During the whole course of human evolution, cooking has been over open fires. Cookstoves were not invented until our great grandparents' time and are still unknown to most of the world's people. Cooking follows ancient traditions; the three-rock fire is still used all over the world.
To most of us, fire is magical, it has life of its own. Using fire is a link with our earliest days of being human; the hearth is the center of home and family. The introduction of any kind of stove, however simple, is a giant step, both technical and social. It changes far more than just cooking habits; the basic relationship between Man and one of the Four Elements has been altered.
The hearth, the place where cooking is done, is a place of great ritual significance, surrounded by taboos and customs which have accumulated over the millennia.
The cooking place is often the 'hub of the household, the kitchen is the room where most time is spent. This is equally true of modern European apartments, American dream homes and African grass huts.
Fires and hearths have a profound social importance; to many people their use is little short of sacred. Stove developers must understand and respect this and proceed with caution in changing so fundamental a part of the way of life.
Beware of the quick solution
Basic social research is essential to generating new technologies. Unfortunately, sociological studies, even when available, are often looking for something different from what you want. Even if studies have been made of the factors you need to know about, field correlations will probably reveal a very different situation when you apply them to what you are doing. There is no substitute for your own experience. It is dangerous and arrogant to suppose you can quickly assess the social information that will enable you to design perfect stoves in an unfamiliar area. The complex and subtle needs of a culture will only be revealed by living in it. It is possible that the people have no need for stoves, or that there are reasons they will never want them. Other problems may have priority.
Most good tools have evolved over centuries, their design shifting gradually to the near perfection of a good hammer or spade. No single person designed them overnight. The users tried them, adapted them, adjusted, made corrections. A stove should be a good tool so it needs this kind of refinement. If centuries are not available, then the background social and cultural research needs to be comprehensive; not statistically, but as an understanding of the people and how they live.
Read Chapters 2 and 3 before making any social assumptions.
Don't start with the idea that "stoves would be good for them"
It may seem obvious to an outsider that stoves would be desirable. Unless this is equally clear to local people, attempts to introduce stoves could be seen as ways of undermining deep cultural traditions, and resented.
The idea of fuel-conserving stoves may come from outside, but local people know they will be there long after outsiders have gone away, so the desire to use stoves must be their own. In some places the need will be known: the people may hate smoke in their kitchens or be alarmed at the price of fuel. In these places, once it is known that solutions are available, adoption of stoves is likely to be fast and enthusiastic.
Any new technology, if it is to respond well to the real needs of people, must be an answer to a problem they themselves identify. When bathtubs were supplied in Scottish government-built housing, some tenants kept coal in them, outraging the middleclass planners and architects whose concepts of cleanliness revolved around bathtubs. The tenants, who had come from slums without tubs, saw no need for bathtubs and had developed other techniques for keeping clean, but they had no place to keep their coal.
The first part of any stove introduction program must involve local people. Learning what they need will help you decide together whether there is indeed need for a stove, or rather for better information on the effects of smoke in kitchens, or the rural deforestation problem. If deforestation is not seen as a problem, if there is a good supply of wood, and if smoke doesn't bother them, they probably don't need a stove. If this is so, turn your attention to something else.
Read Chapter 2, Finding Information, be" fore assuming that stoves would be good for people.
Don't assume that a stove from another area will be suitable
Your own cultural prejudices will bias you towards selecting a stove that seems most suitable for the people Oh the basis of what you know. This is dangerous. The people will know what they like far better than you ever can. Don't assume that because you have a college degree or can read or have traveled a lot, that you are any smarter than they are.
The science of improved stoves is in its infancy. Not one of the stoves in this manual is perfect, even for the situation it was designed for, and each is probably quite unsuited to other conditions. If it is randomly taken into another culture, it is highly unlikely that foods, pots, fuel and attitudes toward fire will be similar; it won't ft.
Once people are involved in trying to solve their own problems your job may become simply that of an interpreter of information to which they have no other access, such as ways of building stoves in other countries. You can help them select techniques which will best suit their own conditions, by showing them testing methods, and encouraging experimentation.
Every year, our understanding of how to design really good stoves improves substantially; this is a fast-changing technology which is still open to quite original ideas from total amateurs. Of necessity, the materials and tools are simple, and the techniques are fast and easy. Here is an opportunity to evolve a design system for your own region which will truly respond to the needs felt by local people.
Read Chapter 2 and 3 before trying to design a stove for your area.
How not to be a stove salesman
It is unlikely you will be marketing a product. Unfortunately the models we have for spreading new ideas come chiefly from the marketing industry. Our concepts tend to revolve around the notion of salesmanship, that is, pressing a "product" which has been manufactured elsewhere, onto a "market" that may be resistant to it. If the product is toothpaste or aspirin or tractors it is fairly easy to demonstrate a need for it by advertising it persuasively until people are convinced they actually do need it. Pressure comes from the top. The need to produce comes from the industry itself.
This type of system works badly for rural people in poor countries. Because the product is manufactured elsewhere, it sucks scarce capital out of rural areas, making the people increasingly dependent on cities and other richer countries.
Stoves, because they are technically simple and often use local materials' belong to another system. This means that the people themselves can exert pressure for technical help, adding their ideas to those of outsiders to produce not a product but a technique. Through refinement by the people instead of for them, the technique spreads and adjusts to all of the local variations in cooking habits, fuels, climate and family structure. This allows people to be part of developing their own technologies, and ensures that technical solutions respond to their needs.
Read Chapter 3 on Developing Stoves with Local People before trying to persuade anyone they need stoves.
Why not to build an untested model in a public place
An item as important as a new way of cooking attracts a lot of attention. In most places where you build a new stove it will be under immediate scrutiny for any faults that people can find. They may, however, be impressed enough to copy it or order one for themselves, starting a chain of poorly adapted copies which is hard to break.
Conditions vary from place to place. A stove which has performed well in one country may be totally inappropriate in another. The heavier pots may break it, slightly different materials may wear badly, it may deteriorate quickly under the local climate. Above all, your construction methods may well be clumsy at first and you may immediately see improvements that can be made in construction and design.
You are advised to build an experimental prototype first, in privacy and in collaboration with a knowledgeable local artisan or cook who can contribute ideas which hadn't occurred to you.
Read Chapter 4, Promotion and Dissemination, before building a prototype.
Don't get angry when people don't immediately adopt your stove
Introducing anything new can take a long time. Often, early attempts will be failures because they are isolated experiments where the user is without support of other people trying the same innovation. The user sometimes doesn't want to stand out, and may lack inventive help in making adjustments to the new conditions.
Stoves may be abandoned because of minor difficulties the cook can't easily resolve - a pot that won't fit, a burnt dish before she learns how to control the fire, fuel not fitting in the firebox. These are difficulties an observant helper can notice before they cause too much trouble, so frequent visits to users homes are advisable at first.
Then there are the people who find they like something about open fires after all, the extra heat on cold mornings, subtle ways they have grown accustomed to for adjusting the heat. Sometimes older people are more rigid and go back to open fires, where young folks might be more open to new ideas.
Failures are more revealing than successes in telling you what changes might be needed for a widespread program so it is important to monitor early introductions carefully.
Read Chapters 3 and 4 before trying to interpret what's going wrong.