Monday, August 9, 2010

Improved Biomass Stoves For Bangladesh: Practice and Promise

Bangladesh has a better record in addressing rural energy issues than most countries. They have a very aggressive rural electrification program that is based on rural electric distribution cooperatives. There is an award winning program for promoting solar home systems in offgrid regions. Yet as we documented in our report on Bangladesh’s Rural Energy Realities the country has not been as successful in promoting ways to alleviate problems associated cooking with biomass energy on rudimentary stoves. This is in spite of the fact that bioass energy is so scarce that leaves and grass account for 15 percent of total rural energy use.

Bangladeshi Woman Cooking with Child:  Photo Prabir Mallik
Recently there has been a new report released on Improved Cookstoves and Better Health in Bangladesh.  For a preview there is a online version of the report at the bottom of this blog.  This report is provides a new twist to work on improved or advanced biomass stoves. Not only does the report review programs in Bangladesh, but it also draws lessons from successful international experiences and water and sanitation programs.  The picture to the right has graced the cover of several reports and it was originally taken by Prabir Mallik on one of the assignments that took place during the project.

Many of the existing programs in Bangladesh are promoting what we have called in previous blogs artisan stoves. There are not too many successful examples of artisan programs in the world. Most of the programs that flourished have had at the very minimum manufactured parts as was the case in China and Guatemala.  A promising new development is that within the last couple of years Grameen Shakti (see text below the break) has recently entered the picture in Bangladesh to promote improved stoves, and they are manufacturing some of the parts such as stovepipes and grills, but the firebox of its stove is still made from local materials such as clay or mud.

What are the recommendations of the new Bangladesh report? The main recommendation is to move towards higher quality stoves that are proven to be more energy efficient and lower household air pollution. Here are some key quotes from the executive summary.
Lessons from the international programs emphasize the need for a wide range of efficient stove designs tailored to user requirements as a prerequisite for program success. They should have proven efficiency, the ability to reduce indoor air pollution, and good durability and safety. Further, the viability of the program in the long term often depends on strong commercial approaches to promoting stoves. Targeted marketing has also been seen to be an effective strategy; stoves should be marketed to households facing fuelwood scarcity or high costs of purchasing wood, as they would be the most likely group to benefit from improved stoves, at least in the initial stages of a program.
The review of the status of improved stove programs in Bangladesh, along with the best practices from around the world, leads to several recommendations for consideration. One clear message is the need for a more unified program without diminishing the creativity of the various groups advocating improved stoves in Bangladesh. In fact, creativity and a wide variety of approaches should be encouraged. The government’s role is not necessarily to be the main actor, but rather to facilitate a process that promotes variety, improved durability, better safety, and greater efficiency of improved stoves.

As indicated, one new development is that Grameen Bank recently has become involved in promoting improved stoves in Bangladesh.  In 2008 they had sold only 11 thousand improved stoves, but by 2009 the number has grown to 30,000 stoves. Their approach is described on their website.   Below is a description of what they are doing that was taken from the website. 

Grameen Shakti (GS) has become interested in improved cookstoves (ICS) because it helps women and makes their lives easier. GS sees a potential market of at least 2 million ICSs in the first three years of the program. GS plans to depend on two types of local players for expanding Improved Cook Stoves - local technicians and local manufacturers. GS has already trained more than 600 local youth especially women to make, sale and repair ICSs. GS plans to train more technicians in the next phase .These trained technicians will train others as well as produce and commercialize improved cook stoves on behalf on Grammen Shakti. Many of them will soon start their own business in arrangement with GS and will lay the basis of developing ICS entrepreneurs at the rural level. GS has developed and pilot tested its own model of three mouthed stoves which is more efficient than previous models in Bangladesh. GS has also set up 10 manufacturing units in rural settings for constructing ICS accessories such as metal grates and chimneys. These manufacturing units are run by entrepreneurs with the financial and technical assistance from GS This strategy has proved to be successful. … Women and commercial organizations such as food industries, restaurant hostels, soap manufactures have shown great interest in ICS.

Although this is a promising start, the new report recommends that the government and more specifically IDCOL become more involved with biomass stoves. Also, there is scope for more use of manufactured parts or stoves manufactured entirely in factories where quality control and a high level of standards are likely to be more rigorously followed.  Although I would like to see a wider variety of offerings from Grameen Shakti, I am encourage by their record on solar home systems.  They now offer a wide variety of solar home system types for people living on areas without grid electricity, and even not-solar backup battery systems for those with intermittent power. 

I must disclose that I provided assistance in the final chapter and fact checking some of the international case studies in the report on improved stoves in Bangladesh. The main leader and author of this report is Priti Kumar who guided a team of experts including M. Khaliquzzaman, Jonathan Rouse, and Vani Kurup. They examined a very innovative mix of energy and also sanitation programs to develop recommendations for improved stoves in Bangladesh.   I hope you enjoy the report.

The online version of Improved Cookstoves and Better Health in Bangladesh: Lessons from Household Energy and Sanation Programs can be found below.  You can also download the full report (2 MB)

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