Manjushree Banerjee
The Energy and Resource Institute
Manjushree.Banerjee at teri.res.in

Rakesh Prasad
Senior Field Manager
The Energy and Resource Institute
Darbari Seth Block, IHC, Lodhi Road
New Delhi 110 003, India
rakeshp at teri.res.in


The focus of the dissemination process of improved cookstoves (ICS) is shifting from subsidy-driven approaches to market-driven solutions. The present paper presents the case of creating accessibility of biomass based ICS to the rural population in a hill state of India through local level entrepreneurs. Conventional rural marketing chains are able to influence purchase decision for products like ICS with no immediate visible social and economic benefit only when the awareness of the stove is created and the early buyers are able to accept ICS in their daily cooking. A well thought-out awareness strategy during the initial days is an important aspect in deciding the success level of the dissemination plan of ICS through market mode. A push through community based organisations plays an important role in awareness generation and subsequently influencing purchase decisions.


Clean cooking access; Biomass based improved cookstove; Rural entrepreneurs; Community based organisations; Rural marketing; Rural India


In India 63% of rural households depend primarily on traditional burning of firewood for cooking (Census of India, 2011).The traditional use of solid cookfuel results in about 3.9 million premature deaths annually in the world (Smith et al., 2014). Women, who in general are the primary cooks, and their accompanying children suffer maximum health risks due to kitchen smoke. Cleaner options for cooking and heating, even partially, reduce the exposure to kitchen smoke. Interventions on cooking energy access have been on-going for the past three decades in India through government initiated programmes, such as the National Biogas and Manure Management Programme (NBMMP), the National Programme on Improved Cookstoves (NPIC), the National Biomass Cookstove Initiatives, and the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin LPG Vitrak Yojna. International, national and state level development organisations are working towards the goal of increasing access to clean cooking energy. Advance biomass cookstoves (biomass gasifier-operated cooking stoves run on solid biomass, such as wood chips and briquettes) are relatively common solutions in rural areas across the developing world as these stoves have higher efficiency and cleaner combustion (Grieshop et al., 2011).

With time, considering the sustainability factor, focus on the dissemination process of improved cookstoves (ICS) is shifting from charitable efforts to complementary commercial and market-driven solutions (Shrimali et al., 2011). Supply of biomass based ICS through market mode is still at the nascent stage. This article discusses the role of local level entrepreneurs (in particular women’s groups) in the supply chain of ICS in the state of Himachal Pradesh. The case study discussed in this article is part of the programme on clean energy access implemented by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) with support from the Department of International Development, United Kingdom (DfID).

A rural cooking scenario

Sixty-four% (0.84 million) of the rural households in Himachal Pradesh depend on firewood for cooking. Usage of crop residue, cowdung cake and biogas as cooking fuel is limited to a mere 0.19 million households across the state. The cooking energy scenario in the state is considered better compared to other states of India. A primary survey capturing the pre-intervention phase scenario of 1000 households across three districts indicated that about 54% households use traditional mud stoves as their primary cooking device while another 39% report LPG as the primary cooking fuel (TERI, 2015). Villagers were comfortable using their mud stoves which had two to three pots. Being a hill state, mud stoves are used round the year for cooking as well as water heating. The bio fuel chain has four stages: collection, processing/stacking, transportation and cooking (Parikh, 2011).

The primary survey of 1000 households in the state reveals that women are solely responsible for collection and processing firewood in 84% of the households. Parikh (2011) compiles hazards of the four stages such as inflicting bruises and snake/insect bites during collection, allergy/rashes during processing/stacking, backache due to heavy load while carrying the firewood, and respiratory and eye problems during cooking along with infant mortality. The majority of the women are aware of the ill effects of smoke emissions produced during cooking but typically need to consult male decision makers in their household before making financial commitments for purchase of an improved cooking device (Bhojvaid et al., 2014).

A three step approach to dissemination

A forced draft portable steel stove model (TERI SPTL 0610) developed by TERI was introduced initially in one district of the state. The stove has efficiency of about 37% against the 5-10% (approximate) efficiency of the traditional mud stoves commonly used by the rural households. The stove with CO level of 2.25 g/MJd and Total Particulate Matter of 147.40 mg/MJd has been approved by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (Government of India). The TERI SPTL 0610 stove works on the principle of biomass gasification. A fan for clean combustion in the stove is operated using a compact power pack unit with provision of solar charging, which needs recharging after every four to five hours of usage. The power pack also comprises of a regulator to control flame. The fuel used in this top loading stove in general is firewood with an average size of 10 cm in length, 4 cm in width and 4 cm in thickness.

There have been interventions in the state with regards to ICS but all the interventions introduced natural draft mud stoves and were implemented either under government schemes or by development agencies following the subsidy approach. The portable forced draft stove was a new product in rural areas. Considering the sustainability factor, a business based supply chain model was to be developed, but the challenge was the novelty of the product and creation of a channel which can penetrate deep into the villages. The debate was whether to introduce the product through the rural retail units and follow the conventional marketing strategy or to emphasise the social and environmental benefits of the product. The team adopted a three step approach for demand creation and marketing of the ICS. The product had two major challenges in terms of marketing: — It was to be used by women who in general are not decision makers with regards to expenditure — The initial cost of the ICS is much higher than its counterpart - the traditional mud stoves.

Step One

Initially, an enterprise was developed which closely worked with a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) working in the area of environment and rural development. The enterprise initiated demonstration meetings especially for the self-help groups for elderly people (above the age of 55) who in many cases are able to influence household decisions as well as village level decisions in ‘panchayats’ (a village level governing body). Awareness was created about the health and environmental aspects related to incomplete combustion of firewood in the traditional mud stoves. The cost of a stove model, which was almost US$ 43.38, had to compete with the traditional mud stoves which are constructed by the households almost at zero cost. However, features like a regulator for regulating flame, a fan to replace manual pumping of air and reduced soot in comparison to mud stoves attracted the consumers. Initially, due to paucity of supply of the manufactured stoves, the stoves were only supplied to the members of the self-help groups for elderly people. In a year, the enterprise was able to generate demand for about 600 ICS and realised that young and middle aged women also needed to be convinced about the benefits of ICS.

Step Two

At the next level, women’s groups were engaged in the supply chain. Three different types of groups were engaged as Energy Enterprises: a self-help group federation already engaged in collection, processing and marketing of processed milk; an active self-help group engaged in monitoring of schemes implemented by state government; and a self-help group of destitute women. The groups tested the TERI SPTL stoves themselves for a month at their residence. Once they were convinced about the performance of the stoves and associated challenges, the groups started conducting demonstrations of the ICS to other self-help groups of similar type.

This promotion model was able to influence women of other self-help groups in their respective households. Each village has at least two to three women’s groups and from each group three to four women procured ICS. Many of the end-users who were self-help group members took credit from their group account to buy an ICS. One of the positive aspects of engaging women’s groups was their ability to motivate the end-users to use the stoves on a regular basis. In one instance, prizes were declared for the households who will be using ICS daily for cooking two meals a day for six months. The ICS gained popularity through word of mouth. Within a span of a year, three women’s groups together were able to sell 500 cookstoves worth US$ 21 692. One of the limitations of the women’s selfhelp group as cookstove entrepreneurs was their mobility, however, the scope of intensifying their reach within their geographical boundaries is always there. Providing after-sale services is a challenge in a hill region and technicians were trained at central locations to provide after-sales services.

Step Three

At the third level, about 10 retail units in rural areas were engaged. Two retailers who adopted an aggressive marketing strategy were able to sell about 300 stoves in the span of six months. These two retailers conducted demonstrations in the vicinity villages and arranged to deliver the product at village centre point. The eight retailers tried to sell ICS like any other product in their retail store. A limited number of stoves were sold through these eight rural retail units as the customers looking at the portable ICS in general tend to compare the product cost with traditional mud stove.

Additionally, the customers in these rural retail units in general are not the female members who are associated with cooking and such customers in majority were not able to perceive the benefits of ICS and drudgeries associated with traditional mud stoves (such as better combustion, less smoke). Again, it becomes difficult for the sales person in these retail units to conduct demonstration for a single inquisitive customer. In total, 73% of the dissemination of cookstoves was through self-help groups, either the women groups or the groups for elderly people. Out of the 27% disseminated stoves through retail units, about 60% were disseminated by the two retailers who conducted aggressive awareness at the grassroots level.

Awareness, affordability and acceptance

Limited awareness is one of the barriers in dissemination of cooking alternatives even if energy costs are within affordable limits (Pohekar et al., 2005). The case discussed above clearly indicates awareness creation as a determining factor in dissemination of ICS following a market-driven approach. Economic indicators of Himachal Pradesh in general show better performance when compared to the Indian average. Only 8.5% of the rural population in the state is Below Poverty Line (BPL) (Government of Himachal Pradesh, 2013-14), and exactly the same proportion is reflected in the primary survey of 1000 end-users which says 8.52% of the end-users fall into the BPL category. The issue of affordability, particularly in this hill state seems to have limited role in the purchase decision. Fiftysix% of the respondents are willing to pay up to US$ 64 to purchase a portable metallic biomass based ICS. The article presents the case of a state with a low proportion of poor population.

However, the issue of affordability cannot be neglected for that part of the population which falls into the BPL category in Himachal Pradesh and other states or regions. The user survey for 1000 households who purchased ICS indicated that 65% have started using the ICS as primary cooking device and another 18% uses the ICS as secondary cooking device. Prior to purchase of the TERI ICS, 60% of the surveyed households had access to LPG connections but only 39% reported usage of LPG in cooking. Cost (US$ 7.39 for a subsidised LPG cylinder in the state) and supply of LPG are the constraining factors in usage of LPG. The ICS being able to provide a cleaner and affordable cooking option is accepted by a considerable proportion of buyers. Acceptance of the product further enhances scope for demand in the area as word of mouth is one of the critical tools in rural marketing.

Lessons Learnt

— With time, the approach towards the dissemination of ICS can shift from a subsidy-driven approach to marketdriven approach.
— Initially ICS compete with the traditional mud stove models which incur almost no cost to its users. The benefits of the biomass based ICS, at the same time, is not visible immediately.
— The push through rural retail units is not sufficient in generating demand and creating accessibility of ICS.
— During the initial phases an aggressive awareness creation strategy emphasising on social, environmental and health factors is required.
— Community based organisations (CBOs) in the initial stages are one of the suited channels to reach to rural communities, and in particular to the women - the primary cooks. The case discussed indicates that these CBOs not only succeeded in generating awareness and creating demand for ICS, but a step ahead, were able to motivate the primary cooks to accept ICS in their daily cooking.
— Conventional marketing through rural retail units is able to support the objective of access to ICS substantially at the later stage when the product gains some level of popularity in the area.

  • A practitioner's journal on household energy, stoves and poverty reduction.

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