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“Ambassadresses!” cheered cookstove construction trainer Louise Lukumu, who works for Cameroonian NGO Community Development Action (ACD). “Three-stone improved cookstoves!” answered her participants enthusiastically. It was the final day of their training, and the women were eager to get back to their communities to showcase their newly-acquired talents.

The participants had travelled from villages across the Northern and Far North regions of Cameroon – Bawan, Tchamba, Pintchoumba, Tollore, Bang, Bame, Sassa-Mbersi, Mayo Djarendi Douroum, and Gambour – to acquire skills in building improved charcoal stoves. The intervention took a ‘Training of Trainers (ToT)’ approach, whereby the women that participated in the training will be responsible in turn for transferring the knowledge acquired to their communities.  

The training formed part Innovation for Adaptation to Climate Change (INNOVACC) project precisely in its fourth component which seeks to support women’s empowerment through training, coaching and various forms of support, particularly in the management of resources in relation to climate change adaptation and mitigation. The activity was targeted at reducing high domestic energy demand (which is usually met with fuelwood and charcoal) and reducing the harmful effects this can have on ecologically-fragile localities with high levels of socio-economic vulnerability. 

In rural Cameroon, there are several types of improved cookstove available. One is metal fireplaces, which are made from iron by specially-trained craftspeople. “These are sold locally and have the advantage of being transportable and lightweight,” said Colette Maba, assistant scientist, entrepreneurship and governance at INNOVACC. There are also improved clay fireplaces and improved three-stone fireplaces, the latter of which was the focus of the training. 

“We chose this type because they are built using materials found in the village, unlike the metal fireplaces,” said Maba. “What’s more, learning how to build one doesn’t require any prior qualifications and can be done by almost all the social categories in the village: teenagers, young people, women, and men. In fact, every woman can build her own improved three-stone fireplace in her kitchen.”

To deliver these benefits, the fireplace must be built correctly, so Lukumu took the participants carefully through the entire process. They first gathered the necessary materials: clay or soil from termite mounds; cow or donkey manure; straw or peanut shells; kele (sticky leaves or bark); and water. 

   Collection of the material to build the improved stoves. Photo by Laureanne Mefan/CIFOR-ICRAF

“The durability of the fireplace depends on the quality of the soil collected,” advised Lukumu: “If the soil must be taken from a termite mound, avoid soil made with a very large quantity of sand. The improved 3-stone fireplace built with this quality of clay will not last.” 

After collection, the materials were mixed – first dry and then with water – using shovels and trampling with the feet. 

   Dry mixing of materials to build improved fireplaces. Photo by Laureanne Mefan/CIFOR-ICRAF
   Participants add water to the soil mixture. Photo by Laureanne Mefan/CIFOR-ICRAF
   Participants trample the soil mixture with their feet. Photo by Laureanne Mefan/CIFOR-ICRAF

The mixture was then covered with straw and plastic to protect it from drying out, and left for a week – watered every day – so the materials could partially decompose. 

Final stage: assembly and covering. Photo by Laureanne Mefan/CIFOR-ICRAF

The participants then set about building their first fireplace. Lukumu first highlighted the importance of agreeing on the location of the fireplace with the beneficiaries of the household where it will be built, and levelling the site if it is not flat. The group then created the basic shape using three mud bricks or stones for the base, two cooking pots to sculpt the cooking area above, and plastic bottles to create the opening for adding wood fuel and the chimney. 

   First phase of construction of the improved fireplace. Photo by Laureanne Mefan/CIFOR-ICRAF
Second phase of construction of the improved fireplace. Photo by Laureanne Mefan/CIFOR-ICRAF

They packed the re-wetted soil mixture around these objects, and smoothed the surface out using smooth stones. 
When the mix was dry, the objects were removed and the fireplace was ready to use.

“These fireplaces are built on stones or mud bricks, and emit very little smoke because they use very little wood, cook food quickly, and retain heat because of the clay (or mud) with which they are built,” explained Lukumu. “They also protect the health of the users.” 

By the close of the training, the participants were inspired to journey home and create their own improved cookstoves – and to share that knowledge throughout their communities, too. It’s hoped such efforts will see healthier, homes, and landscapes across northern Cameroon well into the future.

   Participants cheer at the close of the training. Photo by Laureanne Mefan/CIFOR-ICRAF
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