According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2011, 11.3% of the Ugandan population cooks in the house, while 89% in rural areas cook in a separate building or outdoors, producing a large amount of smoke and pollution. Our colleagues in the Cookstove Project estimate 3.8 million households in Uganda (7% of the total population) cook on open fires or traditional charcoal stoves. In 2013, Mr Mike Sommer from the US joined forces with Omni Med in Uganda. He hired Africano Byrarugaba to direct operations on the ground. Since then, The Cookstove Project has developed a powerful cookstove construction model in which Omni Med trained VHTs becomes "Cookstove Masters" overseeing all aspects of cookstove construction and maintenance in the Mukono District. All Omni Med staff have been trained in cookstove construction and have constructed many cookstoves throughout certain parishes in Mukono. However, Omni Med staff fully recognize The Cookstove Project's expertise in this area and all stoves in the district are judged on the Cookstove Project's clear and high quality guidelines.
Almost as important as quality cookstove construction is that of proper usage. Part of the Cookstove Masters' jobs is to be sure that villagers are using stoves correctly. When villagers revert to standard three stone fire practices, and place too much wood into the stove, the stoves are far less effective and they can put out smoke. Properly maintained and utilzed stoves drastically reduce the indoor air pollution (IAP) and remove a key source of particulate matter that leads to pneumonia, asthma and other respiratory illness. The smoke from just one three stone, traditional fire is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes per day, which can prove fatal for village women and the infants who are constantly with them.
Omni Med and the Cookstove Project have been working together for several years now and constructed several thousand cookstoves in Mukono District, with the bulk of the stoves constructed by our partners in the Cookstove Project. The contained cooking chambers promote complete and clean combustion, significantly reducing IAP. In addition, a clay chimney provides an exhaust channel or any excess fumes that would otherwise fill the kitchen.
The methods of constructing this stove are low cost and easily transferable between women and their neighbors in a village, ensuring that use of this stove will spread quickly.
Construction involves 4 steps:
1. Changing Behavior: Adoption of a clean cookstove by villagers is not always easy. The health benefits are not understood and in fact are often not important to them. There are customs and traditions that are difficult to break.
2. Training and quality control: Training the trainers is an essential step because it is at this point that the skills, knowledge and best practices are passed on. A gap or misstep at this stage will result in the construction of stoves that offer no benefits to the end user.
3. Preparation and construction: There are certain logistics that are needed to purchase the necessary supplies and to organize the collection of the local materials. The construction process has to be well monitored. The proportions of the materials that go into the mortar must be correct and they must be properly mixed. The measurements need to be accurate and all of the air channels must be clear and free of materials so that the wood will burn correctly and the exhaust vent properly.
4. Follow up: After installation has been completed, it must be confirmed that the women are using the stove properly. If too much or too little wood is used or if the proper sized pans are not utilized, the health benefits will be limited. Proper maintenance and repair also needs to be considered.
Current plans hold for an ongoing expansion of cookstoves throughout Mukono District. Most of Ntenjeru Sub County has been completed and cookstoves are under construction throughout Nakusunga Sub County. In time, we will together move into northern Mukono as well.
Above: Mike Sommer, founder The Cookstove Project; below several cookstoves constructed in Ntenjeru Sub County, Mukono