Spotlight India: energy-efficient cook stoves help preserve natural habitat
How do efficient cook stoves help protect elephant habitat?
You might not see the connection at first glance, but it makes perfect sense in the context of the Greater Manas landscape in northeast India’s Assam state where the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) works to protect elephants.
Manas National Park lies along the foothills of the Himalayas and consists of a mosaic of habitat types ranging from evergreen, semi-evergreen to mixed deciduous forests.
Lots of animals live in the area -- and lots of people.
For centuries, the local people have used wood from these forests for cooking. But cutting too much wood too fast can degrade the habitat, with dire consequences for all who depend on it, from elephants to tigers to humans.
In fact, Greater Manas constitutes one of the largest and most critical wildlife habitats in India, contiguous with forests in Bhutan (Royal Manas National Park) in the north and the Buxa Tiger Reserve of West Bengal, India, in the west.
The area is an important wildlife migratory route for long-ranging mammals such as elephants and tigers along the West Bengal-Assam-Bhutan-Arunachal Pradesh corridor.
Considering the importance of the area, UNESCO declared the Manas Wildlife Sanctuary (MWS) a United Nations World Heritage Site in 1984.
IFAW-Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI) is committed to protecting this amazing area and its wildlife. To do so, the people who live there need to pitch in.
To help reduce tree-felling in Greater Manas, IFAW-WTI is helping install improved cooking stoves in local households in the region.
With these stoves installed in 182 households so far, around 2,500 trees may be saved annually, as fuel consumption is reduced by about one kilogram per person per day.
The community-based conservation activity is a part of the initiative to ‘Bring back Manas’ to its former glory, under an IFAW-WTI’s project to protect elephants and other wild animals in the Greater Manas landscape.
The improved cooking stoves have been installed in three clusters of villages around Manas National Park and Reserve Forest. Fabricated using local raw material - soil, cow dung, rice husk and iron bars, these stoves are designed to maximise fuel efficiency.
"Our prime concern in providing these improved cook stoves was to ensure that fewer trees are felled, and less wood is extracted from the forests."
"When we calculated the fuelwood use before and after installation, we found a reduction of 0.92 kg of wood per day per individual," said IFAW-WTI sociologist Sanatan Deka.
The stoves have additional benefits as the smoke produced is reduced, making it a healthier alternative for these families.
Deepen Goyari, former secretary of the Kahitama Manas Conservation and Ecotourism Development Society, said, “I have not really measured the wood consumption, but I know it benefits my family’s health. The earlier stoves used to give out a lot of smoke, but with these improved stoves, there’s no smoke at all, indoors.”
The improved stoves maximise efficiency by reducing heat wastage.
One end has an opening for fuel wood while the other end has the chimney that leads the smoke outside the house. With two stove-openings, two dishes can be cooked simultaneously.
“During summers it gets rather hot in this region. As compared to the earlier stoves, these stoves prove a better option for cooking as they do not get very hot around it,” added Goyari, who is himself now advocating for and helping fabricate these stoves.
“These stoves will directly benefit both the forest’s fringe villages and the wildlife habitats. The good thing is that the people understand their value and have enthusiastically welcomed the change,” commented Samar Boro, another IFAW-WTI sociologist who along with Deka was instrumental in helping implement this initiative.
A pre-installation survey carried out among these families revealed that the per capita fuel wood consumption in a traditional cook stove was 2.73 kg a day. After the improved cook stoves were installed, the per capita fuel wood consumption was found to have fallen to 1.81 kg per day.
“If we assume that each of the 182 households have at least four members, the annual fuel wood saved amounts to about 250,000 kgs of wood, which is equivalent to 2,500 small trees (about 100 kg each), as people prefer to cut down smaller trees for fuel wood for ease of felling and transport,” added Deka.
“This calculation only accounts for wood used in cooking their meals. If we include the fuel consumed in brewing local rice beer or feed for their animals, the amount of wood saved will be even higher. Considering its benefits, we are planning to spread this to more households and even forest camps.”