New cookstoves bring countless benefits to Indigenous communities in Ethiopia

01 July 2024

A project funded by the Onaway Trust has delivered new fuel-efficient cookstoves to communities in rural Ethiopia. Read on to hear from Vita how this work is improving the health, quality of life and environment of local Indigenous people.

Girma Zerihun has countless tales from his 73 years of life. His stories are rich with memories of his childhood, playing hide and seek in the dense forests of the Ethiopian Gamo highlands. He recalls gathering roots and fruits from the abundant woods, experiences that have deeply shaped his connection to the land. However, as a father of seven and grandfather to five, Girma fears that his grandchildren may never experience the same joys of the forest that he did.

His fears are justified. Only 5% of Ethiopia remains forested today, a stark reminder of the rapid deforestation plaguing the country. This depletion is driven by the reliance on inefficient and energy-hungry traditional cook stoves, which have been the primary source of cooking for Ethiopian households for generations.

The traditional cooking method used all over the continent is known locally as “Sost Gulicha” in Amharic, and involves balancing pots on three large stones over a fire, consuming vast amounts of wood and contributing significantly to deforestation. It’s very inefficient as most of the heat energy is lost before it reaches the bottom of the pot.

The introduction of improved cookstoves in the Gamo highlands, a programme run by Vita with support from the Onaway Trust, has brought hope to Girma and his community. These stoves are designed to be fuel-efficient, drastically reducing the amount of wood needed and consequently taking the stress off of local forestry.

© Vita

“Throughout my life, I have witnessed many wonderful things,” says Girma. “One significant gift is my appreciation for the comfort and benefits of wearing shoes, as opposed to walking barefoot as I did in my youth. However, I now see another change that holds equal importance: the value of these improved cookstoves. Its importance becomes evident when you consider the benefits it provides. It is essential for all of us, including my daughters and granddaughters, to have access to this stove. The improved cookstove will safeguard them from the smoke and hazards of traditional cookstoves when they begin their own families.”

Vita is using an inclusive and whole of community-led approach which ensures that the traditions, cultures, and heritage of Indigenous peoples are honoured and that no one is left behind.

“The stoves are transformational. I have told all my friends about them, and they have since started using the stoves. It's very unlikely that we will ever revert to the use of the Sost Gulicha ever again.”

- Shankate Serbe, beneficiary

The additional impacts on women’s health and wellbeing can’t be overestimated. Open flames from the old stoves cause many illnesses including heart, lung and eye disease as well as burns injuries and miscarriage. The reduced wood needed means that women and girls spend significantly less time gathering that wood and that liberates their time back to them for other more productive activities like income generation for the women or school for the girls. Watch this video to see the impact that the new stoves are having on the lives of women.

The programme is also very focused on conservation. Every household adopting a stove receives twenty fruit and nut saplings to plant in local community-managed plantations, and this encourages honey bees for additional income opportunities. These productive plantations disincentivise further tree felling. This initiative ensures that Girma’s grandchildren, and generations beyond, have an opportunity to derive joy from the forests, just as he did.

© Vita

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