Why we need cookstoves

Clean cookstoves may seem like a small step towards cleaner energy, but in fact, they make a huge difference.

Deforestation on Zomba plateau

Evidence of deforestation on Zomba plateau, Malawi

Deforestation is one of the biggest problems in Malawi; Malawi’s deforestation rate is ranked fourth in the world, and first in the SADC region. Not only does deforestation harm Malawi’s incredible natural beauty, but it also contributes hugely to other environmental problems: amongst other things, trees are one of the main methods of removing carbon dioxide from the environment, they prevent soil erosion which can lead to floods, and they maintain the water cycle, the disruption of which can make it harder to grow crops effectively.

One large contributor to deforestation is the fact that 97% of Malawians rely on biomass for their cooking needs, and most of this is wood and wood charcoal. Using this type of biomass does not have to be bad; it is a renewable energy source, however, Malawi does not produce or use biomass sustainably. Cleaner cookstoves are more efficient than traditional stoves: they use less wood or wood charcoal to cook each meal, and some even use cleaner fuels such as biomass briquettes or liquid petroleum.

Cartoon showing health and nutrition benefits of cleaner cookstoves. Before the cookstove there is a lot of smoke, after everything is clean and safe

By Henderson Mawera for the National Cookstove Steering Committee

Most traditional stoves also produce lots of smoke, which can be extremely harmful to health. In fact, air pollution is now the leading cause of death in the world, with indoor air pollution (IAP) making up a large part of this. In Malawi, there are 13,000 deaths annually from IAP. By reducing the amount of smoke produced, through allowing more complete combustion of fuels, as well as through more efficient cooking, cleaner cookstoves provide health benefits to the whole family.

In particular, these benefits are felt by women and children, who spend the most time cooking, or in the kitchen. Women and children are also the main beneficiaries of the time-savings that clean cookstoves can allow. Firstly, the cooking itself often takes less time, as cleaner cookstove heat more efficiently, and therefore take less time to cook food thoroughly. Secondly, it is mainly women and children who are charged with the collection of fuelwood, and so it is them who will benefit when less wood has to be collected.

This links clean cookstoves not only to Sustainable Development Goal 7 (renewable energy), but also Goal 3 (good health), Goal 5 (gender equality), Goal 1 (no poverty), Goal 2 (zero hunger), Goal 4 (quality education), Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth), Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities), Goal 13 (climate action), and Goal 15 (life on land). Read a more detailed summary of how cookstoves contribute to the sustainable development goals here.

In the Malawian context, the National Cookstove Steering Committee (NCSC) has defined cleaner cookstoves as: