Choosing the Right Cookstove

Choose the right cook stove

Selecting the right cookstove for your humanitarian project or disaster relief is never easy. There’s a fine line between choosing the right equipment for the environment (and all the challenges it provides) while also delivering a product that the recipients will actually use.

When you choose cookstoves as part of an aid package, you need to pick the best equipment to suit the environment as well as the target user.

Human beings, whether in crisis or not, have an innate attraction to tools that are useful and easy to operate. If a cookstove requires the user to go too far out of their comfort zone, there’s a chance it won’t be used consistently or may even be sold to meet other needs and less safe and potentially hazardous cooking alternatives may be used instead.

We’ve created a simple guide to help you compare and contrast different cookstoves in the hopes that this will simplify the selection process and result in more end users receiving (and using) suitable equipment.

When evaluating cookstoves, pay attention to these seven core differentiators:

  • Durability
  • Safety and smoke exposure
  • Portability and design
  • Fuel type and efficiency
  • Production quality
  • Repair and maintenance
  • Training and support

Durability

One of the most important aspects of selecting a cookstove for disaster relief and humanitarian aid is to make sure the product you choose can withstand the challenges of the environment it will be used in.

The Cookstove Durability Test Protocol can help you ascertain how durable a particular stove is and provide consistent metrics that you can use to compare multiple options. You should also look for the manufacturer to provide a minimum guarantee of at least one year of fully functional use under typical conditions with a warranty (also of at least one year) that covers manufacturing defects and all components necessary for safe and efficient operation.

Safety, and Smoke Exposure

Humanitarian and disaster relief supplies often end up being used in a camp-like setting. Reducing the risk of fires as well as cuts, burns, and other injuries are paramount to ensuring the cookstoves you send will provide needed relief and not contribute unintentionally to an already uncertain and sometimes volatile environment.

The Biomass Cookstove Safety Protocol can help you assess various hazards including sharp edges, stability, surface temperature, containment of cooking flames, obstructions, and more.

Another hazard that shouldn’t be glossed over is the stove’s impact on air quality. The IWA provides a tiered scale that can help you compare the performance and emission expectations of virtually any cookstove. 

Portability & Ergonomic Design

Cookstoves should be easy to move on a regular basis as this is not uncommon in rural environments, especially when affected by disasters where the need to relocate is often urgent and unexpected. Look for handles and check the weight to make sure it’s not so heavy that the average user would struggle to move it. Ideally, the stove will also be ergonomically designed and comfortable to use.

Fuel Type and Efficiency Rating

Another extremely important consideration when selecting a cookstove is what type of fuel it will use. You’ll need to consider what type of fuel is readily available in the environment, if any, and how efficiently the cookstove uses a given fuel. Understanding the difference between biomass cookstoves that run on sticks, twigs, roots, leaves, rice and corn husks, and other agricultural byproducts and one that requires specific fuel like charcoal or liquid fuel is crucial.

Not only do different fuels impact cooking capabilities, but they also contribute to smoke exposure and can cause unnecessary strain on the environment. Selecting a stove that uses a fuel that’s readily available in the surrounding area (like biomass) or efficiently procured alternatives can eliminate scarcity concerns and reduce the potential for adverse effects on the local terrain.   

Consistent Production Quality

There’s nothing worse than patiently wading through the procurement process only to receive products that are not of good quality, non-functional, or stop working after a short period. When it comes to cookstoves, this is particularly upsetting because they’re such an essential part of humanitarian aid.

People need to be able to cook their food to make it fit for consumption, and they often need to boil water to make it safe to use as well. Without cookstoves, in most disaster affected areas that can’t happen. Pay attention to the warranty and guarantees issued by any company whose equipment you’re interested in. They should be able to describe their quality testing procedures and promise that the cookstoves will work as intended for at least a year.

Repair and Maintenance Expectations

Warranties and performance guarantees are great, but they’re also best when they don’t need to be used. However, the reality is that not every cookstove shipping out this year, or any year, is going to work flawlessly and be fully functional for as long as it’s needed (which will most likely be well beyond the warranty period). This is exactly why checking a stove’s maintenance expectations and repair procedures make our list.

The more durable and self-sustaining a stove’s design, the better. Especially for very rural communities where seeking outside repair assistance isn’t a realistic option. If repairs and maintenance are a concern, look for a manufacturer that provides guidance on how to mend the stoves (sans professional intervention) should the need arise.

Adequate Training and Support of Proper Operation

Coming back to ease of use, training and support are crucial factors in addressing potential dissatisfaction with the products (which could result in these vital tools not being used). Providing adequate training improves the likelihood that the cookstove will be used safely and as intended and can help new users understand how to operate the unit more efficiently as well.

Does the manufacturer issue appropriate and adequate documentation to help you (and your team on the ground) understand and train new users on proper operation of the cookstoves? Will you be able to explain the benefits of using it effectively, so the recipients are more willing to make any necessary adjustments to their regular routine or cooking styles? What shouldn’t users do with the new stove? These are all questions you will want to address to ensure the highest adoption rate possible for any cookstoves you deploy.

For more detailed information and cookstove rating categories and tiers, refer to the Procurement Specifications, Testing Criteria, and Methodologies report issued by UNHCR.

Visit our blog to learn more about disaster relief supplies and stay up to date on the latest humanitarian news, industry events, and more.  

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