In Brazil, more than a cookstove

Families in poor rural areas of Brazil cook on woodstoves. A local nonprofit offers a better design, letting families enjoy cleaner, healthier, more efficient cooking – while burning less carbon.

By , Global Citizen Year

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    The Perene Institute in Brazil helps villagers build cleaner, healthier wood cooking stoves for about $28 worth of materials. The author is working as an apprentice with the institute this year.
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It’s not exactly a Kenmore, but it provides just as much as any brand name could to those who receive it. To qualify to be a part of the project, the family must already be cooking with wood and prove their commitment to using the stove by providing 45 Reais ($28) worth of material to build the stove’s base. Instituto Perene provides the rest.

Instituto Perene (Perene Institute) is a nonprofit based in Brazil that has been building energy-efficient, wood-fuel stoves in the interior of Bahia [State] for two years. It began construction in the region of Maragogipe and in recent months it has expanded to the nearby Santo Amaro da Purificação and São Felipe. It is founded by Guilherme and Renata Valladares, a husband-and-wife who form an incredibly efficient and balanced team that needed an extra hand on the field.

Of my numerous tasks with the project, the most important has been running Kitchen Performance Tests (KTPs) with different community agents. We weigh wood consumption for five days in an average of 7-10 houses in a community. The test is run twice, before (with their old wood “stove”) and after the installation of the improvised stove. The objective of the KPT is to prove a reduction in wood consumption, a lessening of deforestation, and a production of carbon credits.

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Those numbers, along with other requisites, are then organized and presented to The Gold Standard, a company that certifies carbon credits. The validated credits are then “purchased” by Natura, a beauty-product company based in São Paulo, Brazil, that has supported and provided funding for the construction of 1,000 stoves and has committed to fund the construction of 5,000 more.

The stove’s "business" delivery is a lessening of wood consumption, which it has quantifiably justified, but its other numerous benefits remain of humbler interest to women:

•A combustion chamber and contained heat mean the stove cooks fast and efficiently.

•The chimney sends the smoke up, away from eyes and throats, improving overall health.

•The pots and pans keep clean.

•It economizes gas; with a tank costing 40 Reais, to some it’s a luxury more than a necessity.

•And simply making cooking a more comfortable kitchen task. A surprising number of women are cooking in the most unaccommodating situations, many with their pot of beans suspended off the ground by merely two bricks.

In my six months with Instituto Perene, I’ve been in over 250 homes, visiting and orienting families with different community agents (an invaluable investment to deliver the stove’s eight-year guarantee). I frequent seven communities gathering GPS coordinates, taking pictures, conducting interviews, clarifying concerns, scanning, inputting, and simply providing support to a transition that isn’t easy for all. With that, it’s incredible how accepting the families have been to the stove since it’s altering a way of cooking that has been a part of their families for generations.

Although every family that receives the stove understands the basic logistics of the project, they’re not necessarily familiar with all the processes, requisites, and difficulties of its delivery. Women aren’t necessarily thinking about carbon credits when they receive the stove but about not having smoke in their house, not having to gather wood as often, and maintaining clean pots. Living in the first community affected by the project and working for the project, it’s been enriching to have both perspectives.

It’s been especially rewarding to work with, and for, people who truly appreciate it., who invite you in, offer you breakfast, lunch, juice, and water; who give you fruits to take home and ask about your comfort, health, and family, making it impossible not to accept their invitations to return whenever you’d like.

A contribution of 45 bricks, half a bag of cement, and two handcarts of dirt is a beginning, one that to Renata, Guilherme, the Instituto Perene team (which counts on me for six months, but my support for considerably longer), a thousand families (and a future 5,000 more) means more than just a stove.

Editor's note: Mariela Garcia lives in San Jose, Calif. and is currently working on an efficient cookstove project in Brazil for a year between high school and college as part of the Global Citizen Year community service program.

This blog entry originally appeared on the Global Citizen Year website, along with a video of the cookstove program.

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