Locally made cookstoves are changing the lives of communities in Gokwe South

The “Tsotso” stove, a specially designed open clay pot used as a cookstove, has become a game-changer for communities in Gokwe South District.

Jephiter Tsamwi
UNICEFZimbabwe/2022/Jephiter Tsamwi
25 February 2022

They come in different shapes and sizes. Simple in outlook, but the energy they generate is more powerful and efficient than an open fire. The “Tsotso” stove, a specially designed open clay pot used as a cookstove, has become a game-changer for communities in Gokwe South District situated in Zimbabwe’s Midlands Province where the stoves are made.

These cookstoves are an initiative introduced by the Ministry of Health and Childcare (MoHCC) in partnership with UNICEF, under the Sustainable Energy for Health Facilities and Surrounding Communities Programme (SE4HF). With funding support from the Government of Sweden, SE4HF seeks to provide a more sustainable solution to protecting the environment while encouraging financial freedom for women in the district. 

The clay pots have openings at the sides to make a fire. Tsotso is a Shona word meaning ‘small sticks’ - it is these sticks that will be used to cook a meal that feeds the family. These fuel-efficient cookstoves have replaced the open wood fires, traditionally used to cook in rural Zimbabwe. Firewood is the most used domestic fuel in the country and it is leading to frequent deforestation at an unsustainable rate.

So far, UNICEF has trained 450 women in Gokwe South in cookstoves making, using a model and design that has gained traction across Africa and the developing world. These women are taking it upon themselves to mobilise fellow community members to adopt the fuel-efficient cookstoves. Petunia Chinyama, a mother of 3, is embracing the cookstoves not only as a household tool but equally as a business venture.

“Making cookstoves is a good business. I sell the stoves for up to USD 5. Ever since I joined the programme, I have been able to improve my household income, paying school fees for my children and getting extra cash for my family,” the potter explains.

Petunia is among the trained community members in Gokwe encouraging fellow villagers to adopt the use of the stoves.

“These stoves will benefit the community and the environment. I love sharing the benefits of these wonderful stoves with the rest of the village.” Petunia concludes.

As with Petunia, the cookstoves have improved life for a 71-year-old grandmother of 8, known affectionately known as Gogo (granny) Imbayago. “I take care of all my grandchildren. The Tsotso stove helps me to prepare food faster.  It also keeps heat for a considerable time ensuring that food is warm when the children return from school,” she said.

UNICEFZimbabwe/2022/Jephiter Tsamwi
Gogo Imbayago prepares dinner with her grandchildren using the Tsotso stove.

MoHCC Nutritionist, Takudzwa Tiengane, highlights that under the SE4HF, the Ministry will go a step further to empower communities with knowledge on best nutrition practices for children, pregnant women, and the community at large.

“I believe communities have the power to transform their lives. With the right initiatives, they can sustain their livelihoods. The cookstoves have been a unique business opportunity for local women. We will provide them further knowledge on the healthy foods they can prepare using those cookstoves,” said Takudzwa. For her, being part of this programme has been so fulfilling, witnessing the quality of rural lives improve through locally made innovations.

According to 2017 World Health Organisation (WHO) Statistics, household air pollution is the leading cause of 534,000 annual deaths among children under five years of age globally. Exposure to smoke from open fires and cookstoves leads to pneumonia, chronic respiratory disease, and lung cancer, causing an estimated 1.6 million deaths worldwide each year.

The number of preventable deaths from household Indoor Air Pollution (IAP) is greater than the number of preventable deaths from malaria or tuberculosis. In a country like Zimbabwe, where firewood is the major source of energy for household cooking, women and children are most in danger of these respiratory diseases since household chores like cooking generally fall on them.

The cookstove produces less smoke and can be used in open spaces, thus reducing exposure to dangerous smoke to women and children.

The MoHCC hopes to scale up the SE4HF model across the country. For women like Petunia and Gogo Imbayago, their vision is to pass on the cookstoves culture to their children and generations to come. The stove has just transformed their lives for the better, provided a sustainable solution to environment-related challenges in their communities, and is helping them secure livelihoods. That is the vision of the Sustainable Energy for Health Facilities and Surrounding Communities Programme.