Awards 1996 Shell Technology for Development Award

Shell Technology for Development Award

The Winner: Energy for Sustainable Development

From four in the morning till ten at night, or till their wood supply runs out, many women in Addis Ababa bake injera for sale, Ethiopia's national bread. They bake it on top of a Mirte, a new stove devised by Energy for Sustainable Development Ltd (ESD) and the Ethiopian Energy Studies and Research Centre. Mirte means improved.

Injera is a thin, flat bread and cooks in four to five minutes; but it is two feet across. So even the Mirte can bake only one piece at once. Yet most bakers turn out over 200 a day, which means they are working 13 to 17 hours. Some scale up by buying a battery of four Mirtes. One person can look after two.

The project team, which is ten strong, were surprised at the demand from these commercial bakers. The Mirte was not intended for such intensive use, and the team are working on a tougher version.

Traditional injera-baking, on a plate on a three-stone fire, is one of the least efficient cooking methods in the world. The fire is large, smoky and dangerous: many Ethiopian women are scarred with burns. Those who have bought Mirtes, for home baking or for business, value above all the smoke control and the safety. They also save money (and trees) because the Mirte needs 40 per cent less wood (half a tonne less per household per year).

ESD says a Mirte, which costs under 4, pays for itself in under two months in household use and under two weeks in commercial baking. Over 95 per cent of Mirte buyers were still using them six months later.

Ethiopian towns and cities are unusual in that they use wood, not just charcoal or kerosene. It is the best fuel for injera. Injera baking accounts for almost half of Ethiopian households' fuel consumption and, in Addis, costs 50 to 70 a year, a tenth of a household's total spending. Many urban people bake their bread on electric hotplates (called mtads); but this uses a lot of power, which is restricted to the big cities and subject to cuts. Half the Mirte buyers own electric mtads.

Up to now, fuel-saving stoves have enjoyed only mixed success in Africa. Mike Bess of ESD cites two reasons. First, they have not saved enough fuel: sticking to set dimensions is crucial to fuel-saving, and stove-builders have often failed to do so, Second, men tend to have the money in rural areas and they don't see why they should spend it on stoves when wood is free.

In town, however, women have money, and wood costs cash. So they have both the means and the incentive to buy a Mirte. The Mirte, moreover, is of a standard, well-tested size, easy to handle because it is assembled from six pieces made in a single mould. Project staff keep an eye on quality.

A key question for the designers was what the Mirte should be made of. Building in Ethiopia has been a low-status job employing mud and wattle; there is no tradition of craftsman-made building material. Steve Ragett from the John Parry Workshops found the solution. Mix cement with pumice, plentiful round Addis Ababa and a good heat insulator. Away from Addis, red ash, another volcanic material, proved satisfactory. They are now making Mirtes at Mekele in Tigray with river sand.

At first, the Mirte team got stoves made by manufacturers of building materials. However, they also trained installers to assemble and install Mirtes, and later to make them.

Installers have now taken over manufacture, after a slow start through lack of experience. About 9,500 Mirtes have been sold since June 1994, and 300 more are being sold every week. With local and regional government help, 50 private stove makers have been trained in more than ten areas. The Mirte was initially developed with money from Danish aid through a World Bank programme. It was commercialised with British aid. But sales do not depend on, and are not restricted by, subsidy. Part of the point for Mike Bess and his colleagues is that people make, sell and install Mirtes as a commercial business. ESD believes this commercial approach has been as important as technical qualities to the Mirte's success. In Addis Ababa, installers were able to buy stoves for about 2 and sell and install them for 3 to 4. This handsome margin encouraged new installers to come forward, but provided little incentive to stove- producers. The project team solved this early by ceasing to order stoves at the standard 2, leaving it to producers to set the price. Prices have in fact fallen over the past six months, during which the number of producers has doubled. Stoves are now a quarter cheaper than they were a year ago, making them easier for poor people to afford. The potential market in urban Ethiopia is over a million stoves. ESD, formed in 1989, unites 14 consultants interested in renewable energy. Its Ethiopian work began with a study of wood-burning for the World Bank. With the Ethiopian Energy Studies and Research Centre, ESD designed a small charcoal stove, the Lakech (which means superior), for making the drink Ethiopians offer visitors: coffee. Half a million have been sold at commercial prices over the past five years. In Kenya and Uganda, ESD is working on rural electricity and on solar energy for households. But 80 per cent of its work is now in Europe.

See also Ethiopia Resources and Kenya Resources