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.
Main Menu

Energy & Resources Group
310 Barrows Hall
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-3050
Phone: (510) 642-1640
Fax: (510) 642-1085


  • Open the Main Menu
  • People at RAEL

  • Open the Main Menu