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Sustainable cooking for the developing world

A few decades ago, improved cook stoves projects were launched in developing countries with the chief objective of reducing fuel wood consumption and eliminating indoor air pollution by increasing the burning efficiency of biomass fuels such as forest litter, woody debris, dried cow-dung and firewood.

Following the success of many of these projects, cook stove innovators and entrepreneurs are now developing and promoting biochar cookstoves in different parts of the world. Producing biochar from biomass during the process of cooking can achieve the same objectives as those of the traditional improved cook stoves, with the added benefits from biochar use for soil fertility improvement and sequestration of photosynthesized carbon in soils.

Furthermore, biochar cook stoves emit substantively less carbon dioxide than the traditional ones, generating a plethora of opportunities for offsetting carbon. These cookstoves minimize the flow of air into the biomass fuel to create an ideal oxygen-free environment for pyrolysis and maximum char residue yield.

Consequently, the production of smoke, the cause of many respiratory diseases and related deaths in the developing world, and particulate black carbon, a driver of short-term global warming and accelerated glacier and mountain snowmelt, are minimized.

With access to site-specific appropriate technological knowledge and guidance, biomass fuel-reliant communities can and should be trained to independently assemble and operate biochar cookstoves.

The need to sustainably employ locally available materials for cook stove construction and fuel has to be emphasized and should never be overlooked during this process. Carbon offset funds and technical support that biochar cookstove initiatives could receive from international climate change mitigation schemes such as the Clean Development MechanismReducing Emissions from Deforestation and Land Degradation (REDD) and/or REDD+ (aimed at protecting biodiversity), could eventually help to uplift the financial situation, living standard and environmental conditions of many economically marginalized communities across the globe.

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Gyami Shrestha

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