Cooking dinner for your family should not cause you to contract diseases and die young. And yet according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), globally nearly two million deaths per year (mostly women and children) are attributed to respiratory diseases caused by indoor air pollution from open fires and simple stoves.
This affects many families in our community and region in north-east India, who use simple coal burning stoves. These stoves emit copious amounts of smoke and carbon monoxide, making them a real health concern. Essentially women and children can develop smoker’s lungs just through cooking and being around the home.
Preparing food for your family really shouldn’t be like this. So we’re excited to see potential for real progress coming within reach of the poor.
Over about the last 20 years, the very promising technology of wood-gas stoves (or micro gasifiers) has been developing. These stoves can use any kind of dry chunky biomass as a fuel (such as coconut shells, wood chips, carpentry wastes, manure etc.) But these are gas burning stoves, since instead of burning the biomass in one step, it is first gasified, and then the gas is burnt (all inside one simply constructed portable stove).
The process produces far less harmful air pollutants, and so this kind of stove (among others) is recognized by the WHO as having the potential to dramatically improve the health of some 3 billion people who are still exposed to excessive indoor air pollution.
Another benefit of wood-gas stoves is that once the fuel has been gasified it leaves behind a charcoal called ‘biochar’. Biochar has excellent properties for boosting soil productivity by retaining moisture and being a perfect home for lots of friendly soil microbes.
Also, when biochar is added to soils, it locks up carbon in the soil. The result is that cooking with these stoves is actually a ‘carbon-negative’ process. This means there is also potential to generate carbon offsets from wood-gas stove projects. Revenue from carbon offsets sold to people in the west can make the stoves financially accessible to the poor by enabling them to pay off their stove through the biochar they produce. Then once they’ve paid off their stove, families can get on-going economic uplift through using their stove and continuing to produce biochar.
Having thought and prayed about it, we’ve come to feel that this could be a good way for us as a foreigners to come alongside our community for its blessing. So our plan is to start a social business operating in the slums of our area with the goals of:
– getting clean burning stoves into the community for the health benefit of the people
– generating employment for people from the slums to manufacture the stoves
– buying back biochar from families using money from carbon offsets sold to people in the west (thereby making the stoves affordable for the poor)
– helping provide a way for people living in the west to reduce their carbon footprint and so live a little more responsibly as global citizens
– getting biochar into the soils of urban gardens and farms outside the city for healthier soils and greater crop yields
– helping establish a small cottage industry in biomass fuel supply (probably amongst a very poor community that live around and make their livelihoods from the local dump)
We are excited by a lot of potential good that could come out of all of this. But we also want to take things slowly. We want to do it in a way that empowers people in our community, that gives them ownership, helps them find some of their undiscovered potential, nurtures their gifts and dreams, and maybe helps cast a vision for business done for the blessing of the community.
[Contact us for more information about this project or opportunities to join a newly forming team for India.]