Rural India gets a lifesaving cookstove – Economy and Politics – livemint.com

Rural India gets a lifesaving cookstove

Envirofit plans to introduce stoves below Rs500 for the 30 million below poverty line households in India

Poornima Mohandas

Bangalore: B.B. Anisa, 21, has been using a new cooking stove for the past three months and says she loves it. She has recommended it to her neighbours and her mother. “Dal cooks fast, needs less wood and produces little smoke,” says Anisa, who cooks rice, roti and fish for her family of five. She switched from a liquefied petroleum gas cylinder to an Envirofit cookstove on the recommendation of her local home appliance retailer. The Gundalpet, south Karnataka, resident used to struggle to get a new cylinder each time her old one ran out of gas. Now she uses twigs gathered from the neighbourhood as fuel.

Healthier option: Two of the earliest customers for Envirofit’s cooking stoves prepare a meal in Chittradurga, Karnataka.

Healthier option: Two of the earliest customers for Envirofit’s cooking stoves prepare a meal in Chittradurga, Karnataka.

Anisa, who is oblivious to her stove’s brand, is also unaware of the larger health risk of indoor air pollution she would have faced had she opted for a traditional three stone stove. According to the World Health Organization’s, or WHO’s, Indoor Air Pollution: National Burden of Disease Estimates of 2002 (the latest available), at least 80% of Indians used solid fuels for cooking and the resultant pollution has killed over 400,000 people. Indoor smoke contains a range of pollutants, including carbon monoxide and particulate matter, sometimes 20 times higher than accepted values. Globally, at least three billion people depend on solid biomass fuels such as wood, dung, agricultural residue and coal, leading to as many as 1.6 million deaths a year.

Envirofit India Pvt. Ltd—founded by Shell Foundation, the UK, part of the Shell Group, and Envirofit International, a US-based not-for-profit with its research base in Colorado State University—is determined to right the problem of indoor air pollution. Having started operations in January 2008, Envirofit India has so far sold 50,000 stoves in the southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Envirofit claims its stoves facilitate fuller combustion, thereby cutting toxic emissions by 80% and halving fuel use. The stoves, made of heat-insulating material, reduce cooking time by as much as 40%—all this when compared with traditional three stone stoves.

The stoves, available through 400 retailers and at least 40 distributors across south India, retail at a minimum of Rs700 for a single pot burner to a maximum of Rs2,700 for a two-pot burner. Envirofit plans to introduce stoves below Rs500 for the 30 million below poverty line households in India.

The company does not use the health angle to push the product to the targeted wood-buying 120 million households in rural India, says Harish Anchan, managing director, Envirofit India. Their argument usually is: “My grandmother has been cooking (in a traditional stove) but she didn’t face any (health) problem(s).” Instead the company sticks to the “save time, save money” tag line.

Having introduced its products in India, Envirofit International is examining prospects in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ghana and Nigeria. Globally, it aims to sell 5 million stoves in five countries in five years. The Indian arm aims to break even in December or latest by March 2010. By 2011, it is charting for a pan-Indian presence. Envirofit India is currently evaluating local manufacturers to substitute imports from its manufacturing base in China. The plan is to churn out as many as 50,000-100,000 stoves a month locally by September.

Going forward, the firm could diversify into retail solar lighting and water purification products for which research is under way in Colorado State University. “The channel is ready,” says Anchan.

The retail channel in south India sure seems ready. Sadathulla M.H., 34, a home appliances retailer in Gundalpet, says he sells more Envirofit stoves in a month than kerosene, electric or gas stoves. “Envirofit stoves are good for poor people since wood is easy to collect. (There is) no need to wait for electricity or gas.”

poornima.m@livemint.com

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