700,000 Nicaraguan families cook on wood fires
Coci-Nica: A new approach to the problem of cooking with wood in Nicaragua
Why should we care?
Most Nicaraguan families cook over an open, “three-rock”, fire in a semi-enclosed space. For many hours each day, the cook and other family members breathe lung-damaging smoke. Thousands of children are burned every year. A family may spend up to 30% of its income to purchase wood; or women, children and elderly family members must carry wood on their backs for miles. The harvesting of “leña” (firewood) is rapidly deforesting the country, and cooking fires are sending wasted energy and tons of climate-changing CO2 into our atmosphere. Respiratory and eye illnesses are common, almost universal among women and children. Preparation of family meals, the very center of home life, is often dirty, expensive, unhealthy and dangerous.
Several NGOs have developed, promoted and distributed well-designed, efficient wood-burning stoves. So why, after many years of trying and hundreds of thousands of dollars invested, have these programs not been more successful?
Two fundamental challenges- Cultural Inertia and Cost
Cultural inertia accounts for much of the delay
We’ve all experienced the phenomenon of “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”. The culture of Nicaragua, especially in rural communities, is conservative. People have been cooking with leña for centuries. The fuel was readily available and free, and there is a whole complex of family roles and customs around gathering and splitting leña, building the fire and preparing the beans, rice, soups and grilled-meat that make up the traditional diet. (We have even been told that a family was traditionally judged by the size of the fire they cooked on in the same way that a family in a developed country might be judged by the size of their car!)
Cost is the other major factor
Most of the efficient, wood-burning stoves are priced way beyond what a typical family can afford. Typical prices range from $45 to $200. Families simply do not have that kind of money in their pockets, and the cost of collecting the money in “abonos” (periodic payments) just makes the stoves more expensive and less accessible. The idea of saving up money in advance over a period on months to purchase a stove, as sensible as it may seem, is just unrealistic given the urgent daily pressure to feed, clothe and educate a family and the temptations to make other purchases that give more immediate satisfaction.
Realistically, what can we do?
The all-Nicaraguan owners and crew at Coci-Nica have taken on these challenges directly. They’ve developed a stove that is both financially and culturally accessible.
The Coci-Nica “Hogareña” is a simple, efficient and reliable stove that keeps the price way down (C$550) and minimizes the cultural leap to its acceptance. The Hogareña has no chimney; but, once its fire is established, it emits a minimum of smoke. It is solid but portable and so can be used either outdoors or in a traditional semi-enclosed kitchen. Having been tested and modified over several years, the design is now rock-solid and the Hogareña keeps cooking for many years. It is made of materials (bricks, mortar, wire, angle iron) familiar to all Nicaraguans. It uses about 30% of the leña consumed by an open fire, saving the typical family enough money in about three months to pay for the stove, or saving them may hours of work. Then the Horageña keeps saving the family money for years; about $150/year if they are purchasing their leña.
The low price of the Hogareña makes it accessible to a typical family with minimal resources. And, for NGOs who purchase the sotes, it makes it possible to benefit more families with less money.
The simple, familiar-looking design of the Hogareña makes it a good cultural fit.
The Nicaraguan ownership, materials and labor make it a natural for Nicaragua.
A stove for the reality of Nicaraguan life – click here for a short video.
Making a good thing better
To extend the benefits of the family-sized Hogareña, the crew at Coci-Nica has developed several additional products, all using the accessible -price/culturally-familiar philosophy.
The Coci-Nica Profesional for large families, churches and street vendors
The Coci-Nica Fiesta for grilling meat at home or on the street
With over 6,000 Coci-Nica stoves now in use throughout Nicaragua, the results are promising. But there is still a lot of work to do.
If you would like to learn more, let us know.
Website (English): https://www.comarcasapoyo.org/coci-nica-english
Website Spanish): https://www.comarcasapoyo.org/comarcas---espaol
email (English): Brian Davis firstname.lastname@example.org
email (Spanish): Maribel Alonzo
Phone (English): Brian Davis USA +1 503 501 6501, Nicaragua +505 8991 0543
Phone (Spanish): Maribel Alonzo +505 8888 5168