Why do we live in Mekelle, Ethiopia?
I get that question a lot from concerned individuals that picture Mekelle being a rural African village. The answer is simple, I married Greg, the StoveMan, and he debonairly convinced me that Mekelle was the only place for me. Greg runs a clean energy company operating under the Ethiopian brand name EzyLife. They locally manufacture the EzyStove, a fuel-efficient, wood-burning cookstove.
So, cookstoves, that’s the short answer for why we live in Mekelle.
If you were born in the Western world the concept of a wood-burning cookstove doesn’t make any sense unless maybe you are camping. Isn’t the point of the stove to be gas-burning or electric? This might come as a shock, but 3 billion people in the world, half of the planet’s population, still cook over an open fire.
The people in the village towns of Ethiopia, especially the women, understand the burden and hazard of cooking over an open fire.
For the rural communities in the developing world, cooking, such a basic human need, is an environmental, health and economic burden on families and communities. Women must either hunt for hours, chop, collect and carry massive loads of wood back to their homes for cooking or buy expensive wood or charcoal that drain the family budget. And the wood has to come from somewhere. As I drive with Greg around Northern Ethiopia I can see how the deforestation is taking a toll on hillsides, their crops being washed away by the furry of summer rains.
World Health Organization estimates that over 4 million people die a year due to household air pollution from cooking and heating wood or charcoal. Over half of the deaths in children under 5 years-old are from acute lower respiratory infections caused by matter inhaled from indoor air pollution. The Nature Conservancy estimates that communities that cook over open fires generate 25% of the global CO2 emissions. A wood-burning stove with a unique design, such as the Ezy Stove, allows wood to burn more efficiently while producing less smoke. I know, I know, too many statistics, but they are important.
These fuel efficient stoves still use wood, but can cut the amount of wood that is used for cooking by 40-50%, as well as cut greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere quantifiable to one metric tonne of CO2.
I have spent the last 4 years in Africa, living in Ethiopia and Malawi, as well as stints in Rwanda, Kenya, and South Africa. I have seen and been a part of many ‘give away’ and handout programs. These aid programs are critical in humanitarian crisis, but ‘give away’ programs aren’t going to change the face of poverty. Business is what will change the face of poverty; big business, small business, family business, local business, any business that is in the business of changing lives. Giving away product is actually dangerous to the ecosystem of commerce in any country.
Related Post: Part 2: What are we wearing? #MakingMekelleOurHome
The challenge is not just developing this fuel efficient stove solution and bringing it to Africa, we are also seeking to change mindsets and convince people that there is a better way to cook. After centuries of cooking over a three-stone fire, cooking culture is not easily altered by a white man bearing stoves and talking about climate change. We still have a long way to go, but we have to celebrate the progress we make with each passing month.
I have travelled with Greg around the Northern region setting up these stove demonstrations. There was one woman from an event that looked like she walked half of the day down from her highland home with her baby strapped to her back on order to attend this stove demonstration. After the demonstration she hurried to the front of the line to purchase a stove. She reached into the top of her dress pulled out 365 birr, which is about $17 USD. She bought an Ezy Stove that day.
She will take that stove to her home and it will change her life.
I have sat in countless women’s homes that have purchased an Ezy Stove like this women; the pride that they take in a product they purchased themselves; that saves their family money on a daily basis and makes cooking much more enjoyable with less smoke fogging their eyes and filling their clothes, not to mention the health and environmental benefits for their family and community.
That woman with her baby strapped to her back and Ezy Stove in her hand will change the face of poverty for her family.
Read more about the Paradigm Project & the EzyStove.