For many villages in Senegal, cooking is a balancing act; a large cast-iron pot precariously poised atop three misshapen stones over a dancing open flame. Much of the heat is wasted, dissipating into the enclosed cooking hut instead of tightly directed at the bottom of the pot. This inefficiency requires more wood and more time spent cooking in a smoke-filled room. Every day, women venture further and further into the neighboring protected forest to harvest a rapidly diminishing supply of dead wood. The law forbids people from cutting living, or “wet”, trees, but when the supply is scarce, what other option is available?
There are, however, ways to reduce the fuel load and the amount smoke while cooking in the same amount of time or less by using improved cook stoves. There are prefabricated portable iron stoves for sale in larger cities, but a high up front cost often dissuades people (especially men who don’t collect firewood, don’t cook, and don’t sit in a room saturated with smoke three times a day, but who have tight control over the finances) from purchasing them. Clay stoves, entirely free and made with local materials, appear to be a more enticing alternative.
In February, I accompanied four very motivated women from my village, Mariama Diouf, Ami Diouf, Haddie Ngom, and Kumba Diouf, to the CREATE! center in Fass Barigo where we learned to make clay stoves. The stoves are inspired by the three stone cooking method, but built to fully enclose the cooking pot. This concentrates heat of the fire to the pot while significantly reducing the amount of wood needed in the three-stone method. Since less wood is being burned and the wood is being burned at a higher temperature, cooking with the clay stove also produces less smoke. In the training, the technicians did an awesome job in demonstrating how to build the cook stoves and after the lesson, we were able to build one by ourselves.
Upon returning to the village, the women set right to work in collecting materials and inviting their friends over to learn how to construct the stoves for themselves. If a woman wants a stove, she collects the materials beforehand and helps out building a stove at another compound. When it’s her turn, the original four women, those who want a stove and those who built the last stove come by to help. After the stove is built, she goes on to help construct a new stove the next compound. Below are photos of the stove-making process and the women with their finished stoves.