Improved cooking stoves

How to conserve fuel and save lives

A shortage of fuel for cooking is one of the many problems faced by people in the developing world. Gathering fuel is generally women’s work but is fraught with dangers; they gamble with the risk of rape and life threatening attacks during their search for much needed firewood, in order to feed their families. In certain areas, local sources of firewood are completely depleted, leading women to travel further and further afield or to dig up tree roots, eliminating any chance of the trees growing again. Even if women survive this, they are still exposing themselves and their children to potentially deadly smoke fumes.  

Practical Action are tackling this issue through the use of more fuel-efficient woodstoves, which are both affordable and easy to use; cutting the amount of risky trips for firewood and allowing more trees the opportunity to grow. Subsequently, burning smaller amounts of wood fuel means less smoke will engulf their homes and their lungs. 

The improved stove has high sides which assist heat transfer. Over 150 women have been trained to use the new stoves and are now able to teach these techniques to others. Essential fuel saving tips such as using dry wood, pre-soaking beans before cooking, using a weighted lid and controlling the air supply to the fire are included in the training programme.

Using just locally-available clay and bricks, the stoves can be made in a few simple steps:

1 A line is drawn around the outside of the saucepan most frequently used in the kitchen to determine the size of the stove.


2 Three brick segments with clay stuck underneath them are placed an equal distance apart inside the edge of the circle drawn in the sand.

3 The whole circle is filled with clay to a depth of about 4cm.


4 The walls are then built up outside the bricks although a small part of the bricks are embedded in the wall. The walls are roughly 4cm thick. The wall is built up until it is flush with the top of the bricks.

5 The pan is then placed on top of the bricks and the walls are built up until they are just under the top of the pan. There should be a finger size gap between the pan and the wall.


6 The pot is removed and using a scraper the surface of the stove is made smooth. An exhaust hole is cut in the side to increase the stove efficiency by increasing the air flow, and allow wood to be added without the need to move the saucepan. The stove is left to dry naturally.


Saving firewood in Sudan

“My name is Zienab. I am 32 and married to Osman. Together with our son (7 years) and daughter (5 years), we live in Wau Nur camp, Kassala. My husband is a carpenter in Kassala and I make and sell Zalabia (a crisp, wafer-like pastry with syrup) in Wau Nur local market. Our main hope is to increase our family income so as to improve our shelter and furniture and to secure a good education for our children.

”I gained great benefit from attending a three-day improved stove training course. We discussed issues such as the disadvantages of using firewood and its negative impact on the environment and forests and how it leads to food insecurity. We learnt how to construct an improved stove from mud and cow dung. I made my own stove and took it home.

“I also made another one for my work in the market because I experienced its efficiency and the safe use of energy. I used to buy about five bands of firewood in order to cook five kilos of flour. Since using the improved stove, three bands are sufficient to cook the same quantity of flour. As a result, I’m saving about SDD 70 per day. I save time by using an LPG cooker and improved stove, and now have more free time for other domestic work which I neglected before, such as cleaning, or even taking much-needed rest!”

Benefits of cooking with upesi stoves in Kenya

Naomi talks to Practical Action about the dangers of smoke inhalation and how her life, and the lives of her children, have changed since cooking with a upesi stove.

Smoke - the killer in the kitchen

Over four million people die each year after inhaling lethal smoke from kitchen stoves and fires. Most victims are women and children under five. But these are deaths that could be prevented – using simple technologies.

Find out more

Other ways to help to improve cooking and health

Low-smoke LPG stoves

Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) stoves are benefiting thousands of families in western Sudan who now have a clean kitchens, clean lungs and more money.

Read more

Smoke hoods

Sheet metal smoke hoods are cost effective and efficient, reducing indoor smoke levels by up to 80%.

Read more

Generating electricity from soundwaves

A ground-breaking cooker which could transform the way electricity is generated in the homes of people living in poverty has been tested by Practical Action.

Read more

Technical information

Download further technical information on improved stoves and ovens from Practical Answers, the technical information service of Practical Action.

How to Make an Upesi Stove

The Upesi stove is a ceramic stove designed for rural areas of Kenya. It uses wood as its fuel source.

How to Make Sri Lanka's Anagi II Stove

A step-by-step guide to making a two pot ceramic stove.

Making Mud Stoves in Sudan

The mud stove is a low-tech and low-cost wood burning do-it-yourself solution. This Technical Brief looks at some of the issues related to this type of stove and how they should be used.

Mud Stoves in East Africa

Mud stoves play an important role in improving the efficiency of household energy use in East Africa.

Stoves for Rice Husk and Other Fine Residues

These materials have often been regarded as waste but it is possible to use fine biomass residues as a fuel source. This brief looks at some recent developments.

Stoves for Institutional Kitchens

Institutional stoves are used where larger amounts of food need to be cooked. Typical examples are schools, hospitals, prisons and refugee camps.

Smoke, health and household energy, volume 1: participatory methods for design, installation, monitoring and assessment of smoke

This publication describes a research project done by Practical Action in three very different communities in Nepal, Sudan and Kenya, and how it has supported large numbers of people living in poverty, especially women and children, to reduce the major health risks caused by smoke from kitchen fires, through awareness of the dangers of smoke and interventions to alleviate it.

Smoke, health and household energy 2: researching pathways to scaling up sustainable and effective kitchen smoke alleviation

Following the original research in Nepal, Sudan and Kenya, this second phase of research aimed to reduce child mortality by reducing carbon monoxide. To make substantial inroads on ill-health, this study needed to ensure that indoor air pollution was reduced, identify and overcome the barriers that prevent people being able to alleviate the kitchen smoke in their homes.

The Improved Clay Stove

A design for a do-it-yourself clay / mud stove for Sudan.

The Mubkher Stove

This is a ceramic stove that uses charcoal as its fuel source. Designed for use in Sudan.

Chimney Stoves and Smoke Hoods

Nearly half the world cooks on three-stone fires or basic stoves causing indoor air pollution. This brief looks at ways to reduce pollution.

Practical Tips for Potters Making Improved Cooking Stoves

This manual looks at the issues and difficulties in making high quality clay stoves.

Appropriate Household Energy Technology Development

Although support materials exist in the form of technical information on various household energy technologies, there are few training materials to guide users.

Clay-based technologies manual
A practical handbook on making the improved stove, as well as clay refrigerators and water coolers, from Practical Action Sudan. This manufacturing manual has step by step instructions, photos and technical drawings.

Boiling Point household energy journal

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