THE DESIGN AND DIFFUSION
OF IMPROVED COOKING STOVES
Douglas F. Barnes
Kirk R. Smith
Robert van der Plas F aL an
The poorer half of the world's people have long relied for their energy needs on
woodfuels. Since the oil shocks of the 1970s, pressure on forest resources has in-
creased and the costs of traditional use of woodfuels have been growing-to the
householder, in cash or collection time, and to society in inefficient energy use,
deforestation, and local and global harm to health and the environment. Mod-
ern, efficient stoves can alleviate some of these problems; programs to design and
disseminate them would seem a worthwhile pursuit for development activity.
But do such programs in fact warrant the investment? Why have so many
failed to catch on as expected? The authors find that programs have been most
successful when targeted to specific areas where woodfuel prices or collection
times are high. Field testing, consumer surveys, and involvement of local artisans
from the outset have been critical to the ultimate adoption of the stoves. With
these elements in place, external support from governments and donors can be
useful; lacking them, subsidies may succeed only in distributing stoves that ulti-
mately molder away unused. This article's review of what makes for success and
failure is instructive for the design of stove programs in particular, and of devel-
opment projects that propagate improved methods and technologies in general.
A Ithough much attention is devoted to efforts to establish the macro-
economic conditions conducive to rapid growth and improved income
itA Ldistribution, inevitably some nations and groups within them will re-
main poor for a generation or more. For these households, significant improve-
The World Bank Research Observer, vol. 8, no. 2 (July 1993), pp. 119-41
© 1993 The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/THE WORLD BANK 119
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ments in welfare may come from innovations that allow some of their principal
daily needs to be met in a less costly way. Improved access to clean water, bet-
ter waste disposal, and more efficient cooking stoves have received particular
attention in this regard. The discussion of stove improvement that follows
highlights several problems relevant for all such efforts, especially the impor-
tance of responding to the specificity of local circumstances.
For the poorer half of humanity who must rely for their basic energy
needs on biomass fuels-wood and charcoal when these are available;
straw crop residues, and the like when firewood is scarce-the efficiency of
fuel use is of considerable importance. Most traditional biomass stoves are not
very efficient for heat transfer; in fact, in controlled tests they have been found
to use up to six or seven times more energy than nonbiomass stoves (Openshaw
1979). In a study of forty-five urban areas in developing countries, Barnes and
Qian (1992) found that one-third of all household energy expenditures was on
fuelwood or charcoal and that energy expenditures accounted for about one-
tenth of all household expenditures. The urban poor sometimes spend as much
as one-fifth of their cash income on energy, more than half of it on biomass
fuels; for the rural populace, the time and effort needed to collect fuel exacts
significant costs, and hundreds of millions of them now have to rely on biomass
fuels even less desirable than wood (Scurlock and Hall 1990). These are the
people along with those of the urban middle class that use woodfuels-for
whom programs to improve cooking stoves are primarily intended.
Fuel savings can reduce cash outlays for purchasing wood or charcoal,
shorten collection times, alleviate local pressure on wood resources, and dimin-
ish air pollution. So why have so many people decided not to buy or use im-
proved stoves when given the opportunity? Worldwide, hundreds of stove
programs have been implemented; some prospered, but a great many floun-
dered. Could they be better organized and targeted to benefit enough people
to warrant further investment?
The research summarized in this article attempted to answer these questions.
International experience with stove improvement and dissemination was re-
viewed to investigate what common characteristics might distinguish the suc-
cessful from the failed programs.1The findings confirm that scarcity and
costliness of the fuels are more effective inducements for using the improved
stoves than subsidies, which may help disseminate the stoves but do not nec-
essarily guarantee that they will be used.
The Benefits of Improved Stoves
Two classes of benefits are at the core of most programs to improve stoves:
those internal to the household-money and time saved on acquiring fuel, re-
duced smoke in the home, and various conveniences in use and those external
to households-principally, diminished pressure on forest and energy resources
120 The World Bank Research Observer, vol. 8, no. 2 (July 1993)
and reduced greenhouse gases. The main direct beneficiaries of the programs
are women and people in the middle- and lower-income levels of society
Benefits Internal to Households
Household decisionmakers should favor adoption of improved stoves if the
benefits to the household exceed the costs of the stoves, assuming that the ben-
efits are fully recognized and that the interests of all household members taken
together are considered by those who decide. Prominent among benefits inter-
nal to the household are financial gains from direct cash savings to the family
and from the freeing of time to earn cash income, particularly in the case of
In Niamey, Niger, the typical amount of wood used in a traditional stove is
0.7 kilogram per person per day; with an improved stove the amount declines
to about 0.4 kilogram. The total family savings for a year are about 335 kilo-
grams of wood, valued at just over $15 per year (World Bank/UNDP 1991a).
In Rwanda a family that adopts improved charcoal stoves saves about 394 ki-
lograms of charcoal worth $84, while reducing daily consumption from 0.5 to
0.3 kilogram per person. Both in Niger and Rwanda, fuel savings were esti-
mated in the laboratory and verified in practice through surveys. Similar,
though not as thorough, tests in Kenya indicated an average decline in daily
charcoal consumption from 0.7 kilogram to 0.4 kilogram per person with an
improved stove (Jones 1989), adding up to a total yearly saving of 613 kilo-
grams per family, with a value of about $65. Such savings are substantial for
families in these countries where average incomes per person range from just
$300 to $370 per year. Since changes in cooking behavior were not measured,
these numbers from the field encompass two effects-a possible decline in fuel
consumption for a fixed level of cooking services along with a possible increase
in cooking services.
In rural areas where most people collect fuelwood, more efficient stoves
might significantly reduce the time spent in collection-an advantage particu-
larly for women, who do most of the collecting. A survey in the hill areas of
Nepal estimated that women spend about 2.5 hours a day collecting fuelwood,
fodder, and grass (Kumar and Hotchkiss 1988) and even more in deforested
areas, where the collection time increased to 3.6 hours a day, while time spent
on farming decreased by about 1 hour a day. As a consequence, women work
longer and labor is drawn away from agriculture.
As well as saving money and collection time, improved stoves can have other
less quantifiable but nonetheless important attractions for households (see
Jones 1989: 39-41), among them reduced cooking and tending time (from high-
er power output and thermal efficiency) and increased convenience (many have
mechanisms to control the power output, spare parts for quick repairs, a han-
dle for carrying, and sometimes two burners). They are often more attractive
Douglas F. Barnes, Keith Openshaw,
Kirk R. Smith, and Robert van der Plas 121
than traditional stoves and may be considered a status symbol as well as a bet-
ter cooking device. They can also reduce smoke inside the house, with advan-
tages for health and cleanliness.
Most biomass fuels release large amounts of air pollutants-respirable par-
ticulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, and hundreds of
other simple and complex hydrocarbons-when burned in simple household
stoves. In many parts of the world, these pollutants are released from stoves
in unventilated or partially unventilated conditions. Studies in recent years (see
Ramakrishna, Durgaprasad, and Smith, 1989; Smith 1991a) have associated
health problems with such smoke exposure. For instance, a study of 500 chil-
dren under five years in the Gambia (Armstrong and Campbell 1991) found
that the risk of acute respiratory illness was six times higher for children who
were carried on their mothers' backs as they cooked in smoky huts than for
other children, and substantially higher than the risk from parental smoking.
At present these findings on health are only suggestive; more research is
needed to provide quantitative estimates of how much health would be im-
proved by smoke abatement. But accumulating scientific evidence supports the
numerous anecdotal accounts that relate high biomass smoke levels to impor-
tant health effects. As well as causing respiratory diseases, exposure to cooking
smoke seems to affect eyes and to cause difficulties for newborns. Improved
stoves with chimneys or other means to reduce smoke may make an important
contribution to a safer and healthier environment-particularly for women and
children (see Smith 1987, 1991a for a review).
If wood-fired cooking is made less expensive or in other ways more desirable,
people may use their stoves more frequently-as has been observed in Sri Lanka
(Bialy 1991a)-or revert to biomass from nonbiomass fuels-as happened in
Kenya, where some households switched back to charcoal when efficient char-
coal stoves were introduced (Jones 1989: 42). For the individual household, this
expansion of fuel options is perceived as a net benefit, even though it is obvi-
ously realized at the expense of some fuel saving. (Outside the household, by
contrast, the result will be to diminish the potential energy and resource-con-
serving benefits of the stoves; this point is discussed further in the next section.)
Benefits External to the Household
The other benefits of improved stoves are almost all realized by individuals
outside the household that use the stove. The household members therefore
have no direct interest in considering these benefits when deciding whether to
adopt an improved stove (Foley and Moss 1983). These external benefits-to
the local community, the economy as a whole, and the environment-can also
be quite significant and include the mitigation of deforestation and greenhouse
Preventing (or at least slowing) deforestation has been seen as a solid benefit
to be derived from programs to make stoves more efficient and thus reduce
122 The World Bank Research Observer, vol. 8, no. 2 (July 1993)
demand for wood. The pressure on wood resources for fuel, although not itself
generally the principal cause, has added considerable momentum to deforesta-
tion (Anderson and Fishwick 1985; Barnes 1990; Hammer 1977; Gorse and
1987; Hosier and Dowd 1987; Myers 1980;
Repetto and Holmes 1983).
Furthermore, as the resource is depleted and woodfuel becomes increasingly
difficult to gather, people turn to crop residues and dung for fuel, with the re-
sult that these are no longer being returned to the soil-an added reason for
programs that would lessen the pressure on wood resources.
The deforestation problem is more severe in some places than in others, a
consideration that should have significant implications for the location of stove
programs. It is in regions where existing patterns of biomass use are unsustain-
able-and such areas exist in most countries (Bajracharya 1983)-that in-
creased efficiency of fuel use might be a promising route to restoring supplies
to sustainable levels.
More recently, concern has been growing about the effect of changes in en-
ergy supply on greenhouse gas emissions and their repercussions for global
warming (Smith 1991b; Floor and van der Plas 1992). From the point of view
of greenhouse effects, the contribution improved stoves can make to increasing
the efficiency of combustion while promoting sustainable biomass harvesting
could be a decided benefit. As well as lessening the pressure on biomass re-
sources, improved stoves reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmo-
sphere. Also important (and less well known), they can reduce emissions of
products of incomplete combustion (PIC), which can be released in large
amounts by traditional biomass stoves with low combustion efficiencies. Most
of these PIC gases are also greenhouse gases with even higher potential for glo-
bal warming than carbon dioxide.
Of course, if households use the improved stoves more than their old ones,
their consumption of fuel will not fall in proportion to the increase in stove
efficiency. Households will perceive this additional consumption of fuel as a
benefit (as mentioned in the preceding section), but the effect on forest cover
and the atmosphere may not be as positive as expected, even if the stoves have
been designed to reduce emissions. In this situation, alternative incentives to
reduce pollution would be preferable to the introduction of improved stoves.
Lessons from Stove Programs
Stoves have been developed and marketed for centuries without the inter-
vention of governments and donors. With increasing urbanization, efficiency
of woodfuel use became a more important element in such improvements, as
woodfuel prices rose and supply zones became relatively more distant from the
market. But energy efficiency did not become a paramount consideration until
after the large rise in oil prices in the 1970s. Until then, as biomass fuels be-
came more expensive and difficult to obtain, households in many countries-
Douglas F. Barnes, Keith Opensbaw, Kirk R. Smith, and Robert van der Plas 123
for instance, the Republic of Korea and Jamaica in the 1960s-had been able
to shift from biomass to modern fuels. This shift became much harder after
the oil shocks, and around 1980 there was an upsurge of activity as govern-
ments and donors first instituted programs to make stoves more energy effi-
cient. Since then many governments and donors have helped to fund projects
or components of projects to improve stoves (see Barnes and others forthcom-
ing: appendix, for a list). The lessons from their successes and failures may
profitably be used to inform future efforts.
Expectations and Objectives
Perhaps the most common reason for failure among the early programs was
unrealistic expectations about fuel saving-first, that huge efficiency gains would
be easy to effect, and, second, that fuel saving alone would make the stoves ir-
resistible to users (for critical reviews of these early efforts, see Agarwal 1983;
Foley and Moss 1983; Manibog 1984; Baldwin and others 1985; Gill 1987; Krug-
Conventional wisdom in the early days considered traditional, "three stone,"
biomass stoves to have energy efficiencies of only 5 to 10 percent. Initial predic-
tions, "proven" in laboratory or other controlled settings, were that fairly simple
design changes could create biomass stoves with three to six times the efficiency
of the simple traditional stoves, typically 20 to 30 percent for wood and up to
35 percent for charcoal. Most people in the stove community now agree, how-
ever, that an average 50 percent reduction in fuel consumption should be con-
sidered a major achievement and that most stove programs should be content
with savings of 25 percent or even less.
This profound change in expectations of fuel savings has several causes. First,
the early predictions about fuel consumption were based too often on estimates
unsupported by scientific tests using appropriate methodologies. More consis-
tent measures of efficiency are being applied as sufficient literature on testing
guidelines becomes available. Second, it is now recognized that traditional stoves
used in fuel-scarce areas often have efficiencies substantially above 10 percent,
instead of the 5 to 10 percent efficiencies assumed in the early days. Finally, ex-
perience has shown the presumption that stoves would perform as well in house-
holds as in laboratories to be unfounded. In the meantime, despite the relatively
small amount of research and development funding available (Chomcharn and
Gujral 1991), significant progress has been made in understanding the most im-
portant technical design principles (Prasad, Sangen, and Visser 1985; Baldwin
1987; Stewart and others 1987; Nijaguna and Uppin 1989; Bussmann 1990).
The second, equally uncritical assumption of the early programs was that a
more efficient stove is superior to a traditional stove. In fact, traditional stoves
often have benefits that may explain their lack of energy efficiency, including
space heating, protection from insects provided by smoke, accommodation of
different pan sizes, and ability to use different fuels in different seasons.
124 The WorldBankResearch Observer, vol. 8,no.2 (July 1993)
Improved fuel efficiency cannot be the sole objective of a program; it must
compete and interact with other goals, such as heat control (usually a door to
modify air inflow), increased power output, smoke abatement (through the use
of a chimney in woodstoves), safety features (including insulation to cool outer
surfaces), convenience of use, and attractiveness. Obviously, too, the exercise
will be self-defeating if the cost of fuel saved over the lifetime of the stove is
outweighed by the higher costs of materials or manufacturing entailed. Im-
proved stoves have to compete with traditional stoves, which are typically made
of local or scrap material with no associated cash expenditures (Baldwin 1987);
even if local material is used, improved stoves may require machines in the man-
An example of how achieving one benefit can build in an offsetting cost is
that some of the design changes made to increase the efficiency of heat transfer
through decreasing air flow can actually increase smoke emissions (Prasad 1983).
Conversely, the addition of chimneys to reduce smoke exposure can act to re-
duce efficiency. Thus, a balance must be sought among the perceived and real
social benefits, which depend on the nature of the stove that is introduced and
the cooking customs of those who use it. In some areas the benefits may not
justify the costs.
These lessons from trial by error have substantially changed the definition of
success from that assumed in the early 1980s. Designing stoves with high fuel
efficiency turned out to be a more challenging technical goal than originally
thought (Ahuja 1990); the quantifiable goals, such as changes in fuel use, are
now more modest, and a range of qualitative indicators, such as improved con-
venience and awareness of environmental problems, have more legitimacy (Clar-
ke 1985; Caceres, Ramakrishna, and Smith 1989; Viklund 1989; Wood 1987).
Along with modified expectations and objectives, some more specific lessons
have been learned about successful implementation: principally, the importance
of identifying the market, that is, targeting the groups that will benefit most
from improved stoves; field testing and surveying to establish regional and con-
sumer needs and preferences; involving local artisans in the design, production,
and marketing of the stoves; and establishing prices that will facilitate adoption.
Selecting Suitable Markets
Many programs have failed because the target groups are not short of wood
or do not perceive shortages and thus see no reason to adopt improved stoves.
The best market for improved stoves will be found in areas, generally urban
and peri-urban, where people already buy both the fuel and the stove. Pro-
grams may also have a place in rural areas that have few remaining trees, in
areas where fuelwood has already been harvested for urban consumption, or
in very arid regions where trees grow back very slowly or where use of agri-
cultural residue for fuel decreases the soil fertility.
Douglas F. Barnes, Keith Openshaw, Kirk R. Smith, and Robert vant der Plas 125
Field Testing and Consumer Surveys
Field testing is crucial in the design process. First, it helps determine
gains in energy efficiency
will be realized in practice. The fuel savings possible
under actual field conditions usually bear little relation to those that can be
attained in a laboratory. A 10 to 20 percent efficiency
improvement in con-
trolled settings is likely to turn out to be a negligible improvement when the
stoves are used under normal household conditions, because
in construction, operation,
and maintenance tend to degrade performance. The
first Lorena-type stoves introduced into Central America, for example,
save much fuel, and most were abandoned, although some were retained be-
cause of their convenience and smoke reduction. Moreover, some initial effi-
ciency improvements may be attributable to better and more careful cooking
practices, often a result of the stove dissemination
efforts rather than the im-
proved design. It may take a 25 to S0 percent improvement
in controlled set-
tings to be sure of a substantial energy savings
in the home.
The second important reason for field testing is to arrive at a design that
will be acceptable
to the prospective consumers
and producers. Regional re-
styles of cooking in various
countries, and consumer pref-
erences predicate different stove designs. For instance,
in the Punjab in India,
people use low heat for warming, but not scalding
milk, whereas in China the
stove must be able to stir-fry food quickly. In Madagascar, the Rwandan im-
proved stove did not perform very well because the stove was suited to saving
fuel in the methods needed for cooking beans (a staple of the Rwandan diet)
but not for Malgache dishes (which depend on rice in sauce). An improved
stove design should be tried out in households early in the program and mon-
itored at the development
stage to make sure that it is acceptable to the pro-
spective consumers, especially
women who are the principal users. Over time,
the design can be modified and improved in light of the response (Hyman 1987;
Stewart and others 1987). If men are the principal buyers of equipment, they
also need to be persuaded of the money-saving advantages of the stove to them.
To help assess
consumer needs and preferences,
field tests can be supple-
mented by surveys, consumer panels, and other techniques to determine exist-
ing patterns of stove use, the most important criteria people use when
purchasing new stoves, who in the household makes the decision to purchase
a stove, and whether income and fuel savings
will provide adequate incentives
for stove adoption (Baldwin
Women already overburdened by the demands of household and informal
labor, for example, will resist a stove that takes more time to light and manage
than the old stove. A new design that introduces complicated
features or re-
quires extra work is less likely to be adopted. For this reason, stoves similar
to traditional stoves in appearance and function are sometimes
quickly by consumers. In Kenya a custom-made,
improved wood stove was un-
successful despite its greater efficiency because women did not have the time
126 The World BankResearch Observer, vol. 8, no.2 (July 1993)
or the tools to cut the wood in small pieces to fit into its physically restricted
fire box (Openshaw 1982; Jones 1989). In fact, many people who adopted the
stove ended up enlarging the fire box, gladly sacrificing some energy efficiency
in doing so. By contrast, the Kenyan Ceramic Jiko (KCJ), an improved charcoal
stove, whose design and handling were similar to the existing stove, was quick-
ly adopted (Karekezi and Walubengo 1989). An example of a design that ran
into trouble because it took insufficient account of regional differences was a
stove distributed all over Nepal, but whose design was not adapted to differ-
ences in altitude (Pandey 1991). Although the dissemination component of the
program was considered quite good, the stove was simply not technically suit-
ed to the various environments in the country.
Another illustration of the drawbacks of trying to produce a viable stove in
the laboratory without extensive field tests occurred in East Africa (Openshaw
1982, 1986). In the Umeme charcoal stove, the cooking pan sits inside an insu-
lated collar, so various sizes of stoves had to be made to fit different pan sizes.
In addition, the insulation and extended collar made the stove heavy, and be-
cause of the efficient insulation the inside metal became extremely hot and did
not last very long because of metal fatigue. This stove was promoted by the
same organization in one country after another, and failed in most of them,
mainly because of the high cost of metal work in making the stove. Another
example of the need for regional testing is the contrast between the success of
the KCJ in Kenya and its failure in other countries such as Senegal, Tanzania,
and Rwanda (as reported, among others, by Hyman 1987), until it was field
tested and redesigned to fit local preferences. In Tanzania the reason for initial
failure was that stove manufacturers started production before the stove was
adapted to local conditions.
The most acceptable design will be arrived at only if users, principally wom-
en, actively participate in the process (Cecelski 1984; Tinker 1985; Agarwal
1986; Sarin, in Joseph, Prasad, and van der Zaan 1990). Differences among
programs in the extent of user-participation have proven to be even more im-
portant than the actual differences in local conditions in explaining the level
of stove dissemination (Fraser 1987).
Involving Local Artisans
Experience has taught that the involvement of local stove makers from the
outset is vital for the success of a program. The profit motive has often proved
critical, even in China where many stoves are made in locally organized
At the design stage, an important issue is designing for ease of production:
the artisan or stove maker should have input into the design to make sure that
improved efficiency does not make the stove too complicated to produce prof-
itably. The improved Zambian charcoal stove had a straight sliding door that
took eight different pieces of metal to make, whereas a hinged door, albeit one
Douglas F. Barnes, Keith Opensbaw, Kirk R. Smith, and Robert van der Plas 127
that did not have as good air control, only had four metal pieces and was much
easier to assemble (Walubengo, Kimani, and Ndiangui 1988; World Bank
Zambia Department of Energy 1988). The ash box occupied two-thirds
of the stove when, in fact, the amount of charcoal ash is negligible; a small ash
box built on legs would have saved about one-third of the metal. This stove
was designed in the laboratory without inputs from artisans.
At the production stage, programs
have found that stoves mass-produced
a group of individual artisans or a small stove factory are adopted much faster
than custom-built models, for which artisans fabricate the entire stove in the
home. The rate of dissemination of a custom-built model, which may take one
to three days to install, depends on the number of trained installers. A metal-
smith can make many more mass-produced stoves per day, and a potter can pro-
duce clay stoves in batches of 50 to 100. Thus, 2,500 to 5,000 stoves can be made
by two or three people each year; a comparable number of custom-made stoves
would require twenty to forty trained installers. China's stove program was ini-
tially slow to take hold because of delays associated with custom building.
Another objection to home-built stoves is that the quality control necessary
to achieve reliable fuel savings is difficult to maintain. This is certainly true for
stoves built by the householders themselves and is even likely to be so when
trained installers are used. Small changes in the stove dimensions, for example,
can lead to big drops in efficiency. As a result, most owner-built stove pro-
grams in the world, including the two largest in China and India, are moving
toward centralized, artisan production for the interior parts of the stove, usu-
ally made of ceramic or metal, where dimensions are most critical (Qiu, Gu,
and Huang 1990; Ramakrishna 1991a; Tata Energy Research Institute 1987;
Joshi, Sadaphal, and Ramchandra 1989; Operations Research Group 1989). In-
stallers and householders, however, still have an important role in building the
rest of the stove around these critical parts.
As for the marketing stage, sales are likely to be higher if artisans have a
direct stake in sales than if they are given orders to produce a given quantity
without being involved in the selling or distribution. For example, in many
countries artisans demonstrate the stoves as a way to market them. An illus-
tration of this point is the contrast between the successful program in Tanza-
nia, where the stove makers were involved in the sale of stoves (Kinyanjui
1991) and the effort in Botswana, where the government paid stove producers
on a piece rate basis and, as a result, is now having to store many of the stoves
that were produced (Openshaw 1986).
Pricing to Encourage Adoption
The price of new stoves can be a significant barrier to adoption. Improved
woodfuel stoves are typically about twice as expensive as the local traditional
stoves and, although in the long run an improved stove should save money on
fuel, people may be unable to afford the initial cash outlay for buying it. By
128 The World BankResearch Observer, vol. 8, no. 2 (July 1993)
Table 1. Costs of Traditional and Improved Stoves for an Average Urban Family
in Rwanda, 1991
Present value Imbabur Rondereza of improved
of costs traditional stove improved stoves
Cost of two stoves 10 12 -1
Cost of fuel 332 217 116
Total cost 342 228 115
Source: World Bank (1991b).
the same token, improved stoves should be as durable as traditional stoves,
with replacement parts such as grates readily available and inexpensive. In
most of Africa, surveys suggest that middle-income families have adopted im-
proved stoves much more quickly than poor families (Jones 1989). This is one
area in which governments and donors could assist, but heavily subsidizing
stoves is generally a risky way to promote them: people will accept even a
badly built stove if it is free. To be attractive to low-income households, im-
proved stoves must have a quick payback period.
In urban Rwanda, where the price of charcoal is quite high, the payback
period for improved stoves as derived from user surveys is less than one month
(table 1). With the incremental investment of $1.48 for improved rather than
traditional stoves, a family saves $114 over eighteen months. These figures are
for the present value of the investment and savings, using a discount rate of 12
percent. The figures presented in table 1 are based on surveys of stoves under
actual use by families in urban areas. A traditional stove in Rwanda lasts about
nine months, and an improved stove lasts about eighteen months with some
maintenance. The cost savings were calculated over eighteen months, or the
useful life of one improved stove. Because most urban families in Rwanda use
two stoves, the calculation for both the improved and traditional stoves is
based on two stoves.
Because of the KCJ's success in Kenya and because a manufacturer in
Rwanda was already producing it, the KCJ was included in the first round of
household testing. But households overwhelmingly selected a different model,
although its fuel savings were only slightly higher, because of its price, porta-
bility, and power output characteristics. This model, the Rondereza, was sub-
sequently disseminated after some minor modifications based on responses
during a second round of household tests. Again, the reintroduced KCJ fared
better in Tanzania the second time around. This was because full-time staff
were employed, dedicated to commercial stove production. They learned from
previous mistakes by first field testing and then modifying the improved stove.
The "Jiko Bora" is now a considerable commercial success in the capital,
Douglas F. Barnes, Keith Openshaw, Kirk R. Smith, and Robert van der Plas 129
Dar-es-Salaam, and is spreading to other urban areas (Tanzania, Ministry of
Water, Energy, and Minerals 1992).
Intervention: The Role of Governments, Donors,
and Nongovernmental Organizations
Stove programs have not received a great deal of money from donors or gov-
ernments. The response to a global survey of various stove programs outside
of India and China indicated that the total amount spent on 137 programs was
about $20 million spread over five years (Ramakrishna 1991b). Even the huge
Chinese program, with 120 million improved stoves, and the greatly subsidized
Indian program, with 8 million stoves, have not spent large amounts by most
standards. Program costs per stove in use run from less than $2 for the Chinese
program to a somewhat higher cost for the average non-Chinese program re-
sponding to the global survey-for example, just over $4 a stove in India.
From an institutional point of view, the most successful programs are those
in which the government was not involved in producing or selling the im-
proved stove. China and India, which have the largest stove programs by far,
illustrate this point dramatically (table 2). Between 1982 and 1990 the Chinese
National Improved Stoves Program reported the installation of improved
stoves in more than 120 million rural households. These were mainly biomass
stoves for cooking, but included dual-use stoves for cooking and heating in the
northern states where temperatures are very low during winter. Perhaps as
many as 90 percent of all the improved stoves installed worldwide were in-
stalled in China. Improved stoves are quite affordable-about $9-and the
government contribution-an average of $0.84 per stove-is very low com-
pared with some other programs. After some initial problems, the benefits of
recent improved stove programs in China have been substantial. Although the
results are not conclusive, a recent study (World Bank 1993) of energy use in
six different counties in China found that the counties with a very large num-
ber of stoves used substantially less energy than the others.
The Indian National Programme on Improved Chulhas was initiated in
1983. So far, about 8 million improved stoves have been disseminated to rural
households, and the target for 1992 was 1.8 million. The stoves have a mini-
mum 50 percent government subsidy, or about $4.30 a stove. Dissemination
levels have been impressive, but follow-up surveys indicate that only about half
the improved stoves are still in use. This adoption rate reflects contradictory
opinions in responses to the surveys about whether the stoves did indeed save
energy and reduce smoke and whether they were compatible with cooking hab-
its. Obviously, such mixed perceptions indicate that there must be a wide di-
versity of results in implementation of the program. The attempt to apply the
same program throughout India has resulted in too thin a spread of efforts in
some regions, and inappropriate strategies in others.
130 The WorldBank Research Observer, vol. 8, no. 2 (July 1993)
Table 2. A Comparison of Stove Programs in China and India
* The program concentrated efforts on * The program was implemented
areas of greatest need and selected pilot countrywide, resulting in dispersed effort
counties with biomass fuel deficits. and watered down financial
* Direct contracts between the central * Administration is cumbersome,
government and the county cut out much from the center to six regional offices, to
bureaucracy. This arrangement generated the state, to the district, and finally to the
self-sustaining rural energy taluka, where the stove program is just
manufacturing and service companies one among many national programs
that installed and serviced stoves and being implemented locally by the same
provided other energy technologies. people.
* Local rural energy offices are in charge of * Monitoring was a real weakness in early
technical training, service, programs, where the responsibility fell on
implementation, and monitoring for the local officials with many other
Recently, actions have
* Recent improved stoves are not only been taken to correct this problem.
suitable for fuel savings, but have been Many attempts have been made to
designed for convenience and integrate efficiency and convenience, but
attractiveness, unlike in early programs they have suffered from the top-down
that mainly stressed fuel savings. structure of the program.
* Stove users pay the full cost of materials * Stove users pay for about half of the cost
and labor. The government helps of stoves, while the government pays the
producers through stove construction rest. The producer's incentive to
training, administration, and promotion construct stoves is, therefore, oriented
support. toward the government.
Source: This table was developed from papers by Smith, Gu, and Qiu(forthcoming) and Ramakrishna
Central planning and reliance on numerous layers of bureaucracy have hin-
dered many programs in India (Ramakrishna 1991a), whereas in China small
government inputs concentrated on providing vital technical and management
support to local stove producers have proved much more successful (Smith,
Gu, and Qiu forthcoming). The lesson seems to be that the primary goal of a
program should be to promote self-sustained dissemination of improved
stoves, using existing commercial distribution and retail marketing channels
where possible. India, learning from its experience, has been modifying its pro-
The discussion of stove development and diffusion in the preceding sections
provides the background for an analysis of the role of government in these
programs. One classic way for governments to promote economic efficiency is
to gather and disseminate information; another is to modify incentives so that
individuals take into account the external consequences of their decisions. Gov-
Douglas F. Barnes, Keith Openshaw, Kirk R. Smith, and Robert van der Plas 131
ernments may also want to address economic equity as well as efficiency,
providing resources to its poorest citizens.
Governments and donors can provide stove makers or stove sellers with
technical and managerial assistance, including support for applied research and
testing of clay and insulation materials. Authorities also can monitor imple-
mentation, through surveys of the effects of fuelwood consumption and tests
of stove quality.
3In China and India both governments
provided extensive ap-
plied research on stoves and stove-making materials. In Rwanda the govern-
ment helps publicize stove programs and is preparing a household energy
sector policy that will include
criteria for stoves that may be sold (World Bank/
UNDP 1991b). In Nepal, by contrast, a big obstacle has been the sparseness of
resources available for technical assistance (Shrestha, Gorkhali, and Smith
International donors can serve an important purpose by facilitating the ex-
change of information on technical and managerial issues. A common com-
plaint about past donor assistance, for example, has been that surveys and
other research done in the context of a particular stove program have never
been put into a form that makes the information easily
available and useful for
other programs. This has resulted in the frustrating paradox that senior man-
agers of donor organizations feel that they have already funded enough re-
program managers and stove
designers often feel a strong and
realistic need for more field testing and data gathering. Every donor-assisted
program should include the extra funds and staff to collect and publish survey
information in a timely and accessible manner.
Governments may also intervene beneficially by an initial subsidy to the sale
of the stoves. The rationale is again one of providing information. It may be
that consumers need to see the stoves
in day-to-day use before they will be per-
suaded of their effectiveness.
Given the problems with some
of these programs
in moving from laboratory to field, such skepticism would seem amply justi-
fied. By making the stoves available initially at subsidized prices, consumers
can gain information through their own first-time use, and especially by learn-
ing about the experiences
of their neighbors, who may have been targeted by
the program as pioneer recipients
of subsidized stoves. Of course, this assumes
that the stove has already been thoroughly tested and is superior to existing
This rationale for subsidization
loses its force once consumers
ed with the stoves. In this case, stove
programs are obliged to plot out a course
that leads to eventual self-reliance (Jones 1988). Indeed, as the global survey
a practical definition
to be the extent to which people actually buy their second improved stove
This action seems unlikely to be greatly influenced by
factors other than the household's judgment of the stove's relative costs and
132 The World Bank Research Observer, vol. 8, no. 2 (July 1993)
These are a few examples of ways that governments and donors can support
stove programs, without resorting to continuing subsidization of the sale of
stoves themselves. Previous programs indicate, however, that although this sup-
port can be at modest levels, the effort must be sustained over a long period (at
least five years and probably more) to reap the maximum benefit from the fi-
nancing. It took more than twenty-five years after the now-traditional charcoal
stove in Kenya was introduced by railway workers from India for it to achieve
dominance-purely through market forces without any intervention. The con-
clusion is that the form of organization may not be as important as the long-
term commitment of funds in an integrated way, as opposed to short-term bursts
of aid from many different donors that have characterized many programs.
If benefits internal to the households are the only benefits, then the rationale
for subsidizing the purchase of stoves on a continuing basis is limited to equity
considerations. Providing subsidized stoves to poorer consumers may be an
effective way to redistribute resources to them because the benefits may be
large and because the acquisition of the stoves, even at subsidized prices, is un-
likely to be attractive to better-off consumers.
If, however, improved stoves are an effective way to garner benefits external
to the household, then there is an additional rationale for continuing to subsi-
dize the purchase of improved stoves. The size of the subsidy should reflect the
size of these benefits, which the household would not otherwise consider in its
In almost every case, programs initially offering stoves at no cost have found
that use and maintenance rates were unacceptably low, although some pro-
grams, for example in parts of India, have been able to reach significant num-
bers of poor people with nearly free stoves. As a result, less than 10 percent of
programs now offer full subsidies (Ramakrishna 1991b). The low adoption
rate for free stoves cannot be fully accounted for by the observation that people
do not highly value things that are given to them. There is clearly more to be
learned about this difficult problem. Part of the answer is that the groups in
question often have other much more pressing priorities than improved
stoves-such as obtaining cash for buying food and fuel every day-that any
stove program might have to consider to be successful. Stove programs need
to heed the important lessons that have been learned elsewhere-for example,
about the advantages of professional production of critical components, the
need for quality control of stove production, and the basic requirement of hav-
ing incentives for producers to maintain their production. Even then it may be
difficult through market forces to reach local people who do not have enough
cash resources and who suffer from having to spend a significant amount of
time collecting fuel.
The issues of which are the best conditions for stove promotion and adop-
tion, and whether subsidies are necessary for reducing the cost of stoves for
users, are illustrated in table 3. It should be understood that donor support is
needed for programs in all sections of the table for training, dissemination of
Douglas F. Barnes, Keith Openshaw, Kirk R. Smith, and Robert van der Plas 133
Table 3. Conditions Favorable and Unfavorable for Stove Adoption
Source of stove Fuel gathered Fuel purchased
Constructed by family * Most unfavorable area for * Somewhat favorable area for
stove adoption unless fuel stove adoption.
deficit is perceived. * Offer incentives or partial
* Subsidies for stove purchase subsidies.
may be necessary. * Fuel price should reflect full
* Long-term effort and value of biomass resources.
extended external * Assess potential for fuel
involvement is necessary. substitution.
Favorable short-term results
should not be expected.
Purchased * Somewhat favorable for * Most favorable area for
stove adoption. stove adoption.
* Encourage conservation of * Commercialization of
biofuels through education improved stove should be
about environmental possible.
benefits. * No subsidies should be
* Determine alternative uses considered for stoves or fuel.
of biofuel resources. * Assess potential for fuel
Source: Smith and Ramakrishna (1991); see also Karekezi and Walubengo (1989) and Fraser (1987).
information, and assistance with testing. What distinguishes the sections from
each other is the degree to which direct subsidies for stove purchase will be
useful. The situation in which the stove is constructed by the family and the
fuel is gathered is the most likely to require a subsidy to encourage stove adop-
tion. By contrast, the situation in which the stove and the fuel are purchased
is least likely to require a subsidy.
A final issue in the discussion of interventions is the role of nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs). Stove programs are generally not expensive, and many
have consequently turned to NGOs to implement small projects. The advantages
of these organizations are that they are not dominated by large bureaucracies,
are quick to react to problems, are committed to energy conservation, and are
sympathetic to the main users of wood or charcoal, including rural women and
the urban poor and middle class. But these strengths have brought some prob-
lems. In Nepal, for instance, the involvement of as many as seven different in-
stitutions has fragmented the effort; over a nine-year period, about eighteen
different projects were involved in stove dissemination, a problem now being
134 The WorldBank Research Observer, vol. 8, no. 2 (July 1993)
remedied through closer coordination among agencies (Shrestha, Gorkhali, and
Smith 1991). In India, by contrast, where NGO involvement has mostly been
confined to small, local programs, they have had many successes. In China the
stove program has functioned well without any NGOs.
Finally, in Kenya, a ru-
ral, NGO-run woodstove program became successful in forging close links with
an existing government extension network of home economists (Klingshirn,
Crewe, and Karekezi 1991.
The estimate of current worldwide trade in woodfuel is on the order of
$7 billion annually, and about 2 million people are involved in full-time
employment in woodfuel production and marketing (for a discussion of the
value of traditional fuel production, see Peskin, Floor, and Barnes 1991). Al-
though in the long term, people will probably switch to cooking with modern
fuels, such as gas and electricity, hundreds of millions will be using biomass,
and biomass stoves, for many years to come.
But not all of these people can or should be reached with improved stove
programs. Some are better encouraged to move up the energy ladder to more
modern fuels. Others may not be subjected to fuel shortages or high indoor
smoke levels. To decide whether an improved stove program is a good idea in
a particular area, we return to the two main questions from the introduction.
First, are the potential economic, social, and environmental benefits sufficient
to be worth pursuing? Second, given the problems encountered in the past, can
viable strategies for adoption be designed for implementation in this area?
This review found that the potential benefits of stove programs are consid-
erable. This is so even though fuel savings are less than once thought, because
of the other benefits that come with the package. For example, rough estimates
(World Bank 1991b) of the economic value of the environmental and health
benefits of improved stoves typically show potential savings for each stove that
annually surpass the stove's initial cost several times over, a payback to society
in only a few months for most stove programs of any duration, even at modest
rates of acceptance and use. In Rwanda, the cost of the program was $320,000
over three years, and the estimated savings per year thereafter, excluding envi-
ronmental benefits, were $895,000.
Given the problems encountered in many stove programs, the second ques-
tion is harder to answer. The programs need to solve problems encountered in
the past of coordinating different goals in the context of differing regional con-
straints, needs, and aspirations-in other words, the programs need to under-
stand the role of the improved stove in the energy transition. In a sense, the
improved biomass stove can be considered a new rung in the energy ladder,
inserted to fill the quite substantial gap between the use of traditional stoves
and the adoption of modern fuels.
Douglas F. Barnes, Keith Openshaw, Kirk R. Smith, and Robert van der Plas 135
In answering this second question it may be helpful to put the stove pro-
grams in perspective. Most of the major investment in stove programs has
come from individual countries without much involvement of donors. The two
largest programs in the world are in China and India, where essentially all the
investments have been generated internally. The participation of donors in
stove programs in other countries has been significant but modest, with fund-
ing spread over many programs. Because of the fragmented nature of these ef-
forts, there has been little ability to learn from mistakes. In fact, a review of
many of the project documents indicates a tendency to reinvent the wheel. Al-
though this results partly from the many different institutional and country set-
tings, it also is a result of the lack of cooperation and communication among
The programs that have been successful in disseminating a significant num-
ber of stoves that are frequently used by a majority of adopting households
have shared several characteristics.
* The programs have concentrated on users who would most likely benefit
from, and consequently adopt, the improved stove-generally (but not al-
ways) those who purchase biomass fuels or have difficulty in collecting
their fuels, and usually not the very poorest groups in society, but those
who are spending a substantial portion of their limited cash income on
* The stove itself is not heavily subsidized, certainly not after the initial test-
ing phases. This ensures that the program can be self-sustaining without
extensive government support and that people are willing to pay for the
benefits of the improved stove.
* External support, not large but sustained, is limited to factors that support
the production and distribution of stoves, such as design, laboratory testing,
consumer surveys, information access, publicity campaigns, and perhaps
* The programs are characterized by a significant interaction between design-
ers, producers, and users. This interaction can be fostered in several differ-
ent ways, including formal surveys, focus groups to identify problems and
prospects for a particular stove design, and actual household testing of
* Programs rely on commercial production of the stoves or stove parts, either
by small-scale informal sector artisans or more formal sector entrepreneurs,
rather than producing custom-built stoves.
* Recognizing that stoves that are not valued very highly by the consumers
are not purchased, the programs have put pressure on the stove producers
and designers to meet the needs of consumers for efficient and useful stoves.
A wide range of agencies have run successful programs. Given the variety
of conditions within individual countries, it is hard to generalize that one
form of project or program organization is better than another. Although
136 The WorldBank Research Observer, vol. 8, no. 2 (July 1993)
governments tend to be bureaucratic and cumbersome and often do not under-
stand market dynamics, they have managed several successful programs. By
contrast, NGOs may be more flexible, more committed, and closer to the users,
but their projects have often suffered from short-term bursts of money and
support, with little long-term direction. The lesson to be learned from these
examples is that programs can be successfully implemented in a variety of in-
stitutional settings, if they are carefully chosen to reflect actual conditions of
potential users and of actors in the production and marketing chain of tradi-
The modern improved stove can be an important bridge for the millions of
people who either do not have access to low-cost, readily available biomass
from local woodlands or are unable to afford the higher-cost, more expensive
modern fuels. To perform that function, stove programs must identify the
groups that can benefit most from improved stoves and determine if it is tech-
nologically feasible to design and produce a stove that is both efficient and
meets their cooking needs. The social, economic, and environmental benefits
of promoting improved stoves under the right circumstances are quite large,
and the existing successes demonstrate the usefulness of well-managed
Douglas Barnes and Robert van der Plas are on the staff of the Industry and Energy Depart-
ment of the World Bank, Keith Openshaw is a consultant in that department, and Kirk R. Smith
is on the staff of the East-West Center and is affiliate professor at the University of Hawaii. The
authors are listed in alphabetical order, and all contributed equally to this article. For their use-
ful comments, the authors wish to thank Anthony Churchill, Willem Floor, Joseph Gilling,
Robert Saunders, Gunter Schramm, Ernesto Terrado, and Maurizia Tovo at the World Bank.
We would especially like to thank Eric Hyman for the insights that improved the final version
of this paper. Most of the ideas presented here are based on material from a project to evaluate
improved stoves conducted by Kirk Smith at the East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii, as well
as the staff of the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP). This project was
funded by the United Nations Development Programme, managed by ESMAP, and contracted to
the East-West Center.
1. Topics reviewed included the importance of stoves for people in developing countries,
progress and problems encountered in stove programs, experience from field trips to review pro-
grams in many developing countries, a survey of 137 programs worldwide, and four in-depth
2. Dollars ($) are U.S. dollars throughout.
3. During the period of the study reported here, two other international groups have been
trying to improve monitoring and evaluation. The Food and Agriculture Organization has spon-
sored the development of guidelines (Joseph 1990; Joseph, Prasad, and van der Zaan 1990),
which have been reviewed and may be revised. With funding from the German government, the
Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit and the Intermediate Technology Development
Group have undertaken to draft guidelines (Crewe 1991) and test them within ongoing stove
programs in developing countries (Klingshirn, Crewe, and Karekezi 1991). These guidelines are
to be tailored to specific economic, social, and environmental objectives, so that each stove pro-
gram can choose a mix of objectives to suit its needs.
Douglas F. Barnes, Keith Openshaw, Kirk R. Smith, and Robert van der Plas 137
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