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Rocket stoves ready, but will Tanzanians spread the word?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Africa, Dartmouth, engineerEditor’s Note: Students from Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering are working in Tanzania to help improve sanitation and energy technologies in local villages. This series chronicles work being done by the student-led group, known as  Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering (DHE) [formerly known as Humanitarian Engineering Leadership Projects (HELP)], to design "rocket stoves" in the village of Mwamgongo and top-light updraft design (TLUD) gasification stoves in the village of Kalinzi. The goal is to create a healthier, more energy-efficient cooking apparatus that these villagers will accept and use. HELP students are filing these dispatches from the field during their trip. This is their 16th blog post for Scientific American.



The last few weeks have been very exciting. The positive response we got from stove owners in Mwamgongo prompted Tim, Kanika, Wendy and I to integrate the rocket stove design into Jane Goodall Institute’s (JGI) stove distribution program. We spent the last few weeks traveling to different villages, working on a stove distribution pilot program. It felt great getting out of the village for a little while and seeing the rest of Kigoma. The trip made me realize the importance of working with influential NGO ‘s like JGI to propagate the stove design. Their influence in the communities and year round presence will significantly bolster the scope and success of our stove project.  With the JGI pilot program wrapping up, it was time to head back to Mwamgongo to finalize the distribution plan.

The trip back to Mwamgongo started at 4:30 a.m. with a five-hour ride in a bus with no suspension, over what was arguably a road, but probably a rock quarry. Crippled from the bus ride and longing for a nap, I hopped on the water taxi for a three-and-a-half-hour boat ride in the blazing sun.  When I finally arrived in Mwamgongo, I could barely smile as I crawled up the beach to the field station. I was able to enjoy the sunset from the front porch of the field station before I collapsed into my bed.

From my bed I could hear Revo (our translator) talking to the social service committee about the project. It made me remember why I was in Mwamgongo: to wrap up our involvement in the stove project. I have been worrying a lot about the project lately; not because I think it will fail but because I feel that there is a lot riding on it. The people who sponsored the project are expecting results, and I don’t want to let anyone down. I feel it has been an incredible privilege being able to do what I’ve done these last two summers.  We will see the result of two years of work by Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering (DHE) in the next two days as the distribution plan wraps up, and we will be able to tell if the project will float or sink.

The goal of the distribution strategy was to sustainably spread the rocket stove technology throughout Mwamgongo and the surrounding communities. In order to accomplish this, the group worked closely with the local government officials, committees and community members to ensure that the community gained:

  1. Knowledge of how to build, use, maintain the stove
  2. Ability to teach others how to build use and maintain the stove
  3. A support network of community members that would act as caretakers of this knowledge
  4. A scheme of resource management
  5. A system of post-implementation monitoring to ensure widespread distribution of stoves

The distribution plan would involve community members teaching each other how to build the stove within a support framework made up of government committees (VLAM, established to control deforestation), government leaders (sub village leaders, head of government) and a network of trained experts. An entrepreneurial business model of distribution was discarded at the request of the villagers who said they would be uncomfortable asking their neighbors for money to build a stove that requires materials that can be freely acquired.Africa, Dartmouth, engineer

A stove-building seminar would initiate the communitywide distribution plan. In each sub village, the experts worked in teams of two to demonstrate the construction methodology for the stoves. At the seminar, five individuals would be taught how to build the stove. Then, each of these individuals would build a stove in their own homes, and invite two of their friends to join the building process to pass on the lessons they learned. We hoped the chain would continue until the entire community could build their own stoves, but as long as more than 100 stoves were built during the initial distribution program, the technology could easily prove itself overtime and spread by word of mouth.

One of the biggest boons to the project was putting the advertising in the hands of the community members. As foreigners, our influence on people’s perception of the stoves is limited. However, when a fellow community member extols the benefits of the stove their opinion is trusted. Taking advantage of person-to-person networks is an excellent way to spread information throughout the community. Encouraging the people we worked with to talk with their friends and neighbors about the stove was an effective way to increase community interest in the technology.

Community led marketing was also a key component to the distribution efforts. On the final day of the seminar, experts would conduct public demonstrations of the stove’s performance. They would perform a side-by-side comparison of the rocket stove and the three-stone stove while cooking beans; a three-hour endeavor. This allows for villagers to easily recognize the significant smoke reductions and wood savings of the rocket stove over the three-stone stove. During the demonstration, the experts would also focus on educating people about the dangers of indoor air pollution and the benefits of the rocket stove.

This distribution plan focuses on increasing demand for the stoves by focusing on selling points that will resonate with people: health, monetary savings and improved cooking performance. Over the next few days, the seminar and subsequent rounds of distribution will begin.

  

Images courtesy of Wendy Hado





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  1. 1. Sasucks 7:49 pm 11/16/2010

    I’m all in favor of the project, but I DO NOT UNDERSTAND why we the readers are not being shown photos of the ‘rocket stove’. It seems very odd and suspicious, to me, that the units are not being shown to us well and fully. You can use lots of words….or you can show us the thing. I realize that much of the project is in teaching and spreading the word. From here, it feels like the whole thing has been poorly done. I hope I’m quite wrong.

    Link to this
  2. 2. jvsciguy 9:28 am 11/17/2010

    Sasuck – I completely disagree. I think much was learned by the team. These lessons can be used infuture projects.

    I also don’t believe that this exact stove is what the program is about. Each place in developing countries will need to have a different stove or version of the stove. The cooking machine needs to be tailored to teh culture and teh resources as well as the technical capabilities of teh people.

    This HELP excercise has been very effective in describing how, in this project, these concepts were applied.

    The project is a success. Now we need to wait for feedback to see if the approach has a lasting and beneficial effect.

    Patience.

    Link to this

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