Allison in Africa

I have been to Kenya three times, totaling nearly twelve months from 2003-2008. This blog is filled with a few of my thoughts, stories and pictures from my second and third trips (January-March 2006 and May-August 2008), mainly around Kitale and Mt. Elgon in the Rift Valley Province.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Chepkube Women's Group

From the moment I arrived at SCC-Vi and started to talk about stoves, I was told in no uncertain terms that I MUST go visit the Chepkube Women's group in the Cherangani Hills. They are the local experts in stove construction, design, and teaching.


It is really a great story. These women learned to make this advanced design, with a brooder underneath from some relatives in the Nandi Hills, not too far away (in the next district- Uasin Gishu as opposed to Trans Nzoia). They have been making the stoves for themselves (ie their Women's group) as well as for whoever wants to hire them to build it for them.


The women have come up with all sorts of variations on the stoves, such that they are all as unique as the people who use them. I made this into a field trip to bring my supervisor and other Vi staff to, as well as Mike. We got a big vehicle and piled in. Once at the location we all sat in one woman's kitchen and talked for a long time, asking all sorts of questions about the history of the stove, and what improvements they had made on it.


They have traveled up to 100km(?) to train other women's groups on construction of the stove. Although they have no written materials, the idea seems to be spreading, at least in the areas that I have traveled in. Check out the flying girl above...

This is an example of the most souped- up version of the Chepkube stove I saw. As you can see, it uses three sticks of wood each time the woman to cooks for her 8 person family (2x a day).

Close up on the chicks down below! At one point in the interview the woman opened up the door, a chick flew out, jumped up into the pile of ashes, and jumped down again, really quick, like it was going for a dip in the lake... A nice comic moment...

The notches in the round burners allowed smoke to go out slowly, not in one steady puff in the user's face. the stove already doesn't produce a lot of smoke, but this reduces the effects even more.


The TWO rectangular holes in the top are for TWO things... one for inserting food to be warm (I've seen this before), and the other to keep EGGS warm! Yup, a hatchery/ incubator! An amazing local innovation! They say if you remember to rotate the eggs twice a day for 21 days, you get about 80% success rate with chicks. This is REALLY good. The hardest part is remembering everyday to turn the eggs at the same time (otherwise the chicks are lame).

This woman is the wife of a man who worked as a research assistant on another project at SCC-Vi, and who lived in the area. Her husband acted as a navigator to the women's group area that day, so he invited us to his home afterwards. He had said earlier, while we were sitting in the kitchen asking the women's group questions that that was the longest he had spent in a kitchen in a long time, and that he actually didn't know much at all about this stove that is becoming quite a legacy of his community. It's just not what a man does.

I asked him if his wife used a Chepkube stove, and he said yes, a regular one (no brooder), but that it was in disrepair and he would be embarrassed if I saw it. Well, I said I didn't mind, and that I'd seen a lot of stoves in different conditions. So, I got to see it... and surprise! It was beautiful. This guy obviously hasn't been anywhere near his own kitchen in a while, because he had no idea that his wife had made this great piece of work. Again, it's just not what a man does.
The group of us. Six from Vi and the rest from the Women's group.


Ironically, although this stove is the most efficient model I have seen, it originated in a community where trees were not scarce. It was built with efficiency in mind, but it was efficiency of a woman's energy rather than wood energy that was the goal.


I asked some high-ups in the Ministry of Agriculture/ Home Economics Division if they plan to promote this stove officially, or more widely, and they said no. "But this is a great local innovation, and it is very popular and widely accepted by those who know about it. Why don't you want to promote it?" "because of intellectual property rights". Oh. Great. This seems just a little silly and frustrating to me. Every woman's stove is different from the next. How can you patent something like that? Who do you give it to? In the mean time this great technology is buried in the paperwork of someone's desk.

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