In early 2012 Ahuyu worked closely with Ecozoom, a Portland-based clean cookstove company, to develop a Latin American model of their ultra-efficient and aspirational stove design. We piloted the stove in Guatemala and gathered user feedback to help Ecozoom make final design improvements. After a few slight on-site modifications the stove achieved rave reviews and demonstrated great promise.
We explored the potential to import these Chinese-manufactured stoves in larger quantities but ran into obstacles – namely, corrupt middlemen during the importation process. We ultimately recognized the importance of regional manufacturing and reaffirmed our decision to continue sourcing from our Guatemalan manufacturing partner. In the long run we are bullish on the Ecozoom stove particularly if production in Guatemala can be attained.
Moving forward with our dependable model
While we piloted and explored importation of the Ecozoom stove, our local partners continued to receive requests for the trusty Onil stove. We proceeded by financing an additional fifty Onil Stoves at the latest $128 price tag through our hybrid subsidy and microcredit model.
I recently returned from Guatemala where I got to see the women of Kixjo in action promoting and distributing the stove. In this video, Kixjo leader Chonita Chavajay wows the spectators (in Tz'tujil Maya) at a stove demonstration in the coffee-producing village of Chacaya.
On our latest visit we were reminded about the grinding expense of energy consumption for the poor. A month of wood fuel solely for cooking now costs $35 for a six-person family.
At the same time we recognize that an efficient stove pays for itself over time, and a truly scalable solution should not be bogged down by subsidies. With the right financing and clear messaging, can we tap into a larger regional demand at a full-priced offering? We hope to find out in 2013!
Our use of microcredit as a means to expand clean cookstove access to the poor attracted the attention of Global Partnerships, a Seattle-based NGO that partners with MFIs throughout Latin America. I had the pleasure to give Daniel Stokley, Green Technology Program Officer at Global Partnerships, a weeklong tour of our stove program in Santiago Atitlán.
The goal of the tour was to transfer our knowledge and experience of last mile stove distribution to an organization with the partners, capacity, and scale to reach millions of women throughout Latin America. We hope to help Global Partnerships excel in this new priority area with the same adeptness that Daniel displayed when battling hundreds of cockroaches during the disassembly of an open fire support structure.
Daniel and I followed our tireless local partners through the lifecycle of stove distribution and got a sense for the complex coordination of logistics, promotion, installation, education, and aftersales maintenance that is necessary to run an effective cookstove program. We had meetings with our cookstove manufacturing partner and two large Guatemalan MFIs with an eye toward laying the foundation for a large-scale cookstove program.
I start many mornings off in Guatemala doing medical consults at Hospitalito Atitlán. A woman who had been hospitalized for three days with severe respiratory distress followed up with me in clinic last week. She probably would have died from respiratory failure if not for the administration of nebulizers, oxygen, steroids, and antibiotics at Hospitalito emergency department.
Little did I know that the patient was my friend’s mother, and two days later I ended up at their home for dinner. My friend shared with me the story of her youth. From the age of 7 she was sent to climb the nearby volcano in search of wood and spent the rest of her time cooking indoors over an open fire. She did not go to school. She stayed by the fire for much of the 36-year civil war that somehow found its epicenter in her hometown and which kept her in a state of heightened vigilance and enforced curfews.
Almost a week after she had been discharged she was still barely able to get out of bed. What she needs most is supplemental oxygen, but that is hard to find when you are Guatemalan and not in a position of privilege. It is no surprise that Hospitalito Atitlán is one of our biggest referral sources.
The difference that we make when installing a clean cookstove is immediately apparent to the senses. Our participating families enjoy the novelty of not living in smoke. Women report reduction in eye irritation, dry throat, cough, and back pain. They send their kids to school with faces free of ashen blemishes. Their clothes are no longer saturated in smoke. Our participants report improvements in the health of the family, reduced medical expenses, savings on fuel cost, and more time for the cooks to generate income.
A cookstove is not a silver bullet but we are dedicated to this program because it is helping families to lead better lives. Clean cookstoves remain an important tool for breaking the cycle of poverty and illness. The goal to find scalable solutions that help these families break cycles of poverty and illness while addressing the effect of woodfuel combustion on global climate change remains as urgent as ever.
Justin Schram, MD