Power for the people 2: Ethiopia

Cooking pancakes the easy way

Posted: 3 November 2000

Author: Mike Bess

Cooking injera Ethiopia's staple flat bread is one of the most inefficient forms of energy use in the world. Now, after numerous attempts, a new improved stove, that could cut firewood use in half, is a big commercial success. Mike Bess reports.

Like nearly all Ethiopian wives, Alegnesh Alemayehu, spends several hours, twice a week, baking the flat pancake-like bread that is the everyday food for her family.In the past she would have had to find around 10 kgs of wood for each baking session, or around 80 per cent of all the household energy consumption in the typical Ethiopian home. In a country with shrinking woodlands, the ton or more of fuel needed each year has meant ever-longer searches for firewood. Alegnesh AlemayehuAlegnesh Alemayehu and child with their new Mirte energy-efficient stove© ESDNow, however, Alegnesh has a new stove which uses half the fuel and creates much less smoke in the house: a major cause of respiratory disease in Ethiopia.

Called the Mirte it is the result of a long search over the last two decades by government and development agencies for a stove which would cut down on the use of biomass, which provides 80 per cent of all the primary energy used in the country.

Normally injera is baked using a ceramic flat plate (mtad) over a three stone fire with an energy efficiency of around 7 per cent under normal conditions. The new improved stove is not only twice as efficient, it has also been successfully commercialised and holds great promise for addressing Ethiopia's severe wood shortages in the very near term at relatively little cost.

Numerous attempts were made between 1979 and 1994 to improve biomass injera baking. Traditional baking not only consumes large quantities of fuelwood, but also poses major local environmental and health hazards. Burns and smoke inhalation are the most oft-cited complaints from injera cooks. These early attempts failed for a variety of reasons, primarily through lack of sufficient attention to the marketplace.

Improving injera baking is further complicated by the fact that traditional baking involves use of different fuels (branches, leaves, sticks and sawdust being the most preferred). Finally, during the mid-1990s, a World Bank-supported programme with the Ministry of Mines and Energy developed a low-cost, easily fabricated enclosed stove. It was designed with the assistance of John Parry Associates of the UK, and named the Mirte by a number of Ethiopian housewives in 1994. Stoves are produced using a simple metal mould to fabricate four main pieces produced from various cement mixes. Virtually any material from sand to volcanic pumice can be mixed with cement to form the stove body, and the stoves can be produced by any artisan with very little investment and training. The traditional mtad is bought separately and rests on top of the Mirte. A small chimney piece removes smoke from cooking areas.

The British Department for International Development (DFID) supported the commercialisation of this improved stove from 1995 to 1997. During this period, a number of workers were trained, several micro-credit revolving funds were established, and over 27,000 of the stoves were produced privately and sold commercially for an average price of US$5 per stove, with no subsidies or direct market interventions. The DFID programme was used to train artisans, monitor and evaluate the stove's performance, promote the stove, and disseminate it to a number of towns throughout Ethiopia.

So far, over 90,000 Mirte stoves have been sold in Addis Ababa and a number of smaller urban and rural areas, leading to wood savings of over 45,000 tons each year, and an estimated cumulative woody biomass savings of over 80,000 tons.

The Mirte reduces woody biomass consumption by 50 per cent in households, and more under commercial injera baking conditions. It also evacuates the smoke from the cook, and protects her from burns. These factors have led to the phenomenal success of this improved stove.

An adapted Mirte is now being produced for commercial injera bakers, with market assistance from another DFID regional commercial/institutional stoves programme. Savings are on the same scale as the household version, but the stove is more robust and designed for conditions in which cooks bake more than 300 injeras a day, and traditionally consume over 30kg of woody biomass per day. Over 500 of these stoves have been sold for an average price of US$65 since in April 1998.

The Mirte has become another African 'success story'. It demonstrates, as with the Lakech in Ethiopia and the Kenya Ceramic Jiko (KCJ) in Kenya, that energy conservation can pay and can be sustainable under urban poverty conditions if the right rules are followed.

The KCJ was developed with donor support in the early 1980s and over 2 million have since been sold without government or donor support at a competitive price of less than $5. It has provided work for hundreds of producers and vendors and has been successfully marketed in Tanzania, Malawi, Rwanda and Uganda. It, and the Lakech improved charcoal stove, have saved tens of thousands of tons of charcoal.

All these successful products have involved a rigorous attention to the marketplace, strong support for small-scale artisans and traditional markets, judicious use of small-scale credit, training and promotion, and an emphasis on a simple, replicable technological approach.

These success stories demonstrate that selling energy conservation in a poverty situation can be commercially viable and sustainable, and that multiple environmental, social and economic objectives can be achieved if the approach is right.

Mike Bess works for Energy for Sustainable Development (ESD) Ltd in England which has worked with a dedicated Ethiopian team on the Ethiopian Stove programme. ESD was awarded the Worldaware Award for its work on the Mirte in 1997.

Lighting Vietnam

More than 2,000 people have directly benefited from the installation of solar panels for domestic electricity in Vietnam, following a successful rural electrification project involving the Vietnam Women's Union (VWU).solar panels, Vietnam© CADDETT Renewable EnergyThe Solar Project in Support of Rural Women and Children has installed photovoltaic lighting systems in 130 homes and five community centres, as well as street lights in two village markets. These energy systems have helped to stimulate business and educational opportunities in five communities in the Mekong River Delta and Northern Vietnam.

Around 85 per cent of Vietnam's people live without electricity, and suffer health and safety hazards from the widespread use of kerosene lamps. It is estimated that the photovoltaic systems will offset over 39,000 kg of carbon monoxide released into the atmosphere each year by kerosene lamps. They have also provided light for using sewing machines after dark, contributing to an increasing in garment production, and the market streetlights provide an element of safety which has extended trading hours. Most of the installed systems provide electricity for about four hours of light and several hours of television each day.

Individual families financed their photovoltaic systems, costing $300, over a three-year period through a revolving loan fund managed by the VWU. Some have independently purchased black and white television sets. In the immediate region, a further 350 families have requested household photovoltaic systems, and the VWU hopes to expand its effort into a national programme of off-grid solar electrification.

Contact: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1617 Cole Boulevard, Golden, Colorado 80401-3393, USA. Tel: (+1 303) 275 4373, Fax: (+1 303) 275 3619. Email: david_warner@nrel.gov