Historical Context of Ancient Ways Stove Building

Preparing for the first trip to Zimbabwe in March 2000 was the beginning of our stove research. Once there, multiple ideas were shared. A few of the women had read a book with example pictures of a small stove that would easily be formed with local clay. They called it a tsotso stove meaning ‘small stove’ We explored all of our inspirations to help the women to:

    • reduce the time required to prepare the fire and cook
    • reduce the requirement for so much firewood
    • reduce the smoke in the hut that affects the entire family, but particularly the women, girls and younger children who spend more time around the open fire.
    • reduce the time for women and girls to gather firewood to use for the fire that is built three times a day for cooking.

By the next trip to Zimbabwe in November 2000 we had worked with Aprovecho studying their design for the ‘rocket stove’ tested in South America. We had plans on paper and enthusiastic volunteers interested in creating a tsotso stove program. We quickly found out that the women really wanted the metal top in the stove to emulate a cook top range and were very interested in building the stoves themselves. They would make the bricks and build the stove, if we would provide the metal top with the right size holes in the top for pots, and also provide a small amount of the finishing powder called oxide.

We embarked on a multi-year building program to enhance the women’s kitchen experience, influence the health of the family, and impact the depleting wood supply. Concurrently we worked with villagers to plant trees at their homestead to provide both food and fuel. We have assisted in building over 40 stoves for Nhimbe residents.

Changes Impacting Development

Within a couple of years some major shifts affected our continuation of the program. The primary issue began to be concerning the wood availability. The tsotso stove is designed to be fueled by small sticks and branches which can be gathered easily by anyone. Unexpectedly, the headmen began to make it illegal for residents to gather any firewood locally, due to deforestation. That meant residents must order cart loads of wood from nearby plantation of gum (eucalyptus) trees. The limbs being delivered were so large that the time required to reduce them to small sticks was prohibitive. The new firewood required a man or woman with an ax to shop them into pieces! This exacerbated the problem.

Also we found that a few stoves were not built to the specifications to create a smokeless stove. We also found that the local clay elbows weren’t lasting as long as needed and so we began to look for better sources of clay. We discontinued the program temporarily until further research can be done to solve all of these issues.