The Kamado Stove: A 5th century stove makes its way to Lunzu

The Kamado stove

The majority of rural households in Malawi still use the three-stone fire which negatively impacts the environment, health and the livelihoods of communities. In Lunzu, on the outskirts of Blantyre, there is visible evidence of acute deforestation which has left vast fields without any trees like many regions of Malawi. This is where Mr Hiroaki Sato a volunteer from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), has been working with the communities of Lunzu, by introducing the Kamado stove to households who use the three-stone fire. Since 2016, Mr Sato has been teaching the communities in Lunzu how to make a Kamado stove which is a fixed stove built inside kitchens using bricks and earth.

The word Kamado simply means “stove” in Japanese. The Kamado stove can be traced back to the dwellings of 5th century Japan which is known as the Kofun period. The Kofun period derives its name from large mound tombs (kofun) which characterise this period when the early Japanese state was formed. It is a time when Japan had close contacts with the continent, especially with the Korean Kingdoms and thus it is marked as the beginning of Japanese history.

Charles T. Keally, a professor of Archaeology and Anthropology who has extensively worked in the field of Japanese archaeology since 1967, summed up traces of evidence of the Kamado stove in a typical Kofun dwelling,

Early Kofun dwellings had a hearth in the middle of the floor. This appears archaeologically as a patch of burnt earth. But with the influx of Korean ideas, technologies and people in the 5th century, clay ovens were built on one wall, with flues extending out beyond the thatch. These were usually on the wall opposite the entrance, where evidence of the entranceway can be detected, and they are frequently on the north wall of the dwelling. There are some dwellings that appear to have had the entrance next to the oven. The oven had a horizontal hole at floor level for feeding firewood, and a vertical hole on top for setting the pots for cooking or boiling water. A clay cylinder, or “leg”, was usually set directly in the fire under the pot to keep the heat uniformly over the lower half. These Kofun period ovens were quite similar to ovens used in Japanese farm houses until quite recently. In fact, some old farm houses still use them.

It is this Kamado stove which Mr Sato has been introducing to communities in Lunzu where most use the traditional three-stone fire as a primary method of cooking.

Deforestation is widespread in Blantyre and when I saw at the way people cook in villages….and how difficult it is for them to find firewood, I thought of the kamado stove. It is cheap and uses local materials which are available to all. The Kamado stove is better because the amount of firewood used is less and also cooking time is less

Mr Sato learned to make the Kamado stove from Akane Kusaka, another JICA volunteer who was stationed in Mzimba north of Malawi, where she also implemented the Kamado stove from the month of October 2014 to the month of September 2016.

Mr Sato teaching communities on how to make a Kamado stove

Mr Sato who started engaging communities in June 2016, has worked with 30-40 households in Kumponda village of Lunzu. In Ndemanje village of Lunzu, the households who learned how to make the Kamado stove have also been teaching others on how to make this stove.

On 28th August, the MBAULA team (the Media and Advocacy Officer and Data Management and Monitoring Officer visited Ndemanje village in Lunzu where Mr Sato has worked with communities.

The MBAULA team witnessed the evidence of acute deforestation in Lunzu where dusty whirlwinds are common because of a lack of tree cover. The expansive terrain in Lunzu is only covered with shrubs and sparse populations of mango trees.

Upon arrival, the MBAULA team accompanied by Mr Sato was welcomed by Chrissie Maki, Bessie Kabango, Alice Binali and Edna Masanga. All four women built their Kamado stoves in June 2016 and they are still using them up to this day.

The MBAULA team meeting some of the women who are using the Kamado stove

Chrissie Maki who has 3 children praises the kamado stove over the three-stone fire.

In the past, I used to gather firewood for 1 hour and the load would only last for 2 days on a three-stone fire. With the Kamado stove, I collect firewood for 1 hour and the load lasts for a week.

Twigs collected as firewood; a sign that there are no mature trees left in the area

Bessi Kabango, a wife to the Group Village Head boasts that she is “able to cook two things at the same time because the kamado has 2 pot rests”. The KAmado stove also helps her to cook food faster which enables her to tend to her garden which is situated close to her house by the river bank.

Alice Binali and the other 3 women have also been able to teach other households how to make a Kamado stove. 17 households have made the stoves through these women who gained the knowledge from Mr Sato, who also originally learned about making the Kamado stove from Akane Kusaka.

The last stop was at a primary school teacher’s house where a kamado stove was recently built as part of a demonstration for JICA representatives who visited Ndemanje village. Edna Masanga who teaches Standard 7 and 8, was also one in the many who used the three stone fire to cook. Her kitchen walls were covered with black soot which is a sign of smoke caused by cooking food on a three-stone fire. However, Ms Masanga who had only used the Kamado for 2 weeks, had already seen the differences between a Kamado stove and a three-stone fire.

I used to buy firewood for the three-stone fire which cost me K3700 for about a month’s load. But now I estimate that by the end of the month, I will be buying firewood which will amount to K1500. I have even copied the step by step procedure on how to make this stove for future use.


It is this transfer of knowledge that Mr Sato hopes for to continue when his volunteership comes to an end in January 2018. “I hope that these activities will help people to solve their own problems because most people wait for nongovernmental organisations to help them solve their problems”. His activities in the various villages of Lunzu have helped the communities to teach and learn from each other as they address the challenges of deforestation in their immediate surroundings. The Kamado stove which was once a part of life in the Kofun period of Japan in the 5th century, has resurfaced again in Lunzu as part of the many activities employed to curb deforestation in Malawi.