Fuel-Efficient Stoves Protect Women’s Health and Forests

RECOFTC’s Regan Suzuki thinks focusing on something as small as a stove could make big changes for women in forests.

If women were more deliberately considered in REDD+ and development projects, the significant potential of fuel-efficient stoves for improving their lives and reducing deforestation would make it a high priority.

When considering underlying drivers of deforestation, there is an important — and gendered — factor that gets far less attention than it should. Biomass plays an enormously important role in the lives of the rural poor in developing countries, serving as the primary source of energy for cooking and household heating. The collection of fuel wood is done primarily by women and children, with men’s involvement growing only when these activities are commercialized.
As forests reduce or become degraded, women and children need to spend increasing amounts of time collecting firewood, leaving little time for other activities such as study for girls.

It is a mistaken assumption that fuel wood collection activities are too small in scale to have significant impacts on rates of deforestation. In Lao People’s Democratic Republic, for example, fuel wood consumption for household and industrial use is approximately 2.4 million tons per year,[1]  compared to logging’s consumption of 600–1,000,000 tons of timber annually.[2]  In the ASEAN countries overall (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), energy from biomass such as wood and agricultural residues represents about 40% of total energy consumption.

A new study led by Princeton University argues that greater  attention to fuel-efficient stoves could support  REDD+ programming. According to Mongabay, for example, researchers in Tanzania found that “current economic assessments tend to undervalue the cost of meeting expected food and fuel demand by local farmers, who would be expected to curtail forest conversion under the country’s REDD program.” In order to reduce less recognized drivers of deforestation such as shortages of fuel for household purposes, the authors strongly recommend subsidizing efficient stoves.

Low-quality energy supplies and inefficient conversion devices pose health risks due to indoor air pollution, particularly affecting women.. Inefficient cooking stoves result in “black carbon” or soot. Not only does soot have extremely damaging health impacts, its particles also absorb sunlight and contribute to climate change.

In addition, in order to circumvent the lack of fuel wood, women tend to prepare food that requires less heat for cooking. Consequently, nutritious food items such as pulses (lentils) are excluded from diets, leading to nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition, particularly among children. The introduction and promotion of fuel efficient stoves is therefore an initiative that has powerful impacts on the lives of women, as well as on the condition of forests.

Men and women have different experiences, knowledge, and strategies for how to manage forests. Failing to incorporate half of the population in forest management has significant implications for food security, poverty alleviation, and ultimately the well-being of forests. Women should be much more deliberately brought into the design and implementation of REDD+ and recognized as legitimate forest users and stakeholders – if not as an ethical imperative to recognize their rights, then because the success of REDD+ depends on it. Greater attention on efficient stoves is one place to start.

Expanded from an article from REDD-Net Asia-Pacific Bulletin: Gender and REDD+.

[1] Lao PDR Department of Energy statistics, 2005.

[2] Southavilay, T. Timber Trade and Wood Flow Study. Lao PDR Regional Environmental Technical Assistance, Poverty Reduction & Environmental Management in Remote Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Watersheds Project (Phase I).

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  1. I also appreciate the positive thinking behind this article. With respect to Lao PDR, we should perhaps look at the full picture, not only compare wood fuel to timber but also include the emissions from shifting cultivation. I do not have the data at hand, but from personal observation, fuelwood is perhaps 10% or less of the amount of wood burnt every year for upland rice and maize cultivation. In this situation, village women in Laos do perhaps not perceive any shortage of fuelwood and may be less interested in fuel-efficient cooking stoves.

    I also like the idea of the pressure cooker used in India, but I have no idea if we could steam glutinous rice, the staple food in Laos, in them?

    In Northeast Thailand, I have observed over the last twenty years how the majority of rural villages switched massively from fuelwood stoves to gas cookers, which became easily available through Thailand’s vast network of paved roads and cheap transports services. Perhaps this is another approach worth studying?


    Joost Foppes

  2. Ghasiram Panda

     /  June 17, 2011

    I must appreciate Regan’s view on promoting fuel efficient stove. This will not only have an impact to check deforestration (though useing fuel wood is not at all a major cause for deforestration) but also reduce the drosery of women. In RCDC (the organisation I am associated with in India) we have also generated awareness to use pressure cooker. And this has shown its impact on less consumption of fuel wood and other health aspects. So in adition to the stove if the household will be motivated to use pressure cooker then it will add a value to it.


  1. Fuel-Efficient Stoves Protect Women’s Health and Forests | Climate Himalaya Initiative

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