PublicationMagazine Article Now we are cooking with gas: How interdisciplinary solutions and local outreach can light a fire under clean stove adoption

August 23, 2020
Publication Type:
Magazine Article

This piece by Annelise Gill-​​Wiehl and Daniel Kam­men is fea­tured in The Beam #11 – Power in Peo­ple. Sub­scribe now to read more on the subject.


Each time [the local work­ers] visit, we gain strength from that. To refill [LPG cylin­ders]. To con­tinue on,” says Bibi Matunda (or Grandma Fruit as the old woman is kindly nick­named) at a focus group with a few other fam­i­lies in the Com­mu­nity Tech­nol­ogy Worker Pilot Pro­gram. In Tan­za­nia, where our research is based, 96% of the pop­u­la­tion [1] relies on “unclean” fuels, and the effects of bio­mass burn­ing and indoor air pol­lu­tion con­tributes to 20,000 deaths [1]. Liqui­fied Petro­leum Gas (LPG) is one of the truly clean cook­ing fuels based on emis­sion cri­te­ria set by the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion (WHO). Although LPG is a fos­sil fuel, there is a net cli­mate ben­e­fit to a large-​​scale switch to LPG for house­hold fuel due to increased effi­ciency, as well as the ben­e­fit of tran­si­tion­ing away from the methane emis­sions caused by wood burn­ing. Despite a wave of many African coun­tries set­ting goals for increased or exclu­sive LPG use, LPG pro­grams face com­mon bar­ri­ers to adop­tion of the clean fuel, which include a lack of education/​need for house­hold train­ing, house­hold safety con­cerns and the pro­hib­i­tive cost.

We looked for analo­gies in other sus­tain­able devel­op­ment fields that over­came bar­ri­ers in behav­ior change and the need for com­mu­nity tran­si­tions. Specif­i­cally, we turned to the lit­er­a­ture on Com­mu­nity Health Work­ers – local indi­vid­u­als who link their under­served com­mu­ni­ties to health systems.

Despite the exis­tence of estab­lished and proven inter­ven­tions to improve com­mu­nity health, local health sys­tems are too frag­mented to scale up these inter­ven­tions. This weak infra­struc­ture, com­bined with the short­age of over 4 mil­lion health care pro­fes­sion­als and the high cost of train­ing doc­tors, pre­sented a need for a local worker to fill this health care void. A Com­mu­nity Health Worker (CHW) was imple­mented at the vil­lage level to pro­vide indi­vid­ual care that was effec­tive, cul­tur­ally appro­pri­ate, and eco­nom­i­cal. The WHO defines CHWs as “mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ties where they work, should be selected by the com­mu­ni­ties, should be answer­able to the com­mu­ni­ties for their activ­i­ties, should be sup­ported by the health sys­tem, but not nec­es­sar­ily a part of the orga­ni­za­tion, and have shorter train­ing than pro­fes­sional work­ers” [2]. The pub­lic health com­mu­nity has over­whelm­ingly demon­strated that CHWs can increase com­mu­nity devel­op­ment and access to health ser­vices. We there­fore decided to inves­ti­gate whether a sim­i­lar model – a Com­mu­nity Tech­nol­ogy Worker (CTW) – could be intro­duced to aid in the adop­tion of clean stoves.

This work was piloted in Shi­rati, Tan­za­nia, a town of ~50,000 on the edge of Lake Vic­to­ria, near the Kenyan bor­der. Kub­wana and Michire are two sub-​​villages in Shi­rati. Kub­wana is a larger, elec­tri­fied trad­ing area with the regional hos­pi­tal, small shops, and unof­fi­cial ven­dors sell­ing veg­eta­bles, fruit, and char­coal. Michire is closer to the lake and has a smaller trad­ing post with­out grid elec­tri­fi­ca­tion – some shops have a sin­gle solar panel.  A local NGO, ReachShi­rati, helped iden­tify trusted com­mu­nity mem­bers, Mary from Michire and Nay­ome from Kub­wana, to each start with 15 house­holds. The local LPG com­pany, Mihan Gas, was brought in to pro­vide a day long safety train­ing to sup­ple­ment the man­u­als and expla­na­tions we pro­vided on the LPG stove. The women then taught the fam­i­lies how to use the gas stove and pro­vided edu­ca­tional and safety pam­phlets in the native lan­guage that were sup­ple­mented with pic­to­r­ial con­tent for those who can­not read. They promised to always be avail­able for ques­tions or con­cerns. Mary and Nay­ome would check-​​in weekly with the house­holds to con­duct a short sur­vey to gauge fuel use, but more impor­tantly, they con­tinue to pro­vide sup­port and encour­age­ment to the fam­i­lies. After a year of sur­veys and rounds of inter­views, the results show that roughly 80% of fam­i­lies report sus­tained, reg­u­lar refill­ing of LPG cylin­ders. This is a rel­a­tively high rate of adop­tion com­pared to other LPG and improved bio­mass cook­stove interventions.

© Annelise Gill-Wiehl. The CTW received training on the gas stove, enabling them to empower their community and their own household to confidently use gas safely.
© Annelise Gill-​​Wiehl. The CTW received train­ing on the gas stove, enabling them to empower their com­mu­nity and their own house­hold to con­fi­dently use gas safely.


A CTW does not remove all bar­ri­ers to gas adop­tion. Eco­nomic dif­fi­cul­ties and cook­ing mate­ri­als stand in the way of full adop­tion. How­ever, these results do sug­gest that a CTW does mit­i­gate many of the obsta­cles through edu­ca­tion and main­te­nance support.

To fur­ther bol­ster the effec­tive­ness of the CTW model and encour­age fam­i­lies to refill their LPG cylin­der, we are con­tin­u­ing to con­cep­tu­al­ize with other dis­ci­plines, specif­i­cally eco­nom­ics and micro­fi­nance. The research is attempt­ing to expand and offer house­holds an oppor­tu­nity to opt into a sav­ings bank option to pro­mote account­abil­ity and a for­mal finan­cial mechanism.


© IDEO & Clean Cooking Alliance. The available cookstoves in Tanzania range from wood to charcoal, kerosene, LPG, and electric. The upfront costs increase from free to 50 USD as you climb this “energy ladder.” The variability in income creates challenges for rural households to afford the lump sum of a gas cylinder, which often prevents their adoption of this option.
© IDEO & Clean Cook­ing Alliance. The avail­able cook­stoves in Tan­za­nia range from wood to char­coal, kerosene, LPG, and elec­tric. The upfront costs increase from free to 50 USD as you climb this “energy lad­der.” The vari­abil­ity in income cre­ates chal­lenges for rural house­holds to afford the lump sum of a gas cylin­der, which often pre­vents their adop­tion of this option.


Our work is not the only clean cook­ing ini­tia­tive to reach across dis­ci­plines and inno­vate to reach the world’s poor. There are many promi­nent ven­tures on the hori­zon in clean cook­ing, such as pay-​​as-​​you-​​cook Smart­Gas from Envi­rofit and Inyeryeri’s fire­wood pel­let stove – one of the few bio­mass stoves to meet the Tier 4 Emis­sion Cri­te­ria set by the WHO. These enter­prises are com­bin­ing dis­ci­plines with IT & com­puter sci­ence, mechan­i­cal engi­neer­ing, and eco­nom­ics. This cross-​​disciplinary work is cru­cial to attack the most press­ing envi­ron­men­tal and global health issues. As we face a warm­ing cli­mate and grow­ing health impli­ca­tions from the burn­ing of bio­mass, it is all the more impor­tant for the sus­tain­able devel­op­ment com­mu­nity to work together and lean on new ideas and iden­tify proven bright spots, even those from dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines. We can­not look for solu­tions in silos; rather, we must reach out across dis­ci­plines and top­ics to achieve a sus­tain­able future.

We must not for­get to incor­po­rate the most impor­tant aspect from both CHWs and CTWs – the human con­tact of local out­reach. In the­ory, reach and scale are eas­ily and quickly attain­able even with­out phys­i­cal vis­it­ing. How­ever, even com­pa­nies like Envi­rofit, who pur­sue large-​​scale cook­stove deploy­ment mostly through IT-​​based com­mu­ni­ca­tion, admit that “while invest­ing in train­ing resources increases costs, it also increases adoption”[3].

The advan­tage of this model for cook­ing over an IT-​​based solu­tion (i.e. text mes­sage edu­ca­tion or reminders) is the flex­i­bil­ity and resilience inher­ent to a human-​​led ini­tia­tive. Human work­ers can respond and adapt to the spe­cific issues of the house­hold and pro­vide help­ful advice; an auto­mated text mes­sage is eas­ily ignored and can­not adapt to spe­cific cir­cum­stances. House­holds are more likely to adopt improved stoves if they have had prior expo­sure to a trusted indi­vid­ual or orga­ni­za­tion pro­mot­ing the prod­uct. Addi­tion­ally, these local train­ers could be uti­lized to solve other com­mu­nity prob­lems, such as water and san­i­ta­tion tech­nol­ogy or mini-​​grids. An inter­dis­ci­pli­nary solu­tion can be employed to solve a mul­ti­tude of dis­ci­pli­nary problems.

The focus group reit­er­ated the impor­tance of com­mu­nity between the CTW and the house­holds. For exam­ple, one woman said, “we have become friends, we greet each other, you find out what the prob­lem is and you help. If there is a prob­lem, we find a solu­tion.” As the women of Shi­rati sup­port each other within this pro­gram, so should the fields in sus­tain­able devel­op­ment. Beyond an expanded study that cou­ples this model with a sav­ings bank as men­tioned above, this work could become a strong private-​​public part­ner­ship. Mir­ror­ing the CHWs in Tan­za­nia, LPG com­pa­nies could coor­di­nate their vil­lage LPG deal­ers with local gov­ern­ments to adopt this model, empower their com­mu­ni­ties from within, and work towards clean fuel adop­tion for decades to come. Community-​​based out­reach and inter­dis­ci­pli­nary solu­tions are invalu­able in the effort to pro­vide access and ensure adop­tion of clean energy for cook­ing and beyond.


[1]    Clean Cook­ing Alliance, “Tan­za­nia,” 2019. [Online]. Avail­able: https://​www​.clean​cookingal​liance​.org/​c​o​u​n​t​r​y​-​p​r​o​f​i​l​e​s​/​4​1​-​t​a​n​z​a​n​i​a​.​h​tml. [Accessed: 30-​​Oct-​​2019].

[2]    G. Health, “Com­mu­nity and For­mal Health Sys­tem Sup­port for Enhanced Com­mu­nity Health Worker Per­for­mance A U.S. Gov­ern­ment Evi­dence Sum­mit FINAL REPORT Con­tent,” 2012.

[3]    Envi­rofit, “COOKING IN ONE MILLION KITCHENS: Lessons Learned in Scal­ing a Clean Cook­stove Busi­ness,” 2015.

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