Since 2006, Washington, D.C.-based International Lifeline Fund has worked in refugee and IDP camps, emergency settings, and commercialized markets to enable sustainable access to fuel-efficient cooking technologies. Throughout this time, Lifeline has implemented humanitarian and development programs across sub-Saharan African and the Caribbean, including in Northern Uganda, Darfur, South Sudan, Burundi, Haiti, Tanzania, and Northern Kenya.
With stove factories in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and Lira, Uganda, Lifeline’s interventions have been built around three main technologies: household charcoal stoves for urban and peri-urban communities, household wood stoves for rural communities, and institutional stoves for schools and hospitals that utilize a combination of firewood and biomass briquettes. By establishing localized production facilities and widespread vendor networks, Lifeline has succeeded in distributing and selling more than 220,000 efficient cookstoves that have impacted over one million lives.
Lifeline’s extensive capacity in all aspects of cookstove programming, including R&D, design, testing, production, marketing, distribution, training, and program monitoring and evaluation, has evolved over a decade of experience in the international stove sector. Thanks to strong partnerships with other industry leaders, such as the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, Lifeline has created new fuel-efficient stove (FES) markets by building trust, relationships, and brands based on customer feedback loops. Specifically, Lifeline has valued close collaboration with the Alliance on the Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) Humanitarian Working Group Initiative, and is now promoting the Initiative’s goals in Burundi by raising consumer awareness of FES benefits and training local fabricators to produce efficient stove models.
In recent years, Lifeline has expanded its program focus towards developing sustainable FES markets in underserved rural areas. While global trends in the stove sector have focused heavily on market solutions for urban consumers, the rural market remains trapped between two extremes: low cost cookstoves that suffer from poor efficiency, short lifespans, and lack of consistency, and high quality stoves with competitive fuel efficiencies that are priced far out of reach for low-income consumers.
Three years ago, Lifeline stepped into this market void and embarked on an extensive research and development mission to create a product that would meet the needs and desires of the rural Ugandan population at an accessible price point for low-income consumers. This deliberate long-term approach enabled Lifeline’s technical team to study local cooking habits, test and re-test different FES models, train labor forces, source raw materials, streamline and semi-mechanize production, and customize and fine-tune products to meet its customers’ multifarious demands. Additionally, owing recent investments in infrastructure, Lifeline has increased the production capacity of its Lira factory to 7,000 stoves per month, allowing it to lower overhead costs and offer a variety of household stove models ranging from USD $2 to $10.
This human-centered R&D strategy has proven successful in stimulating the previously untapped rural Ugandan market. As demonstrated in an ongoing study by the University of Notre Dame, Lifeline’s rural wood stove showed a 95% adoption rate among participating households in Apac, Uganda. Prioritizing design elements that improve rates of user adoption, such as usability, durability, and suitability with a variety of pot sizes, has resulted in the placement of over 45,000 orders for this model in less than two years.
From its success with creating highly efficient, durable, and affordably priced cookstoves for Uganda’s rural market, Lifeline seeks to contribute to broader change in the stove sector by encouraging other stove producers to focus on design elements that will promote greater user adoption. With this approach, stove partners will have greater impact in humanitarian contexts and more success developing financially sustainable market solutions.