Despite substantial progress on achieving universal electricity access in the region, almost half the population in Southeast Asia continues to rely primarily on biomass to meet their cooking needs. On 2 December 2015, the Smart Villages Initiative together with GERES, Myanmar organised a regional workshop in Yangon, Myanmar to gather lessons about the sustainable dissemination of improved cookstoves. This was an important event in the Smart Villages Initiative’s ongoing programme of events as it was the first time that the issue of improved cookstoves dissemination in rural areas had been addressed. The workshop brought together participants from Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), and Vietnam.
The workshop garnered substantial interest among a wide range of stakeholders including representatives from the public sector, the donor community, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the private sector, and academia. Workshop participants were informed about the efforts of the Myanmar government to ensure the sustainability of forest resources. The dissemination of improved cookstoves is one the main strategies being implemented nationally to improve environmental sustainability. While recognising that improved cookstoves reduce the amount of fuelwood gathered from forests, there was debate about the extent to which cooking is responsible for deforestation, and a call for better data to be gathered.
Within Southeast Asia there are a number of country-level initiatives that are aimed at the dissemination of improved cookstoves. Many of these initiatives, for example in Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar, are supported by international donors like the European Union. In Indonesia the World Bank has been working closely with the Indonesian government to support the dissemination of high-quality improved cookstoves.
A common theme to emerge in all these programmes is that they aim to take a holistic approach to the dissemination of improved cookstoves. Such an integrated strategy, though time consuming, includes the following common elements: providing technical support to cookstove producers to develop technical expertise to develop products of uniform quality; ensuring affordability of the product especially for rural consumers who are very cost-conscious; running training programmes for potential cookstove producers and artisans; and, lastly, developing the local cookstove value chains by providing well-targeted financial and managerial support to actors at each stage of the value chain including producers, wholesalers, retailers and end-users. When designing initiatives, close attention should be given to the sustainability and scale-up of sales and the use of improved cookstoves after projects have ended. This requires the establishment of an effective ecosystem of value chain actors operating within a supportive framework.
The absence of enforceable standards and local stove testing facilities have been problematic for stakeholders across Southeast Asia involved in improved cookstove dissemination programmes. International and local NGOs have worked with national governments to develop such standards and facilities, which are vital in order to monitor the quality of improved cookstoves available in the market and to ensure that there is evidence of their benefits to present to local and international stakeholders, not least to support access to carbon credits and results-based financing. Testing methodologies need to recognise potential differences between performance in the laboratory and the home, and that the quality of manufactured products may deteriorate over time requiring repeat testing and accreditation.
A key lesson to emerge from the workshop is the importance of designing and promoting improved cookstoves that are in sync with the cooking requirements of the local population. If products do not meet the needs of consumers, their adoption is going to be much lower than expected and the impact of dissemination programmes is likely to be lower than desired. Also, people tend to how a low awareness of the benefits of cookstoves for health and time saving, and awareness raising initiatives continue to be needed. Another important lesson is that gender must be mainstreamed in improved cookstove dissemination programmes, and women’s voices should be brought to the fore: women are key agents in household cooking practices and most at risk of being affected by indoor air pollution. Women’s groups and unions can play a key role.