The Institutional Stove Project of Aprovecho Research Center is moving rapidly to fill the need for institutional size stoves in the developing world. This blog is devoted to charting our events and progress.

Monday, November 28, 2011

News From Darfur: November 24th, Thanksgiving Day, 2011

by Fred Colgan

There are three Darfur political regions – Northern, Southern and Western – covering an immense tract of land and containing a very complex political and social situation. For the moment, there’s relative stability after years of horrendous conflict. The landscape is very harsh, reminiscent of the deserts of Nevada and Arizona. Competition for scarce resources is intense and the recent conflicts have turned a large percentage of the population into nomads.  Firewood gathering is a major occupation, since most people prepare their meals on three-stone fires.  A large brickmaking industry, which fires brick kilns with wood, places additional demands on firewood supplies.

                                                     Firewood market in El Fasher

We arrived Monday in El Fasher, the capital of Northern Darfur. We will be here one week working with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to arrange for the installation of 100 of our stoves. Next week we travel to Nyala, the capital of Southern Darfur, where we will repeat the exercise with 100 stoves for that region. All 200 stoves will be placed in school feeding programs associated with IDP (internally displaced persons) camps.

We are staying at a very secure WFP residential compound, with a wonderful group of people all dedicated to the work of serving the poor. We have a private room that is modest but surprisingly well put together, the compound is quite pleasant, and everybody here is incredibly friendly. The atmosphere feels like family. Truly an international community – I’ve met people here from eight or so African countries plus Australia, India, Canada, and Singapore. Most are WFP personnel, but some are contractors like me. 

Yesterday we assembled the first container of stoves and set them up for use. There were some repairs to be made, given that the container journey from Cottage Grove was six long months, the roads are not great, and the handling of the stoves on this end can be a little rough. One guy in the WFP warehouse told me “We didn’t know what these things were, and weren’t sure exactly what we were handling.”  Stoves will be distributed to schools starting next week along with food allotments, some of which will be traveling many days by truck.
                                                     Our stoves in UN warehouse in El Fasher

The heart of our consultancy here is training cooks in the use of 60 Liter Stoves. The success or failure of new cooking technologies hinges on the acceptance by the cooks. If they don’t love the stoves, they will not be used.

WFP has been making huge numbers of improved stoves in Darfur – 154,000 to date – for family use. The stove design they are using here is a hybrid sunken-pot model, made of clay with an iron grate. Individuals bring their own pots and come build a stove to fit that particular pot at a cost of about one dollar. Fuel savings (estimated at above 60%) pay for these stoves very quickly, and since the women make their own stoves, when the first one breaks or wears out (usually about a year), they can make a replacement easily. In this culture, WFP as part of the UN-sponsored “SAFE Initiative” is encouraging families to move away from firewood gathering as their principal economic activity, and return to their traditional ways of farming and animal husbandry. WFP is also initiating a large briquette-making operation, and building biogas systems in some schools. The work of Amit Singh, my WFP friend and new hero, is hugely visionary and showing spectacular results.

Yesterday we began classes teaching 180 cooks improved stove principles and the basics of 60 Liter Stove operation.  Today we conducted the first of two days of cooking demonstrations in a school with 197 participants and five stoves. These training groups are made up of cooks and UN “school feeding program focal point people.”  The focal point people will be introducing the stoves in rural schools. We prepared similar meals on our stove side-by-side with three stone fires to give visual demonstration of fuel savings. It was quite a challenge to use only five stoves with such a large group of trainees – picture, if you will, a “five-ring circus”! We will continue this hands-on training with the same group tomorrow.
                                    Class in Darfur

The results of today’s tests varied from 60-75% fuel savings. This was the first trial of the stoves, and we are only beginning to teach basic operations of our stove, focusing especially on fuel management. It is counter-intuitive for the cooks to use tiny amounts of wood, particularly after boiling has been achieved. We can extrapolate from results today that with practice, Darfur cooks will achieve fuel savings more consistent with our past experience, ranging from 75-90%.
                                    Teaching in Darfur

On Saturday we begin installations in schools in IDP camps.* I am not sure I am prepared for the reality of life in the camps. This is, however, the mission Damon and I set out on several years back – to bring our technology to serve the “poorest of the poor”.  With a lot of help and support along the way – first and foremost from our wives - we are beginning to realize our dreams and start impacting real lives.

Unfortunately photography here is generally illegal. This is a security state just post-conflict, and there are severe penalties for photography – from confiscation of cameras to arrest – so your correspondent will not be pushing the envelope to get images from the street or countryside back to you all. That said, we have been able to get permission to do some specific photography of our activities.

This is a grand opportunity to show off our stoves for WFP, and we are excited to have major field trials conducted by the UN. We believe our stove is a breakthrough technology with vast applications around the world, and we can only benefit from third-party testing and (we are confident) ultimate acceptance and embracing of our stoves by real cooks in real-world institutional feeding programs.

More news from Darfur as soon as possible, but internet access here is quite limited, so there are no guarantees of scheduled blog posts.

 My best to you all from sunny Darfur,

Happy Thanksgiving!


*Note:  Fred was unable to go to the camps in the El Fasher area due to security issues, but will be going to camps in the southern area near Nyala. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

News From Nigeria

By Fred Colgan

A very quick six days in Nigeria will be over on Saturday.  We’re here working with ICEED – the International Centre for Environment and Economic Development – partners in the pilot project we did a year ago in a Nigerian school. ICEED is heading up the new Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and the trip here was intended to be at the launch of the Alliance. Events were cancelled due to some terror alerts in Abuja, freeing us up for a wonderful week of meetings with the ICEED team.
Wednesday we travelled to Bida, in Niger State, and made an unannounced visit to Bida Government Girls School where we installed three stoves a year ago. A surprise visit is the only way to truly gauge local uptake of a technology – because if they knew we were coming they would have prepared a demonstration  - and a party!

                                           Fred arriving at the Bida school

With some trepidation we came into the kitchen – to find them just finishing up a meal on the 60 Liter Stove! The cooks and administrators told us they love the stoves, have used them every day for a year, appreciate that they continue to use one-tenth of the fuel of the traditional fires, and that there are “No Problems.” I asked several times in several different ways. “No Problems.”
In a video interview, the head of the kitchen and vice principal went on to talk about health impacts on the cooks ( they all feel better ),  quick cooking times, working indoors with no smoke, and said they have become local celebrities because of the stoves. People have come from all over Niger State to see the stoves in action.

The conversations with ICEED have been about two initiatives: placing a stove testing and development center here, and bringing our “factory in a box” production concept to Nigeria. Both ideas are well along the discussion path, and we will be developing memoranda of understandings and contracts early in 2012 to move forward. ICEED has orders in hand for over 300 big stoves, and our initial production run will be 500 units – all to be made in Nigeria by Nigerians. The testing and design center will involve extensive trainings at Aprovecho, and again, we’re looking at 2012 as a launch date of this first activity of the Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. A most  productive week for Aprovecho and for the Institutional Stove Project and some very positive cementing of relationships with important Nigerian institutions.
We’re off to the airport to catch the redeye to Sudan – arrive Khartoum at 2AM Sunday. Next news will be from El Fasher  and Nyala in Darfur.   I’ll be in touch.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Leaving Timor-Leste

By Fred Colgan
Nearing the end of my month of work in Timor-Leste, I went with a colleague for a short tourist drive around Dili. We ended up at the cemetery at Santa Cruz, where there was a massacre of 270 peaceful Timorese demonstrators by occupying Indonesian troops 20 years ago on this day (November 12th). Preparations were underway for a memorial service.

(photo F Colgan)

We met some of the people organizing the memorial, and had some remarkable and touching conversations. This is what our driver, Eduardo, told us.

“We Timorese are all connected to the generations that have come before. I’ll tell you my story: In 1999 I was fifteen years old and supported the independence movement by carrying messages to the activists. One day I was cornered by some Indonesian soldiers, realized my life was in danger, and ran away. A soldier shot me as I ran – a bullet went through my upper leg – but I knew if I stopped I would be killed, so I kept running as best I could. I came to a cemetery – not this one at Santa Cruz but another one - and hid behind some gravestones. I was bleeding pretty badly, and was weak from loss of blood, and passed out with one arm across part of a gravestone. I don’t know how long I was unconscious, but I awoke feeling the power of the spirits of our ancestors inside me. I was able to get up and continue moving away from the soldiers, and I know those spirits saved my life. I don’t know whose grave I was at – but that doesn’t matter. We Timorese are all connected.”

Eduardo pointed across the street to a very neat military cemetery for Indonesian soldiers.

We do not forget, but we do forgive. We would never disrespect those soldier’s graves, even though they treated us very badly.”

He went on:

“The Timorese way is to hold the spirits of those who have come before us - and those who are yet to come – in our hearts and in our heads at all times. Our families are the center of our lives.”

So I leave this small country, one of the newest democratic states on earth. The Timorese are incredibly poor in material wealth, face a host of very difficult problems to solve in their efforts to establish self-sufficiency (everthing here is imported!), there are no jobs and little opportunity for young people, and…… I leave touched by the grace of the human spirit, so evident everywhere I went.

Next: news from Nigeria.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Week Two in Timor-Leste

By Fred Colgan

It’s Saturday night here, and we just finished our round of controlled cooking tests – working with cooks using various stoves and measuring the gains made with improved technologies. We’re trying to zero in on a way forward for beginning a collaborative national stoves project, and the combination of testing and focus group conversations with cooks are the baseline information we need for good stove development. This bottom-up approach has been the Aprovecho way for decades. The best stoves in the world won’t solve any problems unless the cooks like them and use them. The world is littered with well-intentioned stoves that quickly became flower pots or were tossed on the trash heap because the cooks were not consulted in the design process.
This week we introduced a couple of rocket stoves – one from StoveTec  and one cheap metal rocket imported from Indonesia of a strange adapted design not seen at Apro – and we built a simple stove here at a metalworking shop - called the “Vita Stove” - based on a pioneering  design by Dr. Sam Baldwin – one of our gurus. All three designs were introduced to cooks in a rural village and in a middle-class neighborhood in Dili. Aside from the indigenous clay stove referred to in our previous blog, there have been almost no improved stoves in Timor-Leste.
(photo: f. colgan)

We did a series of cooking tests at the Roberto Americano fight school in Dili, located at the home of a relative of a Mercy Corps staff member. The boxing coach and his students stood by patiently while we finished up testing in their gym.

Additionally we introduced the 60 liter institutional stove, (which we carried here on the plane as excess baggage) to a school feeding program in a small rural village on the east side of the island.

(photo: f. colgan)

Anybody recognize this stove?? When we finished this rural school test, the cook asked “Can you please leave this stove here?” Unfortunately, we had to bring it back to Dili for further testing.
In a nutshell, the cooks love improved stoves, and especially love rocket stoves. They immediately notice that there is less smoke.  In our focus groups we find the women are all aware of the impacts smoke inhalation is having on them and their kids, and breathing less smoke is of tremendous value to them. I asked one cook about the impacts of smoke on her kids, and she said: “They cry.”
We’re working around the clock to write up our findings preparatory to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves conference here in Timor-Leste week after next. Our vision and dream is that from the conference a new type of coalition – of NGOs, government agencies, private sector businesses, and Timorese universities – will emerge to put a robust stoves development program together to design and build appropriate (and appropriately priced) stoves suited to local conditions. We are pioneering a new way forward here, and Aprovecho is in the fortunate position of technical advisors to the effort.
The conference is on the 9th and 10th of November, and we will be presenting field test results, analysis of potential stove designs which might find ready acceptance, and some suggestions for local production of super -efficient clean stoves. Stay tuned for more from East Timor.
(For my friends who asked for local color, scenery, and more stories – I apologize. You all know once I start talking about stoves all is lost. I’ll try for some variety in next posting.)

Here, however, is one of our clients….
(photo courtesy of my friend George Kvizhinadze)