Before Maria Rodrigues[1] installed a clean cookstove in her household in Tatumbla, Honduras in 2016, she was skeptical about the benefits it would offer. Having only used traditional cooking methods in the past, Maria imagined that a clean cookstove would require substantial financial resources as well as significant changes to her daily routine. To help Maria overcome this challenge, Fundación Vida, an environmental NGO based in Honduras, provided a subsidy to help reduce the cost of the cookstove by US$37.

The subsidy was provided as part of a Fundación Vida’s PROFOGONES project, which aims to provide cleaner-burning, healthier cookstoves to low-income households in rural and peri-urban Honduras. A year on, Rodrigues and six other households in her village have benefitted from a combination of environmental, health, and economic improvements that the clean cookstoves provide.

As many as 4 million people die each year due to indoor pollution, such as traditional cookstoves that pose numerous health risks to households (WHO)

In Honduras, fuel wood is one of the largest energy sources at the household level. Over 50% of households use firewood to meet their energy needs such as cooking, including 88% of rural households.[2] This is one of the factors driving an annual deforestation rate of 2.4% in the country.[3]

Traditional cookstoves that rely on firewood and other fuel sources pose numerous health risks to households, as they emit high levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, ash, and soot inside the home. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 4 million people die each year globally due to indoor pollution related causes, and most of the victims are women and children.

Replacing traditional cooking methods with clean cookstoves offers numerous health and economic benefits, including a reduction in GHG emissions by an average of 1.5 to 2.5 tons annually per stove, improvements in indoor air quality, reduced firewood consumption, and a cleaner and healthier environment inside the home.  

 Additionally, the amount of soot and ash they handle on a daily basis is considerably lower. Many project recipients noted that they feel cleaner and healthier as smoke and emissions are now funneled outside of the house via a chimney.

The primary users of the cookstoves appear to be the female heads of the household, and each used their clean cookstoves chiefly to produce food for their families. One recipient, who uses their clean cookstove to make tortillas for sale at local soccer games, noted that she can produce tortillas faster and with more ease than a traditional cookstove, resulting in increased profits at decreased costs.

One recipient uses her clean cookstove to produce tortillas, which she and her family sell at local soccer games for profit.

However, despite the obvious benefits clean cookstoves have only achieved a 12% market penetration in Honduras. This gap creates an underserved market of nearly 1.2 million households who potentially stand to gain from installing a clean cookstove in their home. Gaining access to this market is not only an untapped business opportunity, but also a chance to improve the livelihoods of almost half of Honduras’ low-income population.

For these populations, the primary barriers to obtaining a cookstove are financial and behavioral. A clean cookstove represents a significant expense, with costs averaging between $80-$120, well over 50% of the average monthly income in many areas. Raising awareness of the benefits of clean cookstoves is another challenge, as traditional cooking methods are all most households have known.

In order to be considered a ‘clean cookstove’, models must fulfill three technical requirements: a.) fuel consumption must be at least 40% lower than traditional cookstove models, b.) toxic gases and ash must be funneled outside of the home, and c.) the major cookstove components must last at least five years. In Honduras, clean cookstove models are evaluated by the National University of Honduras (UNAH) and by the cookstoves lab at the Universidad Zamorano (‘El Zamorano’) to ensure they meet these strict standards.

Under the PROFOGONES program, El Zamorano must provide certification for each stove model in order for it to receive subsidies. In addition, PROFOGONES also requires that the stove components are certified by the National University UNAH to ensure durability of the components such as chimney, stove griddle and ceramic combustion chamber.

Enabling Better Health and Economic Outcomes

Since 2014, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has worked with Fundación Vida to provide funding for the installation of clean cookstoves in Honduras through the PROFOGONES project. The project aims to tackle economic, health, and environmental concerns by creating a robust clean cookstoves market through the adoption of clean cookstoves by low-income households in 10 departments in Honduras by February of 2019.

The PROFOGONES project utilizes funding from the Climate Investment Fund’s Scaling Up Renewable Energy Program (SREP) to provide 50,000 subsidized clean cookstoves to Honduran households by providing a US$37 subsidy per cookstove, which, combined in most cases with additional subsidies of up to $62 provided by other organizations, means a significant discount on the market price of approximately $110-$120. Beneficiaries are required to contribute the balance of the cost, generally $10-$20, often through labor and local materials, such as sand, bricks and adobe bricks.   

Clean cookstoves reduce GHG emissions and improve indoor air quality, providing a healthier environment inside the home.

The project plans to provide an additional 8,000 clean cookstoves through microcredit schemes, which use the existing “Cajas Rurales” community banking model, to establish banks within targeted communities. Under this model, village members that typically do not have access to traditional banks may engage with a Caja Rural to finance their cookstove purchases at interest rates lower than those typically offered through local banks (between 12-14%).

In addition to working directly with households, the PROFOGONES project also generates efficiencies and improvements in the clean cookstoves market within Honduras. These initiatives include training a fleet of approximately 300 stove technicians within target communities on stove concepts, installation, operations, maintenance and follow-up. These trained technicians, who are paid per stove serviced, are expected to help sustainably grow the market by promoting the technology and supporting stove providers in terms of sales, customer support, repairs, and follow-up.

To date, PROFOGONES has installed approximately 5,000 clean cookstoves. During interviews conducted with seven households in Tatumbla, a small city located in the mountains outside of Tegucigalpa, clean cookstove recipients were positive about the varied benefits of moving from a traditional to clean cookstove in their households. 

PROFOGONES works closely with recipient households before, during, and after the cookstove construction process, so they fully understand and realize the benefits of replacing their traditional cookstoves. For example, removing the traditional cookstoves before the initial $37 in subsidies is paid is another way of ensuring clean cookstoves are properly used.

If the households are still using their clean cookstoves as intended after a year (and have not reverted back to their traditional cookstoves), the PROFOGONES projects issues an additional $5.70 subsidy. Since the average low-income Honduran household earns $190 a month, these subsidies provide a powerful incentive for behavior change. PROFOGONES also conducts follow-up visits at 3, 6, and 12 months after cookstove installation to help determine the level of adoption and impact of the cookstove to the recipient’s household.

But sustainable behavior change takes time. Many households in targeted communities are accustomed to traditional cooking methods and can be resistant to new techniques and technologies. Changing long-standing behaviors may be a significant barrier to further clean cookstoves adoption.

Looking Towards the Future

Under PROFOGONES, Fundación Vida aims to install over 45,000 more clean cookstoves in the next two years, and the program will continue to push for higher cookstove quality standards through its partnership with El Zamorano. The program is also expected to train additional stove technicians and raise awareness in target communities of the benefits of clean cookstoves.

If the project’s multiple initiatives to strengthen the clean cookstoves market and enable access to microcredit for low-income households are successful, the country will move closer towards the creation of a self-sustaining market.

A year after the installation of her clean cookstove, Maria Rodrigues is happy with the benefits it has brought herself and her family. “[The clean cookstove] has bettered my life in saving money on wood, in our health, and in many other ways,” Rodrigues stated, as she flipped tortillas on ‘la plancha’ of her new and clean cookstove.

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This feature was researched and produced for the CIF by Anindya Bhagirath, Victoria Haler, Songyee Jung, and Julia Trowbridge as part of their capstone project at the Elliott School of International Affairs – George Washington University. 

FOOTNOTES

[1] Names changed to preserve anonymity.

[2] INE, 2013

[3] Deforestation rate of Honduras 2010-2015. FAO 2015