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A woman making a cookstove Completed In Their Lifetime project in focus

Improved cookstoves, Ethiopia and Mali

In Their Lifetime’s (ITL) multinational cookstoves trial came to an end in 2017, with the completion of its final two pilot projects, in Ethiopia and Mali. These followed similar ventures in Nigeria and Malawi.


Across the developing world, time-consuming domestic tasks such as collecting firewood and cooking fall overwhelmingly to women and girls, limiting their time for education or work.

Women and girls in the Ethiopia project area spend 24 hours a week collecting firewood.

ITL’s pilots trialled encouraging the supply and demand for affordable stoves which use less fuel and emit less smoke, saving women’s valuable time and money, while also improving their wellbeing while cooking.

Each small-scale pilot trialled different models of stove, and varying approaches to production, distribution and awareness-raising, according to their local context. They also had to develop ways to make the stoves affordable for even the poorest families.

  • With at least a 40% reduction in fuel needed, women and girls now spend much less time collecting firewood – or less money buying it.
  • The new stoves have made cooking easier, safer, quicker and more comfortable. In Mali, tests showed that cooking times fell by over a third. With no open fire, the hearth is less smoky, and women don’t need to constantly fan the flames.
  • In Ethiopia the project worked through more than 300 new and existing savings and loan groups to help poor women afford stoves. These have brought wider benefits in terms of women’s financial literacy and access to basic banking services. Loan finance has enabled entrepreneurial women to invest in their businesses as well as to buy stoves.
Impacts of improved cookstoves
James Hutchinson

The pilots have generated a huge amount of experiential learning about practical and logistical issues, ranging from the availability and transport of raw materials, to the establishment of new relationships with private sector partners.

Clearly, artisan stoves bring significant benefits in terms of time, money, safety and wellbeing, and production also boosts local economies.

But basic, affordable stoves do not curb smoke emissions enough to reduce respiratory illnesses. Higher quality stoves would cut air pollution more dramatically. Less smoky rooms would improve families’ comfort indoors and likely bring better health outcomes – but they would be too expensive for poorer families and would not benefit local producers.

Future cookstoves work needs to acknowledge and balance these trade-offs, and be clear from the outset about where each project’s primary focus lies.