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A cheap wood-fired cooking stove for the islands

Most islands in the Pacific notably Melanesian countries of Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and PNG have no shortage of wood fuel for cooking. When I analysed the 2008-09 Household Income and Expenditure Survey for the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, I found that an amazing 77% of all rural households still cook with wood, and over 85% amongst the poorest 40%. But even in urban areas, some 42% of the poorest 20% cooked with firewood, mostly over open fires, which is why so many urban outlets sell dogo (tiri) firewood. Almost certainly, the picture would be the same, or rather even more extreme for the other Melanesian countries. The trend may have strengthened because of the rising price of kerosene and cooking gas which is totally out of the islands’ control.

The Ministries of Health in the Pacific have always been concerned that the cooks over open wood fires, mostly women and girls, suffered many health risks, especially diseases to the eyes and respiratory tracts. There is large amount of waste wood being produced, with the harvesting of our mahogany and other forests, and most side cuts left to rot in the forest. The Reserve Bank of Fiji has also been concerned about the heavy burden of foreign exchange required annually to pay for imported fuel, including cooking gas and kerosene.

If rural people could cook on efficient wood stoves, there could be many benefits. • health benefits to the women and girls cooking. • wood waste would be reduced. • a more efficient use of firewood. • some eventual net savings of foreign exchange (if the stoves lasted long enough). From my enquiries I found that many earlier attempts to make simple smokeless stoves had not worked out very well for a variety of reasons. From my childhood days, I remembered my mother cooking on great big solid German cast iron stoves.

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