KISANGANI, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — When Sandra Zuena’s old wood-fired stove finally became so worn out that it needed to be replaced, she decided it was time for an upgrade.
In DRC, traditional stoves used for cooking are typically metal cylinders punctured with small holes that allow oxygen in to fuel the flames. Recently, however, a new type of stove has gained popularity in Kisangani: a round stove made of clay or brick, with a small metal opening to hold the embers.
This new type of stove is more expensive than traditional stoves. Zuena purchased a small version at the market for 10,000 Congolese francs (about $5); larger models can cost twice as much, or more. Traditional stoves, by comparison, typically cost between 2,000 and 5,000 francs (between $1 and $2.50), depending on their size. But the design of the new stove makes it far more energy-efficient. Whereas traditional metal stoves allow embers to burn out quickly, requiring large quantities of charcoal to operate, the new stoves require far less fuel.
“I have been using this brazier for six months now,” Zuena says. “I am so comfortable, because this brazier is faster and consumes less embers.”
This is a boon not just for people like Zuena, but also for the environment. The use of traditional stoves has led to significant deforestation in the area around Kisangani in northeastern DRC. More than 225,000 bags of charcoal are sold in the city’s markets every day, says Hippolyte Nshimba Seya Wa Malale, a professor and environmental researcher at the University of Kisangani. On average, residents of Kisangani consume a citywide total of 16,200 tons of charcoal per year, which is the equivalent of about 200,000 cubic meters (about 7 million cubic feet) of wood.
That level of wood consumption is an environmental disaster, scientists say. “Cooking in the Democratic Republic of Congo in general and the city of Kisangani in particular signs the death warrant of thousands of hectares of forest, reinforcing the adverse effects of climate change,” says Prospère Matondo, an environmental specialist at the University of Kisangani.
Matondo says environmental regulations in DRC are weak, and he hopes the government will help convince more people to adopt the new type of stove.
Felicien Malu, the government’s environmental coordinator, says officials are working to strengthen environmental protections, though he declined to give specifics. Enabel, a development agency run by the Belgian federal government that partners with countries on sustainable development initiatives, has launched a program in Kisangani that has taught hundreds of residents how to manufacture the new type of stove.
The stove was introduced to Kisangani in recent years by the Nande people fleeing insecurity in the eastern part of the country. The clay stove is what the Nande people have always used. But the stove’s practical advantages, more than its environmental benefits, are driving its popularity among local residents.
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Fatima Abdoul, a housewife, says she now spends far less on fuel. “I am very relieved by the use of this improved stove, because during a month I spent at least $30 for embers,” she says. “Today I am blessed, because I only spend $10 to $15 per month.”
Rachel Nkonzi, another Kisangani resident, feels similarly. “I am happy with the brazier, because it helps me cook very quickly compared to the old one, which took much longer,” she says.
Not everyone is happy with the new stove. Angel Shipamba says she prefers to stick with traditional ones. “I’m not interested in the ones they call ‘improved fireplaces,'” she says. “I can’t afford it.”
For Zuena, the new stove’s benefits are worth the extra cost.
“I had to spend a lot of money buying charcoal for the ordinary brazier, because one bag of charcoal lasted two weeks, sometimes a week and a half,” she says. “But today, with this improved stove, I save more charcoal. With one bag of charcoal, I manage to make it to the end of the month.”