And other lessons being learned in the stove project. We are in the monitoring and evaluation phase doing a final round of surveys to try to quantify fuel savings after a few months with the efficient wood-burning stoves. Since the families typically only buy wood once or twice a year, we switched to measuring wood usage for cooking instead of purchased wood quantities. So, for each category of wood usage (like tortillas, regular meals, water for bathing) I’m on and off the scale with an armload of wood. It was much harder last time with the measurements for the traditional wood stoves because those were some large armloads of wood. I haven’t crunched the numbers yet, but I’m sure the wood savings are going to be significant.

It also seems like most of the women are actually using their stoves. In the first community out of the three, only one appears to be installed incorrectly – generating a lot of smoke like this:

Whereas, a properly installed and maintained stove produces no smoke, like this fine example:

And the tortillas straight off the stove were amazingly delicious. Chicken in the corner agrees. The stove does keep the kitchen nice and warm. Also good for jamming out some reps while listening to some rockin’ tunes. 

The smoky stove can be fixed. The problem is probably how the internal combustion chamber was installed, so it just needs to be opened up and tinkered with.

The main issue we’ve come to see with the stoves is that they are not large enough for all the women’s needs. For the large families, they make such a quantity of tortillas at one time that they need a larger surface to make the tortillas efficiently and to cook the nixtamal, which is a step before the tortillas are made when the corn is soaked and cooked. See the huge pot on the right. That is a good example of the size we are dealing with for the nixtamal. The clay pot on the back stove is about the largest size that can be used on the efficient cookstove.

So, many families are still using their old wood-burning stoves for the nixtamal and tortillas and the new stoves for everything else. I’m hopeful that new stoves will be used going forward, and are therefore a part of the larger solution in this project for sustainable livelihoods and food security. There is no one perfect fix, but the reduction in smoke and wood usage with the new stoves is great to see, and I’m looking forward to having the numbers quantified and infographicized. Of course, that is all my work to do, so I’m also not looking forward to the data entry.

3 Responses

  1. Hi Karen,

    Perhaps you are already familiar with this product: Rocket Stove, which has been designed for third world use and production. Several years ago there was a terrific article about it in New Yorker. Delivering women from smokey kitchens is a huge contribution to world health! (I will attempt to post this as a comment. Sometimes that doesn’t work too well on some sites, so I’m also sending it along by email.)

    I can already see that their round metal stove would not immediately appear to gain more surface area; but perhaps it would be suitable for the nixmatl pot. ~eric.

  2. Yes, we face an interesting twist for the efficient cookstove community here in Mexico. Many of the stoves have been designed in Africa or other parts of Latin America where there is no tortilla issue. I’ve been evaluating other stoves options, and always interested to get pointed to other options. I think I have taken a look at the Rocket Stove before, and you hit the main issue about the surface area.

    For a larger distribution of stoves in these communities, I think I’m leaning towards Patsari stoves. They would be more economical and a better configuration, but perhaps at the loss of some efficiency. However, using versus not using the stoves is the efficiency measurement we really face.

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