Traditional fire and stove cooking techniques in the developing world result in a number of serious negative environmental impacts which can be substantially reduced through the use of fuel efficient cooking stoves.
Deforestation resulting from over use of wood as an energy source causes serious ecosystem degradation in many parts of southern Africa.
Fuel efficient cooking stoves significantly reduce many of the negative environmental problems. Fuel efficient cooking stoves can reduce fuel consumption by up to 80% compared to traditional “three stone” cooking fires.
The problem is most exacerbated by urban communities in which charcoal is the primary cooking fuel. Charcoal production in the developing world is inefficient, often illegal and generally done on a non sustainable basis.
The production of one tonne of charcoal may require up to 6-8 tonnes of trees to be cleared and burned.
The surrounding areas of most urban areas with large populations which rely on charcoal use for cooking have now been striped of forestry. Charcoal producers are forced to source virgin forest from further and further afield, often hundreds of kilometers from the end user, resulting in significant transport costs and environmental impacts.
Where twig burning efficient cooking stoves are used to replace traditional charcoal cooking the environmental benefits are even greater due to the compounding environmental impact that charcoal production.
The use of efficient cooking stoves has a direct impact on reducing deforestation and when coupled with forestry education programmes can reduce consumption to a manageable and sustainable level.
Where the biomass used in traditional fire and stove cooking techniques is sourced from non sustainable forestry practices then the resulting carbon dioxide contributes directly to global warming.
A family living on only a few dollars a day and cooking with a traditional charcoal fire may consume 1-2 tonnes of charcoal a year requiring the burning of 6-16 tonnes of trees in production of the charcoal – resulting in 9-24 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
This compares very unfavourably to the per capita carbon equivalent footprint in the UK of around 15 tonnes based on a carbon intensive modern lifestyle when considered in conjunction with the disparity in quality of life.
There is growing international recognition that replacing traditional fire cooking practices with modern fuel efficient stoves is one of the more cost effective and achievable ways of fighting global warming.
In addition to carbon dioxide, black carbon - contained in soot from the inefficient combustion of biomass and fossil fuels has a significant detrimental environmental impact.
Like tiny heat-absorbing black sweaters, soot particles produced from inefficient cooking fires warm the air and melt the ice by absorbing the sun’s heat when they settle on glaciers. One recent study estimated that black carbon might account for as much as half of Arctic warming.
While the particles tend to settle over time and do not have the global reach of greenhouse gases, they do travel, scientists now realize. Soot from India has been found in the Maldive Islands and on the Tibetan Plateau; from the United States, it travels to the Arctic.
Black carbon may be responsible for around 16% of the gross warming the planet is currently experiencing and may be the second-most significant global warming pollutant after carbon dioxide and ahead of methane, according to testimony provided by five scientists before the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The cleaner burning profile of fuel efficient cooking stoves also significantly reduces the level of emissions and black carbon from cooking stoves.