Fuel cookies could save lives by eliminating deadly smoke

Cooking smoke kills hundreds of people a day, but one company has come up with a clever alternative – and a finance model to fund it – to help Bhutanese families cook up a better future

Nearly five hundred people around the world die every hour due to inhaling cooking smoke – that’s more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. The poisonous gases released from unsafe indoor cooking are also responsible for nearly half of all pneumonia deaths in children under five.

Yet despite the dangers of cooking with open fires – traditionally using firewood, charcoal and animal dung – it remains the most common method of food preparation in developing countries, with some 2.5 billion people exposed to deadly smoke every day.

The issue, according to sustainability co-operative Dazin, is one of the greatest social and environmental problems in the world. Deadly cooking smoke is threatening lives around the globe, but with few affordable alternatives available, those affected have little choice but to keep using it, and are forced to spend up to 25% of their income on fuel which may kill them.

However, Dazin has created a cleaner, safer cooking alternative – ‘the fuel cookie’ – and, crucially, a clever financing model to make it affordable to those in need.

Families give their wood waste to Dazin, instead of burning it as they normally would. The organisation then turns this crowdsourced wood waste into a condensed fuel ‘cookie’ and in return, gives the family a smokeless cookstove on lease and enough fuel cookies to cover their needs. The surplus fuel (around 70%) made from crowdsourced wood waste is then sold at a competitive price to urban customers. The cost of the stove is recovered within around seven months.

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Dazin founder Deepak Ashwani says that it’s not enough to simply offer a safer cooking alternative, but to provide a complete solution that enables affordable access as well.

“The prevailing solution is to distribute improved cookstoves,” he says. “But how can you sell and maintain stoves to people earning less than $2 (£1.31) a day? Household energy expenditures are not only constrained by the cost of the cookstoves themselves but also the cost and time taken to obtain the fuel required to burn. Over time, all of these fuels can be far more expensive or time consuming than the stove itself.”

Dazin’s programme, he says, addresses these issues. However, the award-winning company has so far relied on start-up capital from the founders themselves, and is now hoping to attract crowdfunding to help expand the project and to help more families in need, which runs until 6 September. The team is 20% away from its goal of $40,000 (£26,225) and hopes more backers will get on board to make dangerous open fire cooking a thing of the past.

Other ways of reducing indoor air pollution

Efficient stove design
A significant part of the issue is containment – kitchens and living areas are often full of thick, acrid cooking smoke. More efficient stove designs can help control the release of smoke in a safe way.

Cleaner burning stoves
Clean burning stoves are designed to minimise the release of dangerous gases, using cleaner and safer fuels. They’re very efficient, but often more expensive and therefore inaccessible to families in need.

Renewable energy
Cooking with solar power, with devices such as parabolic solar cookers, is a completely clean and safe way of cooking food. Many communities around the world rely on this method of food preparation, but again, require funding to get the technology in place.