VIENTIANE, Laos (MindaNews / 16 Oct) – Buying a new cookstove is not easy. Sellers offer heaps of different models that look alike and as a buyer, how do you know how it performs at home? Not to mention that the human brain does not like to make decisions. The problem is apparent in Dongmakind market, along Road Number 10 to Thangon. All outlets offer a wide array of models.
But, if you believe the saleswoman, Ms Sai, 35, choosing has now become easy. She sells something that the others don’t have yet – the improved tao payat (fuel-saving cookstove). A prominent, blue sticker distinguishes the stoves and a tarpaulin poster states that these stoves are “quality-tested and more efficient” than traditional stoves.
“They are better,” Ms Sai, who had sold two out of a first batch of five cookstoves a week after she began displaying them, tells Vientiane Times on a Friday afternoon. She promotes the stoves to customers, saying they are fuel-saving, long lasting, and friendly to health and the environment.
She is among Vientiane’s first five retailers of a new, improved tao payat model, which resulted from a project of SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and the local Non-Profit Association Normai. It was paid for by the European Union, Oxfam and the Blue Moon Fund.
The project started in Savannakhet in 2011, where in 2012 about 1,500 stoves already have been sold. Sales will reach 5,000 in 2013 and go up to 20,000 in 2014. Now, the first stoves are being sold in Vientiane. They are also going to be promoted at a special booth during the upcoming boat racing festival.
Mr Bastiaan Teune, Sector Leader of Renewable Energy of SNV in Laos, says the project tries to connect the private and the public sector and to improve the lives of the people as its main purpose. It focuses on making the traditional stove more efficient and durable. By replacing the old tao dam with the improved tao payat, a household can save about 20 percent of fuel, which is equal to 300 grams of charcoal per day. It also boils water faster.
This might not look like much, but quickly becomes so when scaled-up. In total, Laos can save at least 30,000 kilograms of charcoal per day with the 100,000 improved cook stoves that the project aims to produce by 2016. About 50,000 cookstoves of them will be distributed in Vientiane capital and province, 25,000 each in the provinces of Savannakhet and Champasak.
Mr Teune explains that the roughly 100kg charcoal that one new cookstove saves per year results in greenhouse gases equal of one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2). The total greenhouse gas emissions reduced by the project during the period of 2014-2016 will be 150,000 tons, he says. “This is equal to the emissions of 20,000 passengers flying from Vientiane to Amsterdam and back,” Mr Teune explains.
The reduced greenhouse gas emissions could theoretically also be sold on the international carbon market in the future. Unfortunately, they’re not worth that much nowadays. “The ‘market price’ to sell one ton used to be US$10, but is now at an all-time low at US$1 only due to the low international commitment to the Kyoto Protocol,” adds Mr Teune. The greenhouse gases saved by the improved cookstoves would have a total market value of about US$150,000.
While it is true that the use of the improved tao payat reduces carbon emissions from cooking, it does not stop suppliers of charcoal to cut trees and char wood. But wood and charcoal can be considered as renewable sources of energy only if another tree is planted after cutting one, says Mr Teune. This is beyond the scope of this particular project, and he has made steps to do so.
The producer of the first cookstoves in Vientiane is Mr Loth, 35, whose workshop lies in Oudomphone village. On the ground, hundreds of grey tao payat stoves wait to be baked in the kiln. While his employees are crafting stove after stove in the back, he says that he doesn’t expect to earn much more from supplying the new-designed stoves instead of the old ones, due to the longer durability. “But after using three of these stoves at home, I knew then that they would quickly sell out in the market”, says Mr Loth. An improved cookstove costs 10,000 kip more than a traditional cookstove but it lasts a year and a half longer, he adds.
Around the world, 1.6 billion people depend on charcoal and wood for cooking. In Laos, over 80 percent of the households still use traditional stoves for cooking, at least twice a day. Cookstoves are “detrimental to the livelihood of people,” according to Mr Teune, and their use also brings certain risks. Firewood takes time to collect, for example, and smoke creates a lot of health problems. Worldwide, about four million people die per year from smoke-induced diseases. Increasing the efficiency of the cookstoves lessens all these troubles.
Another long-term impact of the project, Mr Teune says, is the introduction of quality standards: “Let producers agree on quality standards with retailers. Consumers will distinguish a good stove from a traditional one by the blue label. The government can take part in quality assurance, using better methods to check the efficiency of stoves.”
Testing is done by the Institute of Renewable Energy and New Materials of the Ministry of Science and Technology, where staff tests the efficiency and characteristics of different models. For the first time ever a quality standard is introduced to the cookstove market in Lao PDR.
The second outlet that features the tao payat in Dongmakind market is the one of Ms Khek, 29. The new model is lined up together with old ones like the tao dam (black stove) or stoves made of cement. She points to a small wood-fired stove when asked which one sells best. Why? “It’s the cheapest and costs only 20,000 kip each. But it can only last for seven to eight months.” She notes that although the improved tao payat costs 45,000 kip, it can last up to two years. On her shelf, a quite special one, the first ever produced cookstove with the serial number 001, produced by Mr Loth, waits for his new owner.
[Lorie Ann Cascaro of MindaNews is one of the fellows of the FK Norway (Fredskorpset) exchange program in partnership with the Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists. She’s currently in Laos and hosted by the Vientiane Times.]