The kitchen has become the latest battleground in the fight against climate change. In south-eastern Madagascar, an NGO has come up with a prototype clay oven that could significantly reduce the island's reliance on firewood for cooking, which would help lower carbon emissions and reduce devastating deforestation. The pioneering project is a beacon of hope in a country that has lost over four-fifths of its forests in the last century.

Tandavanala - the NGO spearheading the project - has been working to protect the environment in the region of FIanarantsoa in recent years. The organisation has had its work cut out trying to get both reforestation and carbon storage programmes up and running.

Tandavanala's ovens. Photo courtesy of Tandavanala.

In 2011, several members of the NGO banded together to work on designing an oven built from clay. The idea was to take advantage of clay's heat-storage properties to create an oven that would consume far less firewood. The results speak for themselves: Tindavanala's oven, named 'Tsinjo Harena, consumes 69% less wood than a traditional oven. According to data compiled in collaboration with Madagascar's National Centre for Technological and Industrial Research (CNRIT), each oven stands to save around 1.27 tons of wood each year while reducing carbon emissions by 2.73 tons over the same period of time. The NGO aims to sell around 5,000 of the new ovens. But to hit such an ambitious target, it first needs to secure additional funds, as Tandavanala's president Andriatsihoarana Manantsoa Tiara explains.

The oven is built by hand, with clay. Photo by Andry Ralamboson Andriamanga.

"To cook six bowls of rice, a traditional oven would need ten logs of firewood. Ours only needs three"

"The firewood used to fuel traditional ovens is one of the key drivers of deforestation. That's particularly the case in south-eastern Madagascar, whose habitants are even starting to hack down coffee and mango trees to get fuel to heat up their ovens. Things are getting out of hand. In doing so, they're depriving themselves of sources of food in the future. Our NGO even noted that trees were starting to be cut down in buffer zones that normally surround areas of protected forest. It's more important than ever to find a way to reduce our reliance on firewood and protect trees.

Whilst looking for a solution it quickly became apparent that the best way forward was to come up with an energy-saving oven. We looked at ovens in Europe and the US, but given the astronomical prices - often hundreds of euros - it was impractical to even consider selling them in Madagascar. Thanks to the financial support of a Dutch NGO, Icco Cooperation, we bought several different models. By studying them closely, in 2013 we were able to develop a prototype of an oven built from clay, ash, straw and red earth. It gave pretty solid results and used up a lot less firewood, but with one big drawback: it broke too easily. So with the technical help of CNRIT, we developed a second prototype that was far more robust and efficient. Studies showed they use 69% less wood. The oven was built using sand, but also kaolin - which turned out to be a better material to strengthen the oven than the ash - and of course good quality clay.


Travail de l'argile et sculpture du futur four. Crédits : Tananvala.


"We desperately need to get more funding if we're to continue developing the programme"

Clay's heat-storage properties allowed us to reduce the size of the combustion chamber. Afterwards, we carried out a bunch of tests and calculations to optimise the two air inlets: one to speed up the combustion process without extinguishing the fire; the other to maintain the heat. Once these alterations were done, we had an oven that would consume far less wood. To cook six bowls of rice, a traditional oven would need ten logs of firewood. Ours only needs three.

Now we're up against the problem of money. We organised a large public consultation in order to get to know the people's needs and also to know how much they'd be willing to pay for the oven. The final figure was around 5,000 ariarys per oven [Editor's note: roughly 1.50 euros], whereas each oven costs us around 15,000 ariarys [4.50 euros] to produce. Thanks to Icco Cooperation, which partly subsidised our project, we were able to manufacture around 100 ovens before selling them for 5,000 ariarys apiece in the villages scattered throughout Fianarantsoa. But we desperately need to get more funding in order to subsidise the rest of the project, otherwise we won't be able to sell them at competitive market prices and as a result no one will buy them. With Icco's help, we will be able to produce around 2,000 ovens. That's good, but we want to aim higher. We want to get these ovens to as many Madagascan households as possible.

The ovens, ready to be used. Photo courtesy of Tandavanala.

We also hope that the state grants us the right to trade emissions on the carbon emissions market. That seems only fair, given that our oven lowers carbon emissions. But legally, our product is still considered as a net carbon emitter. On top of that, we may be taxed for using raw materials, yet we've made it known that we're using those raw materials with environmentally-friendly goals in mind. These issues are still under discussion.

Using energy-efficient ovens should have positive economical and social effects. It will increase people's purchasing power by reducing the amount of money they have to spend on firewood. It will also reduce the risk of catching diseases since less smoke will be produced, and improve air quality inside people's homes.

Madagascar is one of the countries worst-affected by deforestation. Large parts of the island have been stripped bare, mainly due to the widespread use of firewood, slash and burn agriculture, rosewood smuggling and mineral mining. In 2014 alone, Madagascar lost 318,000 hectares of forest; a figure that represents around 2% of the country's forested land area. During the same year, roughly 18 million hectares of forest were destroyed across the globe.

Les fours prêts, juste avant assemblage. Photo Andry Ralamboson Andriamanga.

To contact the NGO Tandavanala : manantsoa@tandavanala.org

This initiative was uncovered by our team for France 24’s “Observers vs Climate Change” project. If you know of an initiative near where you live that’s been set up to fight climate change, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team at obsduclimat@france24.com
Article written with
Corentin Bainier

Corentin Bainier , Journalist