Fuel Efficient Cooking

New stove reflects what rural cooks want. CONSERVATION  by Matt Bokor  photos courtesy of Soluciones Apropiadas.

Women use the new stove to make tortillas for sale.

Women use the new stove to make tortillas for sale.

By enlisting the cooks in the design stage, an inventive new company has developed a super-efficient, wood-burning stove that incorporates age-old methods of cooking tortillas.

Although other initiatives have achieved positive results from safe, fuel-efficient stoves for rural households, Soluciones Apropiadas found that the clean- cookstove movement had largely ignored many small, predominantly women-owned and -operated food businesses.

This was a concern for Soluciones because these businesses often burn 10 times the amount of fuel in a day as a typical household. And because they often operate out of the home, they expose both occupants and employees to unhealthy air.

“In a typical tortillería, women are burning more than their own body weight in fuel every day,” explained Malcolm Gribble, a mechanical engineer from the United Kingdom who founded Soluciones Apropiadas with three friends and investors in September 2013.

For Malcolm and his team the problem wasn’t that women preferred to cook in these smoky conditions but that they had simply not been asked to participate in the development of an alternative. “It is a sad fact that many stove producers develop their models with little input from end-users,” he said. “Guatemalan women have been treated as passive recipients expected to adopt a one-size-fits-all stove design that is often unsuited to their needs.”

A woman uses a steel plancha over an open fire to make tortillas in the traditional method.

A woman uses a steel plancha over an open fire to make tortillas in the traditional method.

With support from the United Nations Foundation and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, Malcolm and his colleagues worked with women in Escuintla to help design and develop a prototype.

“Of our group of project participants, some were previously using a steel plancha and some were previously using comals. All of the women working with us say that the tortillas from our stove are of better quality. The masa stays soft and the tortillas are not burning. From a technical side this is due to the even heating of the plancha, the thickness of the plancha and the correct power of the fire,” Malcolm said.

At a cost of about Q2,500, which includes delivery, installation and a demonstration, the stove quickly pays for itself. It also reduces the loss of trees for firewood, and, since the fumes go up an eight-foot chimney, the family and employees can enjoy fresh air as they work.

Rosalinda, one of the tortilleras in the initial design phase, said she spent Q60 every day to buy 1.5 bundles of firewood to make tortillas on her simple, open-flame cook stove. With her new stove she pays about Q10 daily on firewood, a monthly savings of Q1,500—a huge saving for her and her family, who were previously struggling to break even.

“Not only is the stove saving her money, the family can now work in a smoke-free environment,” Malcolm said. “Our group of tortilleras like Rosalinda are giving us invaluable feedback on how we can improve the design further.”

Key to its efficiency is the “rocket”combustion chamber, which uses a unique internal structure to completely burn the firewood and evenly heat the plancha. While running, the stove produces no visible smoke and its exterior maintains a safe temperature to eliminate burns.

“The buzz we get when we are in the communities with the new stove has taken us by surprise,” Malcolm said. “We are often surrounded by groups of people asking questions and wanting to buy one (providing we offer finance). There have been some people who don’t want to make the change from a clay comal to a steel plancha, and we are currently looking at offering a similar model that allows the use of a clay comal.”

Meanwhile, field-testing continues. “We have a new group of 15 participants and every day we are measuring how much wood they are using,” Malcolm said. “We will then install the new stove and repeat the process so that we can accurately measure how much wood they are saving.”

Soluciones Apropiadas, which operates from an office and factory near La Antigua Guatemala, will start a crowd-funding campaign this month to launch the tortilla stove into the market. The donations will be used to form a marketing, sales and installation team and to build up inventory for sales, Malcolm added.

For more information visit solucionesapropiadas.com. Donate to the crowd-sourcing campaign at http://igg.me/at/tortillas.

With her new stove that she helped co-design, Margarita saves Q1,200 every month.

With her new stove that she helped co-design, Margarita saves Q1,200 every month.

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