Fresh air for the world's poorest homes Fresh air for the ... - Shell


Fresh air for the world's poorest homes Fresh air for the ... - Shell

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Fresh air for

the world’s

poorest homes

Swati Dadasukhatar lives with her family in a pink cement hut, just a

few doors down from the tiny local post office in the Indian village of

Kapsi. Sheaves of corn ripen in her courtyard amid old pots, discarded

slippers, and here and there a stray plastic toy. The hut’s single living

room contains a bed, an old television, and a phone connected to

the exchange at Pune, the nearest city. In the dimly lit kitchen Dada-

sukhatar squats on the ground, cooking on her wood-burning stove.

Here she makes everything from flat breads to spicy vegetable dishes,

lentils and potatoes.

Shell World 1 February 2008 Fresh air for the world’s poorest homes

By Rustom DavaR

Fresh air for the world’s poorest homes 1 February 2008 Shell World

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Deaths linked to indoor air pollution

source: World Health organization (2002 estimates)

Four years ago this kitchen was a lot less comfortable.

Smoke from Dadasukhatar’s traditional cook-stove

filled the air, made her eyes burn and congested her

lungs. “My walls used to turn black and the stove also

used a lot of wood-fuel, which is scarce over here as

there aren’t many trees in the area,” she says.

Nowadays the air is clean and safe to breathe thanks

to her improved stove, which she first learned about

when a local charitable organisation ran an awareness

programme in her village.

Silent killer

More than half the world’s population still uses open

fires or inefficient stoves for heating and cooking.

The smoke they give off is a lethal source of indoor

air pollution that causes 1.5 million deaths each

year, or about one every 20 seconds, according to

the World Health Organisation. Carbon monoxide,

soot and other toxins present in the smoke cause

severe respiratory illnesses and eye-related problems.

Shell World 1 February 2008 Fresh air for the world’s poorest homes

The W.H.O. lists indoor air pollution as one of the

top 10 global health risks, and the most lethal killer in

developing countries after malnutrition, HIV/AIDS,

and lack of safe water and sanitation. The most

affected regions are China, India, and sub-Saharan

Africa. Women and children suffer the most, as they

spend a greater proportion of their time at home,

tending fires and cooking.

Government-led efforts to address the problem by

encouraging the use of clean-burning stoves have

so far had mixed success. Government subsidies can

only go so far in addressing an issue of this magnitude.

Moreover, state-run programmes sometimes fail to

address the needs of people using the stoves, both in

terms of the stoves’ design and the way they are


But an ambitious programme running in India and

other developing countries for the past few years aims

to foster a more effective long-term solution by

young woman prepares meal in her kitchen

creating a viable, self-sufficient industry to manufacture

and distribute cleaner-burning stoves.

The programme, called Breathing Space and run by

the Shell Foundation, an independent charitable

organisation based in London, has so far sold more

than 200,000 clean-burning cook stoves worldwide

and improved the lives of more than a million people.

By running the programme like a business, instead of

as a non-profit – addressing the needs of consumers,

and providing profit incentives to suppliers – the

Shell Foundation aims to create a sustainable solution

to the issue and roll it out around the globe.

“The problem with just handing out aid cheques is

that you end up treating people as victims instead

of as consumers,” says Simon Bishop, Policy and

Communications Manager at the Shell Foundation.

“In our model, people are making a profit all the way

along the supply chain – thus fostering independence,

creating sound market-feedback loops, and adding

to the country’s economic growth.”

Sceptical consumers

To achieve the foundation’s goal, the programme is

working to overcome a number of hurdles. One of

the most daunting is marketing the stoves effectively

to sceptical consumers who are often unaware that

there is anything wrong with the old-fashioned way

of doing things.

This resistance is partly due to the demographic of

those affected by indoor air pollution. “Indoor air

pollution affects the silent majority – the woman

who doesn’t have a voice,” says Anuradha Bhavnani,

Regional Manager of Shell Foundation, South Asia.

Millions of rural women in India have little or no

status in society, and are therefore used to tolerating all

kinds of hardship without complaint. These women

are often ignorant of the health risks posed by

inefficient stoves. An important aspect of the foundation’s

work is raising social awareness and educating

people about the health benefits of improved stoves,

through the grassroots efforts of local women’s self-

Fresh air for the world’s poorest homes 1 February 2008 Shell World

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help groups. These groups of village women contribute

money to a collective pool, which is tapped for

low-interest loans to individual members at times

of need, or for important purchases. By connecting

with these groups the foundation has managed to

reach individual members, who are able to purchase

the improved stoves with the group’s support.

Even so, it remains difficult to convince consumers

to abandon their traditional, primitive methods of

cooking and heating. Open fires are a way of life,

and in order to abandon them, consumers need

additional incentives.

“What we’ve found,” says Bhavnani, “is that

consumers aren’t necessarily compelled to buy the

products for health reasons. So instead, we win them

over by promising a cleaner living environment and

other conveniences – such as the fact that pots don’t

turn black on improved stoves and are therefore

easier to clean.” The health benefits then come as

added perks, rather than being the main focus when

the consumer is making a decision to switch.

Demonstrations of smoke-free cooking stoves explain their advantages to

people in rural villages such as Kapsi. (also opposite page)

Shell World 1 February 2008 Fresh air for the world’s poorest homes

“I bought an improved stove mainly to reduce the

soot deposits on my kitchen walls and to save fuel,

but as a result I’ve noticed that I now have less eye

problems,” says Archana Gardi, another resident of

Kapsi who has been using a Shell Foundation stove

for the last three years.

Volatile gases

Other challenges that the foundation faces are

effectively designing its improved stoves, as well as

manufacturing and distributing them in a costeffective


There are two main categories of stoves – built-in

stone or concrete ones with an attached chimney

costing about $10, and portable metal ones costing

about $25 that can be easily transported and used for

camping or other outdoor uses. In both cases manufacturing

costs must be kept down without sacrificing


For instance, the stoves designed by the Shell

Foundation’s regional partner, the Appropriate Rural

Technology Institute (ARTI), have addressed this

problem by using technology that allows wood to

burn more efficiently and cleanly than in conventional

stoves. A steady current of air ensures that

volatile gases are completely consumed during

combustion. Unlike some stoves, the foundation’s

models require no battery-operated fans to produce

the necessary airflow, reducing costs significantly.

A study of 110 households in the state of Maharashtra,

published in the journal Energy for Sustainable

Development, found that these improved cook stoves

reduced particulate matter by 24% and carbon monoxide

by 39% one year after installation.

Designers must also make stoves work efficiently with

a multitude of fuel types used by consumers in rural

areas and villages, including twigs, wood chunks, coal

and agricultural wastes. Dadasukhatar, for example,

uses waste chilli and aubergine plants, and the dried

branches of the babul tree. The foundation markets

one stove that burns wood and wood chips. Another

model burns dry leaves, sugarcane waste and groundnut

that have been converted to charcoal.


Simon Bishop, Shell Foundation Policy and Communications Manager

Fresh air for the world’s poorest homes 1 February 2008 Shell World

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Local manufacturing

The foundation also faced difficulties with distribution

and manufacturing as it expanded its reach in

India. Improved stoves have never before been

distributed through organised supply chains in rural

India, so the idea is new to private companies and

artisans responsible for manufacture and distribution.

They need to be convinced that the new stoves are

viable commercially before they agree to invest their

own capital. This reluctance has gradually been

overcome with the help of demonstrations run by

the Shell Foundation’s regional non-profit partners

and testimonials from satisfied customers who reflect

growing demand for the new stoves.

The small companies that manufacture and distribute

portable stoves are typically located in towns and

cities, since their customers can carry their purchases

Farmers prepare to leave for the fields on their

bullock carts, some carry water to their homes.

Shell World 1 February 2008 Fresh air for the world’s poorest homes

home. Built-in stoves, on the other hand, are heavy

and difficult to transport, so they are usually manufactured

within about 10 kilometres (six miles) of

the homes where they are installed. The foundation’s

non-profit partners train local stonecutters and

masons to build them.

One of the training centres is located in Phaltan,

about a half hour’s drive from Dadasukhatar’s home

in Kapsi. The centre boasts an array of demonstration

models, some of which are used to cook meals for

trainees. Artisans from neighbouring villages stay for

several weeks while they learn to make the stoves.

When necessary, the foundation has provided the

initial investment to help stove makers tool up to

make the new models. Breathing Space’s organised

approach to the issue, its use of monetary incentives,

and its partnerships with small NGOs that have

Breathing Space’S organiSed

approach to the iSSue, itS uSe

oF monetary incentiveS, and itS

partnerShipS with Small ngoS

that have Strong relationShipS

with the conSumer have helped

it achieve moSt oF itS goalS.

Fresh air for the world’s poorest homes 1 February 2008 Shell World

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over half the world’s population still uses open fires

or inefficient stoves for heating and cooking.

strong relationships with the consumer have helped

it achieve most of its goals. The pilots run by its

regional partners in India have sold tens of thousands

of stoves in the Bundelk-hand region of North

India as well as in the western state of Maharashtra,

with more than 80,000 stoves sold nationwide.

Those pilots are now being expanded. Further pilots

are being set up in the southern states of Karnataka

and Tamil Nadu.

“The business-based model is unique,” says Ajit

Abraham, Manager at the Shell Foundation, India.

“With our pilots, we’ve proved that it works.”

Going global

In addition to the programme’s efforts in India, it also

set up similar pilots in 2002 in Guatemala, Mexico,

Shell World 1 February 2008 Fresh air for the world’s poorest homes

Ghana, Ethiopia, Brazil and Kenya. A review of the

efforts in these regions by consultancy Accenture

led to a scale-up of operation in 2006, focusing on

China, Guatemala, Brazil, India and a region straddling

Uganda and Kenya. India was chosen as the lead

country, due to the notable successes achieved there.

The goal now is for Breathing Space to sell 10 million

clean-burning cook stoves in these five regions over

the next five years. The Shell Foundation recently

partnered with a US-based environmental nonprofit,

Envirofit International, to help expand the

programme’s reach.

Envirofit, launched in 2003 as a result of research at

the Colorado State University Engines and Energy

Conversion Laboratory, is the recipient of a World

Clean Energy Award for its leadership in providing

energy solutions. Envirofit will take over day-to-day

management of the programme, building on the

lessons learned from pilot programmes like those in


The Foundation will continue to set business objectives,

raise funds and act as an investor. It will also

measure the impact of the programme, and work on

general advocacy and awareness of the issue of indoor


The partnership will initiate operations in India,

while compiling data for Latin America and East

Africa, where it plans to replicate the programme.

the goal now iS

For Breathing

Space to Sell ten

million clean-

Burning cook

StoveS over the

next Five yearS.

Meanwhile, back in the village of Kapsi, Swati

Dadasukhatar is so pleased with her new built-in

stove that she recently ordered a portable one.

She also gladly lets the foundation use her courtyard

for demonstrations and helps organise attendance.

As Dadasukhatar and other satisfied users spread

the word, more and more of their friends and

neighbours will begin to make the transition to a

healthier lifestyle.

Fresh air for the world’s poorest homes 1 February 2008 Shell World

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