Addressing Asia’s energy needs from forestry to better stoves

  • To help reduce intensive charcoal use, GERES Cambodia began the Cambodia Fuelwood Saving Project (CFSP) at the end of 1997, with the aim of studying the features of traditional stoves used in Cambodia and developing a more efficient alternative. GERES

  • In Cambodia, wood provides for more than 80% of people’s energy needs. People have traditionally relied on wood for cooking and palm sugar production. Today, all of the fuel wood in Cambodia comes from unsustainable and illegal logging of local forests, which has become a major issue due to the rapid pace of population growth and development. GERES

  • Cooking with wood and charcoal has direct negative health impacts on users, most of which are women. Indoor air pollution, mostly from wood and charcoal smoke, is responsible for respiratory, heart and eye problems. GERES

  • GERES introduced the New Lao Stove in Cambodia in response to the growing demand of charcoal for domestic cooking in the urban areas of the country. By creating an improved grate design and insulation while remaining intentionally similar to traditional South East Asian cooking stoves, it offers an attractive alternative to traditional stoves. GERES

  • The New Lao Stove’s main advantages lie in its ability to reduce charcoal consumption (by up to 30%) and its durability (3 years). GERES

  • Manufacture of the New Lao Stove has shifted from small scale to mass production, culminating in a total of more than 1.5 million stoves sold (May 2003 - Dec 2011). GERES

Like millions of people living in rural Cambodia, Von Srey Keo still relies on biomass—firewood, charcoal, and organic matter—to cook food and heat her home.

But nearly three-quarters of the wood material in Cambodia is non-renewable, making the demand for biomass energy a major driver of deforestation.

That’s why Srey Keo is working with The Group for the Environment, Renewable Energy and Solidarity (GERES). Over the past 15 years, GERES has addressed forest degradation in Cambodia by supporting the production and sales of a domestic low-energy cookstoves. The benefits go beyond energy efficiency, though; for people like Srey Keo, these stoves represent an opportunity to start a small business.

In 2012, Srey Keo joined a training organized by GERES for future New Lao Stove producers and took out a loan of $1,000 from a microfinance bank to help set up her business. In the first few months of production, she, with help from her husband, mother and brother, produced some 115 stoves each month.

“Being a worker could not provide enough income for our family,” Srey Keo says. “I felt really scared when I started the business—I had no money and had to take out a loan. But I’m not scared anymore. I am confident and we manage very well.”

In economic terms, this small business model is also sustainable and scalable. In Cambodia, GERES connected a community of cookstove producers from Kampong Chhnang and 6 other provinces with distributors and retailers to support market access for their products. Now, over 300 rural microentrepreneurs serve 900,000 Cambodian homes with improved cooking solutions: That adds up to 1,413,311 tons of wood saved between 2003 and 2013.

Building on this success, GERES is now working to replicate the cookstove business model in Myanmar, where more than 90% of the population also relies on biomass and inefficient, highly polluting cookstoves. If stories like Srey Keo’s are any indicator, the future of Asia’s forests, families and economy is looking cleaner and brighter.

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