Improved ovens boon for forest, environment conservation
GULMI, Dec. 27: Shortage of fuel for cooking is one of the many problems faced by people in a developing country like Nepal.
In the rural parts of the country, generally women are given the responsibility of collecting firewood. In doing so, many a woman has to take risk of rape and life-threatening attacks. But they have to willingly or unwillingly accept this responsibility to feed their families.
With increasing deforestation, local sources of firewood are completely depleted in certain areas. This means that rural women have to travel further afield and dig up tree roots in their desperate attempt to collect firewood. This practice of even extracting the roots of trees for firewood precludes any chances of the trees growing again. Even if women survive this, they are still exposing themselves and their children to potentially deadly smoke fumes.
Ganga Khanal of Arkhale VDC in Gulmi district, however, has different experience and she unhesitatingly enters her kitchen to prepare meal for her family. Khanal feels so because she could use the improved oven that is smokeless and she could prepare meal from less quantity of firewood.
She shared, "Unlike the traditional hearth, the smoke emitted from the improved oven does not spread inside the house. Instead it is like cooking meal in liquefied petroleum (LP) gas stove. We used to feel the shortage of firewood in the past but these days I save 20/30 bulky load of firewood every year because even a single or two planks of woods is sufficient to cook pulses, curry, and rice at a time. It also does not spoil the cooking pots with layers of soot and smoke tar.
Locals in Gulmi are gradually using the improved ovens and are installing them by making slight changes in their traditional kitchen.
Kalika Khatri, who is a single woman from Hastichaur VDC, visits door-to-door by carrying a wooden frame to make bricks for the construction of improved stove and convinces the villagers to construct the improved oven. It is her main source of income besides the seasonal farming.
Khatri said "I had no other means of surviving after my husband died. I took training on the techniques of constructing the improved oven with financial support from the VDC in 2064 BS." She earns an average Rs. 4,000 monthly these days. She spends it for her children´s education and other daily expenses.
Not only Ganga and Kalika but also some 23,000 households in the district have been benefitted from the improved oven, said the villagers. It is because the improved oven has helped make their life healthy and save fuel and time for washing dishes, thanks to the Rural Economic Development Association (REDA), an organization working for promoting the use of improved oven.
Considerable improvements in people´s health, less consumption of firewood and shorter time required for cooking are the direct benefits from using the improved ovens and so the chimney ovens are becoming popular. In the past, we had to cook meals sitting in the kitchen filled with smoke which used to irritate the eyes but the situation has changed now, the village women say.
The improved oven project was first brought to the district in 2057 BS. The project was implemented in 15 VDCs at that time. The project was stopped in between but was back in 2059 BS. The villagers took initiatives to bring the modified oven project in 2060 BS once again, said Chairman of the Rural Technology Promotion Association, Shyamlal Khanal.
A total of 23,168 families have been using the improved oven by now, according to REDA. Improved oven saved up to 60 per cent firewood, REDA Chairman Khanal said. It does not only make easier preparing meal but it has also contributed to protecting the forests.
Karna Bahadur Pandey, the District Forest Officer, said the forest resources are being preserved with the increase in the use of improved stove and that the consumers of community forest are attracted towards improved stoves.
Basanti Bashyal, a local from Arkhale, earns up to Rs. 200,000 annually by constructing the ovens. "I took training in 2060 BS and has constructed more than 1200 ovens till now," she said proudly. "Including the expenses pertaining to my family, approximately, I have earned more than Rs. 10 lakhs from the work," Basyal added.
Of 79 VDCs in the district, the project is implemented in 69 VDCs and they are benefitted from the project. The construction works are going on with assistance from the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre and Energy Sector, under the Government, and with coordination of different NGOs.
Some of the VDCs have run the campaign to make improved ovens after the project turned to be helpful for afforestation and improving public health. "We have allocated a certain amount of money from the VDC budget and constructed ovens in Dalit settlements in Hastichaur as per the target group programme when the project became effective for saving firewood, conserving forest, and supporting human health," said VDC Secretary Krishna Bahadur Rayamajhi.
The community forest users´ committees in Darlamchaur and Myalpokhari have brought the improved oven constructing programme as a campaign.
Currently, almost all the houses in some of the VDCs in the district have been using the improved ovens whereas the campaign is making rapid in-roads in other VDCs, said REDA Programme Coordinator, Gyan Bahadur Mahatara. Women prefer making such ovens, he added.
With the use of improved stoves, the asthma and other respiratory and bronchial diseases have reduced, according to District Public Health Office. Study shows that some 40 people per 1,000 were found suffering by respiratory diseases in the Fiscal Year 2065/66 but it was reduced to 11 out of 1000 people in the Fiscal Year 2068/69, said Dr. Hari Bahadur K.C, Chief of the District Public Health Office, Gulmi.
About 200 people are employed by the project and that they take Rs. 500 to Rs. 1000 as construction charge.
Kendra Mahat from Musikot VDC and Prem Majhi from Johang VDC are well known as excellent oven promoters in the district. Mahat, in spite of his handicap, constructs a fine oven by using his single hand. Similarly, Majhi, who gave up his traditional way of living by fishing, makes good income from making improved ovens.
REDA has honored them with the Excellent Work Performance Award-2069 among all the contestants from nine districts where REDA has been running its projects.
Gulmi Chairman of REDA, Khanal said he has been maintaining his livelihood making the improved ovens in the district. Khanal, who is also secretary at the Chumpale Community Forests Users´ Committee, said, "We have been running a training campaign on construction of improved ovens coordinating with various community forests users´ committees in the district as the oven project was reported to be an effective measure in conserving the forest."
Locals in Hardineta, Myalpokhari, Pallikot, Baletaksar, and Paralmi VDCs are in a campaign to declare the VDCs as ´VDCs with Smoke Free Houses´, said Kamal Shrestha, VDC secretary at Hardineta.