The socio-economic efficacy of improved wood stoves upon two non-electrified, low income peri-urban areas of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
Mabaso, McWilliam Chipeta.
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Persistent poverty, social and economic inequalities are some of the challenges in the process of national development efforts targeted in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Yet in South Africa, poverty, hunger, social and economic inequalities are still on the increase especially among poor rural to urban migrants. Because of severe poverty in rural areas, large populations of rural poor migrate to urban areas in search of better life. However, the growing energy needs in the urban areas where these people settle and their use of inefficient energy technologies negatively impact on the balance of environmental resources on which their socio-economic development depends. Efficient, affordable and environmental friendly technologies are therefore vital for improving the livelihood conditions and protecting the much needed environmental resources of the country. On the contrary, current practices presently dominating energy provision issues in South Africa are insufficient to solve the problems of socio-economic inequalities, especially for the increasing urban poor population. In addition, they are also failing to protect the environment and natural resources. Electrification of poor urban and peri-urban areas by both grid and off-grid systems through the top-down development practice is doing very little to change the socio-economic conditions of the poor section of the population in the country. Likewise, the provision of modern energy through public sector agencies such as Eskom is inadequate and inappropriate for the rapidly expanding urban and peri-urban poor areas in the country. One major reason that hinders provision of such services to the overcrowded consumer population in these areas is the massive capital investment required and inability to pay electricity bills by urban poor households. Against the above background, this study examined the use of improved wood stoves in two peri-urban areas (Umsilinga and Isnathing) in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa as an alternative modern energy technology on how they would socio-economically benefit the peri-urban poor. It looked at the following: The efficiency of four improved wood stoves (Yamampera, Simunye, Household Rocket and Vesto) in comparison with the three stone open fire, The impact of the efficient burning of the four improved stoves, Factors influencing consumers in choosing a specific energy technology to use, The effectiveness of the improved wood stoves placed in 24 peri-urban households and observed for the specified period, and Additional potentials of such stoves to other prospective users. The key finding of this research is that the use of these improved wood stoves could play a pivital role in household economic growth and improving livelihoods. Participants ranked smokeless burning, low selling price, fuelwood saving and light weight of the stoves as priority preferences for using these stoves. Speed of cooking and less constant attention to the fire were also ranked as important preferences. From women participants view point, the low selling price of the stoves and their considerable fuel saving would reduce strain on the household investment capital, household indoor pollution and tedious work of women’s fuelwood collection. Low investment costs in acquiring the stoves would encourage women’s participation as entrepreneurs in modern energy technologies. However, results from focused group discussions and observations of usage of stoves that were placed in 24 homes showed that the incorporation of consumer preferences in the design of improved wood stoves would be key. This would enable stoves to adequately meet the energy needs of targeted users and be used frequently as an alternative energy solution by both urban and peri-urban poor who are currently lacking electricity and suffering from energy poverty.
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