Fuel efficient cookstoves: Promoting good nutritional practices while transforming livelihoods in Matobo

By Caroline Chiimba

Most vulnerable households in rural Zimbabwe are still using firewood for cooking and heating needs, as firewood remains the most affordable source of energy for struggling families.

Eunice Ncube (64) from Matobo in Mbuso village is among many women who use open fire to cook for her family before the Enhancing Resilience for Vulnerable Households in Zimbabwe (ERVHIZ) project intervention in her community.

Under the EU funded ERVHIZ project, Nutrition Action Zimbabwe (NAZ) is promoting the adoption of fuel-efficient cook stoves in the community as climate smart technologies to improve nutrition. To foster the use of sustainable energy, mothers and care givers were trained on the construction of fuel-efficient improved cook stoves, using locally available resources like clay.

The cook-stove uses less firewood and even twigs to cook. It is movable and can be used in different places while producing little smoke as compared to the open fire methods.

Gogo Eunice demonstrating how to switch on the fuel Efficient stove

“This cook stove is a life saver in many ways, especially for us women who are always preparing food for our families. Now we don’t need lots of firewood for us to be able to prepare meals, but with jus few twigs I can easily cook porridge for my grandchildren every morning before they go to school,” Eunice said.

“My grandchildren are now attending school very happily as they will be well fed. I no longer waste time looking for firewood and this gives me quality time to prepare nutritious food for the family.

“Warming up cold food is no longer a headache for me anymore, I just light up my few twigs and all goes well. Eating cold food is now a thing of the past, thanks to NAZ for this conducive solution to our problem.”

Woman shows off some of the fuel efficient cookstoves she molded during EU donor visit, Photo credit: Caroline Chiimba

Another mother, Siphumuzile Ndlovu from Mbembeswane in Matobo added that while the use of less firewood promotes good nutrition, and  minimizes the rate of deforestation in Matobo, which is a positive thing for a community that survives on mopane worms trading.

“NAZ is doing a great job in our community through this firewood saving solution. We are a community that survives on mopane worm trading as a source of livelihood, so the more the mopane trees, the more the worms we can harvest and sell. These stoves are preserving our environment, protecting our health and promoting our source of income through the saved trees,” Siphumuzile said.

Siphumuzile feeding her baby porridge, photo credit: Caroline Chiimba

Burning firewood for cooking is one of the most significant contributors to global climate change, and unsustainable wood harvesting which contributes to deforestation, reducing carbon uptake by forests.

The World Health Organization states that around a third of the global population cook using open fires or inefficient stoves fueled by kerosene, biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal, which generates harmful household air pollution.

This observation, according to United Nations, brings forth the highest health costs associated with the use of firewood in households, and women and children bear the brunt more as they are often in charge of household tasks like cooking and collecting firewood.

“Women who typically cook, frequently visit local health centers suffering from respiratory diseases due to inhaling smoke,” the UN observed.

The fuel-efficient cookstoves can reduce firewood consumption by 20-50 percent relative to the three stone fire. In October 2022, Nutrition Action Zimbabwe (NAZ) joined the Enhancing the Resilience of Vulnerable Households in Zimbabwe (ERVHIZ) project that is being implemented in six Matabeleland South districts namely Beitbridge, Bulilima, Gwanda, Insiza, Matobo and Mangwe.

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