Spreading Like Wild Fire: Forest Dwelling Communities Use Smokeless Cook Stoves

Spreading Like Wild Fire: Forest Dwelling Communities Use Smokeless Cook Stoves
Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan /UNDP India

Close to 2000 households residing on the fringes of a national park in the South Indian state of Karnataka are addressing climate change by installing smokeless stoves in their homes. It is reducing Carbon dioxide emissions and firewood consumption, and improving the health of these forest dwelling communities. 

Its 8am in Chamalapura, a tiny village in Yelandur district, in the south Indian state of Karnataka. In the backyard of her hut, Suma, 27, is engaged in a seemingly-unusual activity for women in the area. With concentrated attention, she drops a fistful of concrete, into a sieve, expertly letting the particles separate, the rustling sound almost in synchrony with the breeze outside. On the tiled-roof of their single room hut, her husband Chinnaswamy, is fixing a narrow chimney. They’re in the process of installing a smokeless cookstove for their home.


  • Close to 2000 households in villages in Karnataka, India are addressing climate change by replacing their traditional, polluting cookstoves with smokeless ones
  • Across the villages and towns in India, over 100 million kitchens use over 250 million tonnes of firewood every year to meet their cooking energy needs
  • The World Health Organisation estimates that indoor pollution causes one million premature deaths each year in India
  • The smokeless cookstoves have significantly reduced the consumption of firewood and even halved the carbon dioxide emissions
  • The green innovation has transformed the lives of the villagers, especially women, who don’t have to walk long distances in search of firewood and now breathe cleaner air
  • The project is supported by the Global Environment Facility, administered by UNDP and the Centre for Environmental Education is the implementing partner

Since 2009, villages nestled in the forests bordering the famous Nagarhole National Park and BR Hills Wildlife Sanctuary have installed smokeless cookstoves in their homes. Close to 2000 households have cut down on the firewood consumed by traditional cook stoves, halving CO2 emissions. Its also freed women from the daily search for firewood and families are healthier.

Four years ago, the traditional cookstove in Jayamma’s kitchen caught fire, burning down the family kitchen. The devastation to her house caused months of hardship for the family that relied on daily wage labour for an income as they slowly built back. With support from the project, Jayamma installed a smokeless cookstove in 2011. She recalls life for her family of six, before her kitchen became smokeless. “The traditional stove consumed around 25kgs of firewood in a single week, but with the new stove, we the same amount of firewood lasts 15 days.”

The climate mitigation initiative, between 2009 and 2011, is supported by the Global Environment Facility’s small grants programme. Administered by the United Nations Development Programme, in India, the Centre for Environmental Education is the implementing partner. Such was the success of the initiative in five villages, a subsequent grant in 2012 has enabled the project to reach out to more households.

The smokeless cookstove has transformed the lives of villagers. For the first time-ever, twenty-six year old Bhagya, is able to cook without billowing smoke causing her to cough and her eyes to burn. “I don’t even notice the smoke from the new stove, as it neatly filters out through my chimney,” she marvels.  Smokeless cook stoves are also more efficient halving cooking time, freeing up women’s time.

To help women cash in on the few precious hours they have free a day, the project has set up a couple of tailoring units in the area, where women are trained to make garments. Bhagya whose husband is a daily wage earner for a groundnut merchant in a nearby village, hopes to learn tailoring and run a business from home.

Joining Bhagya is 18 year old Lata, who has suffered from asthama since she was a child. The World Health Organisation estimates that indoor pollution causes one million premature deaths each year in India. Since Lata’s family installed a smokeless cookstove, she has fewer respiratory troubles, and today she walks to the tailoring unit every day, learning how to stich garments.

These stories of change, have inspired others like Suma and Chinnaswamy from a nearby village who are installing their own cook stove. The project provides the mason to build the stove and material but families, often husband and wife, pitch in working side by side, working in complete cohesion – building a sustainable future ahead. 


Photos: Prashanth Vishwanathan/UNDP India

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