In many developing countries governments, donors, NGOs and academics have promoted the use of fuel-efficient stoves in order to reduce ill health effects, environmental degradation and household expenditure on traditional fuels. In Kenya and Ethiopia such programmes have been very successful. Why have programmes elsewhere had only limited success? What are the potential poverty alleviation impacts of household biomass stove programmes? How can production and uptake be boosted?

Project summary

In this project, ESD worked with local partners to conduct research among stove producers and users in Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Kampala to draw out the factors which make for sustainably commercialised stove production. Both stove producers and consumers in Ethiopia and Kenya have generally benefitted. Metal working and ceramics have traditionally been low status occupations in Ethiopia. Income from the new enterprise has improved the status, diet, standard of living, health and educational levels of marginalised people hitherto trapped by very poor returns on their labour. Most consumers report they have saved money and improved domestic air quality.

Stove cladding manufacturers


In light of the conclusions from this project, donors and policymakers are urged to:

1.  Support public information campaigns: acceptance by all social classes is needed to drive up quality and availability and keep prices low.

2.  Encourage extensive product testing and research into improved designs and ensure that findings are disseminated.

3.  Support producers entering the stove business by providing training, credit and technical and marketing advice. 

4.  Encourage production outside capital cities and investigate the viability of peri-urban and rural markets.

5.  Provide ongoing assistance to producers’ organisations in order to avoid reduction in product quality.

Neither the Ethiopian nor the Kenyan programmes would have been successful without substantial initial government and donor backing. Improved stoves were consciously targeted at upper income consumers as a way of achieving sustainable commercial penetration within the lifetime of donor supported programmes. The approach succeeded, demand spread to all social classes, more producers entered the market, and today the improved stoves business is solely driven by demand.

On the other hand in Uganda, despite donors’ and government’s financial efforts, consumers never showed interest in improved stoves. A greater variety of stoves have entered the marketplace. Mostly bought by the poorest in anticipation of cost savings, the better off have (unlike in Kenya and Ethiopia) shown marginal interest. Volumes have been low with few demonstrable poverty alleviation benefits and a market has never developed.

The study cites evidence that stove quality has deteriorated as price competition has led producers to cut costs to remain competitive. Whereas improved Kenyan stoves tested in the 1980s consumed 30-50 per cent less charcoal than conventional ones, today this is down to 24 per cent. Consumers do not usually notice the recent drop in stove efficiency but have noted a decline in appearance and robustness. This was particularly true in Uganda and led to a loss of confidence in the product.

The results of the project indicate that, as the market has taken off, women clay liner producers have seen returns on production plummet and their economic power vis-á-vis stove assemblers steadily weaken. Also, Ugandan stove programmes have been top-down, donor-driven and ignored the importance of creating consumer awareness.