting the already stretched energy resources.  Soon after I arrived at the Nairobi office, located in a building shared with the YMCA of Africa, I was involved in the development of an energy strategy to look at the projects planned for 2010. 

    This includes both on the ground projects to develop ethanol from sugar cane residues, new cook stoves that are efficient and reduce the health related problems of smoke inhalation, and work on developing better policies with regional governments that can tackle poverty reduction while addressing the impacts of climate change and deforestation. 

    The various meetings included energy experts from Zimbabwe, Hawaii, UK, Sri Lanka, Nepal as well as Kenya, working very closely together to try and develop a strong strategy.

    Although it’s been hard work trying to gain a better understanding of the numerous challenges that need to be overcome, including corruption, nepotism, the harsh environmental conditions many of the poor people in the region live in, its also been hugely inspiring. 

    Whilst at the Kenyan office I was lucky to be a part of a moving farewell for a colleague who’s just completed a project in the Kiburu slums in Nairobi.  It was moving to hear the passion of her colleagues praising her tireless commitment to Practical Action’s work and wishing her well in her future career.  At the same time interviews were taking place for a new manager for the consultancy arm of the Kenyan office, who will have the responsibility of leading the small team to take the work of Practical Action to other countries in the region including Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

    Today I’m travelling overland to Arusha in Tanzania with colleagues from Sri Lanka and Kenya to attend a 3-day meeting on the 5-year Pisces project to improve policy in East Africa and south Asia on sustainable biomass use.  Practical Action is working with organisations in the UK, Tanzania and India to develop vital research which can help decision makers in the two regions to make more informed decisions on using their local resources to sustainably reduce poverty, provide employment and allow people to both adapt to the challenges of climate change whilst mitigating emissions.  The trip will include an update on the work going on in the four countries as well as visits to projects currently being implemented in Tanzania, which I’m looking forward to very much. 

    Ewan Bloomfield

    Practical Action Consulting

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