Smoke and other particles emitted by traditional mud stoves are major contributors to household air pollution. It is unknown to many that exposure to smoke from traditional cook stoves and open fires - the primary means of cooking and heating for nearly three billion people in the developing world - causes more than 2.6 million premature deaths annually. In Bangladesh the number is 107,000.
Households can minimise this risk by adopting clean cooking solutions, including stoves that burn wood and other biomass more efficiently and also use clean fuels like LPG (liquefied petroleum gas). With this end in view, the Country Action Plan (CAP), prepared by the government in 2013, targets reaching 30 million households with clean cooking solutions by 2030.
'The good news is we are seeing real results. Our partners have distributed more than 80 million clean and efficient cook stoves and fuels to households globally. Our advocacy, and market development efforts over the past decade have been paying off, as clean cooking has become a global development priority, and is included in multiple Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators," said Julie Ipe.
Julie Ipe, Director for Demand and Behaviour Change at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, recently visited Bangladesh to assess the progress of the project. Talking to this correspondent she dealt on the past, present and the future of this ambitious but pro-people programme.
In 2016, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC) launched a pilot campaign to address the household air pollution problem in Bangladesh by introducing improved cook stoves. They had extensive sessions with stove manufacturers on issues like product development, quality control and market extension. The Clean Household Air Pollution (CHAP) project (2017-18) which is being implemented by Social Marketing Company and Purplewood Ltd is the continuation of that project.
Describing the present scenario of the campaign in the country, Julie who oversees the alliance's global market research and behavior change communication efforts, said the Bangladesh market has been growing steadily over the past few years, and "we are excited to continue working with our partners to drive greater progress forward" so that families in Bangladesh can lead healthier, more productive, and safer lives.
The organisation is working to create awareness about clean cooking through behavior change communication.
About the challenges of this approach Julie said, 'I think all of us would agree that changing behaviors is hard. And changing cooking behavior is especially difficult - cooking practices are deeply engrained, and have been passed down over generations. At the core of the Behavior Change Communication or "BCC" the approach is to truly understand the interests and motivations of the target audience. If you can tap into what drives behavior and develop messaging that responds to your audience's concerns and aspirations, you achieve a higher likelihood of sustainably creating the intended change you seek'.
The current "Modern Kitchen" campaign is being conducted by the organisation at present in 16 upazilas in collaboration with the Social Marketing Company (SMC) and Purplewood.
Officially launched in July 2017, the campaign aims to spread information about various stove and fuel options available, from cleaner burning wood stoves to LPG.
Aiming to shift social norms, the "Modern Kitchen" campaign engages men as the influencers of household expenditures and women as the cooks and kitchen managers through a story that explores what it means to be a "modern man" and take good care of one's family. This story is woven throughout the campaign through community theatre performances, film screenings, and door-to-door outreach. The campaign's tagline is: "times have changed, change your stove", which nicely captures the core message of the campaign.
"Specifically, the campaign is helping families re-imagine what cooking looks like, and even what being a 'modern family' means. We have developed the campaign around a set of relatable and entertaining characters to encourage the idea that a modern man would support his family and aspire to build a more modern kitchen in his home by purchasing a cleaner cook stove. And of course, we also appeal to women to encourage them to aspire to a more modern kitchen," Julie added.
"To achieve sustainable behavior change, we need to reach a household multiple times with mutually reinforcing messages. For this campaign we are focused on intense outreach at the community level. So the first thing we did was reach out to local government officials and leaders to ensure their buy-in."
These activities are complemented by cooking carnivals and demonstrations where families can see the stoves first hand and enter a raffle to win a kitchen makeover. And the kitchen makeovers so far have been really incredible and have created a lot of buzz and excitement.
Focusing on the major challenges to implementing the campaign, she said, any type of behavior change can be difficult to achieve, and it is particularly more difficult for an issue that has low awareness among the population. 'The cultural nature of cooking can also be very challenging to overcome. We know we need to be mindful of tradition and ensure that we respectfully, but convincingly, demonstrate that there are other options out there'.
The fact that women oversee the kitchen and are the ones that suffer the most from the inconvenience and discomforts associated with cooking over open fires, yet often do not control the household's finances makes achieving change difficult.
"And, this is why we target both men and women in our campaign. And we are seeing some encouraging results and gathering lots of lessons. We hope we can continue to grow these campaigns and broaden participation from additional partners," said Julie, who previously worked with the Alliance as a member of the United Nations Foundation's Budgets and Reporting team.
The government has been a very important supporter of the campaign and of the Alliance's efforts in Bangladesh in general. During the campaign, the GACC has engaged with several ministries and local governmental leaders through community events. The support of the Power Division of the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources through their Sustainable Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) in particular has been incredibly supportive of the campaign.
"Indeed, efforts to address this issue have been undertaken many times in Bangladesh. We will not discount the challenges, but as we have seen in other countries, the sector continues to be quite dynamic. New partners are entering the space, thanks to the efforts of the Alliance and our partners, and many of the more experienced players have learned a lot over the years. We have a new opportunity to apply lessons learned to help empower households through energy".
There are also newer technologies available now and greater interest on the part of the government to support all kinds of energy - LNG, LPG, and biomass-for households to benefit from. It can take a while for all of the pieces to come together, but substantial progress is being made in Bangladesh. There are also some exciting new business models and government initiatives that are emerging, which could be potentially applied to Bangladesh's market in the future.
The market-based approach, which is what the Alliance supports, is an important part of this story. There are multiple instances of interventions stalling because stoves and fuels were being pushed into homes through NGOs and cooperatives. In such cases, consumer demand is not properly fostered; so there's little feedback shaping product innovation.
About their future plans for Bangladesh, she said, there are many experienced partners in Bangladesh's clean cooking sector, but it has also been exciting to engage with new organisations.
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