UNDP provides access to clean cooking solutions in northern Thailand03-Mar-2016
New cook stoves improve people’s health and reduce toxic air pollution in Thailand
Mae Hong Son in northern Thailand is the poorest province in the country. Only 55 per cent of the population have access to energy services, and many households are not connected to an energy grid. Open fires are traditionally used and is the way of life for most of the poorest households in the province. Nearly 71 per cent of households use firewood for cooking. With household incomes averaging at THB 7,936 (US$ 222) per month, many also use open fires for heating which consumes a lot of wood and emits high levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Open fires have significant negative impacts on people’s health, especially women who usually operate the cook stoves in each household, and are more exposed to harmful smoke and at risk of respiratory diseases. Additionally, open fires contribute towards climate change and deforestation.
A large proportion of the population in Mae Hong Son rely on crop farming, where 90 per cent of the land area is covered in thick forest, while only 3 per cent is suitable for agricultural use. More than half of the population are from ethnic minority groups, such as Karen, Lahu, Lisu, Lau Hmong and Haw. However, the wide range of cultural customs and languages can sometimes create challenges in communication and prohibit some communities from accessing energy sources in the province.
Improved cook stove experiment
In an attempt to encourage communities to use more energy efficient and environmentally friendly cooking and heating methods, UNDP Thailand’s project 'Promoting Renewable Energy in Mae Hong Son Province' in partnership with the Mae Hong Son Governor's Office, Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency (DEDE), and the Ministry of Energy (MoE), carried out an improved cook stoves (ICS) experiment. The Promoting Renewable Energy in Mae Hong Son project, financially supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), carried out the ICS experiment to provide communities with better access to new and affordable household renewable energy. The ICS were designed by the MoE to reduce fuel consumption per meal, produce more heat, and to curb smoke emissions. Traditional cook stoves predominantly used by households, are generally energy inefficient and omit toxic pollutants. In 2015, the project distributed new ICS to 130 participants who came from three sub-districts of two districts in Mae Hong Son province.
The month-long ICS experiment aimed firstly, to raise awareness on using more efficient cook stoves; secondly, to provide access to clean cooking solutions; and lastly, to reduce the level of harmful emissions into the environment. The ICS which have a life-span of 2-3 years, retail for around THB 150-200 (US$ 4-6) and are made of clay and enclosed in a thick galvanized iron bucket. The key structures which make the new cook stoves more efficient include:
1. Smaller grate holes that create better air ventilation.
2. Shorter stove poles and a reduced curved rim which reduces heat loss.
3. Smaller fire chamber to accommodate a smaller amount of fuel used.
4. Durable insulation between the stove body and cladding (made of rice husk ash mixed with clay) serves to store high heat for a longer period.
One of the participants from the ICS experiment, 63-year-old, grandmother, Jantip Namkam from Tambon Wieng Nua in Mae Hong Son province, was so convinced of the benefits of the ICS that she purchased one for her family. Jantip, who uses her cook stove to cook all the meals for her family of seven said, "I used to cook our meals on an older model cook stove which consumed more firewood, but I prefer my new cook stove because it uses less firewood. Before receiving the new cook stove, my son used to travel every week to the local forest to collect firewood for cooking. But with this new cook stove, my son travels to the forest only once a month which has also reduced his motorbike fuel costs."
Another participant from the ICS experiment, 66-year-old Kaewta Kaewkong, also from Tambon Wieng Nua, uses her ICS to cook traditional food which she sells at the local market. Noticing the clear benefits of her new cook stove to prepare a wider variety of meals more quickly, Kaewta purchased an additional ICS to enable her to produce more meals.
“As a result of purchasing the two improved cook stoves, my income has almost doubled and now I can easily earn between THB 300-400 (US$ 9-11) per day,” said Kaewta. Acting as a change agent, Kaewta explained, “My neighbours have all seen my new cook stoves and they have witnessed for themselves how quickly it takes to cook a meal for a family, and that it uses less firewood too. Many of them have bought new cook stoves for their homes,” added Kaewta.
Increasing access to clean energy
Wood consumption in Thailand for fuel is approximately 75-80 per cent for all uses. As natural forests diminish and the population increases, firewood becomes scarcer. In addition to planting faster growing tree species, the usage of ICS is vital to reduce firewood consumption. The main benefits expected to be gained by rural communities in Thailand using more efficient cook stoves include: firstly, a decrease in national overall fuelwood consumption, and thereby an indirect decrease in the rate of deforestation. Secondly, a reduction of time spent cooking and a reduction in air pollutants. Thirdly, reduced health risks from harmful smoke with the safety design of the cook stove, and lastly, a reduction in the amount of money spent on firewood.
UNDP's 'Promoting Renewable Energy in Mae Hong Son Province' project manager, Sorat Phutthaphithak said, “Individual savings on the ICS due to them having longer life-spans; improved materials and technology used for constructing them which provides improved efficiency; combined with better understanding of cook stove operation, care, and maintenance; will together help the economy of cook stove producers and users in the long run.”
The ICS are now available for sale in Chiang Mai and Lampang provinces, and awareness is being raised through the participants of the ICS experiment and project staff on the usage and benefits of efficient cook stoves, and forest conservation. It is envisaged that the experiences of the participants from the ICS experiment will serve as an example for other locations in Mae Hong Son province and other remote areas in Thailand.
As UNDP Thailand works with key partners to ensure rural communities have access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy, the term ‘Access to clean cooking solutions’ is now included in the United Nations’ Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda under Sustainable Development Goal 7 – affordable and clean energy. The inclusion of SDG7 signifies the international community’s recognition of clean cooking solutions as essential for climate protection, women’s empowerment and international development because it highlights the inextricable links between energy access and poverty.
Ms. Angelique Reid, Communication and Partnership Officer
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