India's clean fuel transition slowed by cooks’ belief firewood better: Study

Aditi Khanna
·3-min read

London, Nov 10 (PTI) India's transition to clean cooking fuels may be hampered by the users' belief that using firewood is better for their families' well being than switching to Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), a new study has found.

Researchers at the Universities of Birmingham in the UK and Queensland, Australia, conducted focus group discussions with women in four villages in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh.

Two villages mostly used firewood whilst the other two comprised of mostly LPG users, who had switched from using firewood. The researchers published their findings on Monday in 'Nature Energy'.

'Despite India's aim of switching to clean fuels, the scale of solid fuel use in rural areas signals that widespread uptake and sustained use of clean fuels is a distant reality,' said study co-author Dr Rosie Day, Senior Lecturer in Environment and Society at the University of Birmingham.

'Whilst cooking is not solely a woman's job, the reality is that, in rural India, women are considered the primary cooks. It is, therefore, critical to unravel how women see the relationship between wellbeing and cooking fuel if India is to make progress in transitioning to clean fuels,' she said.

Those cooks using firewood know it causes health problems, but feel that it contributes more to wellbeing than cooking with LPG would, although LPG users who previously cooked with firewood claim their new fuel has improved wellbeing, the study found.

The University of Birmingham notes that India has more people relying on solid fuels for cooking than any other country in the world and providing universal access to clean cooking fuels has been identified as one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to which the country is a signatory.

Firewood users believed that cooking with this fuel improved their financial wellbeing because selling firewood generated income, whilst collecting the fuel gave them an opportunity to socialise and is a tradition they would like to continue.

They viewed LPG as a financial burden that gave food an undesirable taste and feared a fatal canister explosion.

LPG users told researchers that their fuel allowed them to maintain or improve social status, as well as making it easier to care for children and other family members.

Cooking with LPG freed up time which they could use to work outside the home and earn money. They also enjoyed extra leisure time with their family.

“We have gained important understanding of women’s views in this setting, but further research is needed to analyse the perceived relationship between women’s fuel use and multidimensional wellbeing in other settings – this will help to increase our understanding of how social and cultural factors come into play in transition to clean fuels,” added Dr Day.

Researchers suggest that future interventions to promote new fuels should actively involve women who used solid fuels and clean fuels – opening discussion about the benefits of each and allowing cooks to observe different cooking practices.

Interaction programmes could inform firewood users about the positive wellbeing outcomes of LPG, address concerns, and promote learning from each other.

The study, titled ‘Differences in firewood users’ and LPG users’ perceived relationships between cooking fuels and women’s multidimensional wellbeing in rural India’, identifies key lessons that have important implications for policymakers to consider, including understanding users’ concerns around wellbeing and also clearly highlight the benefits of switching to more sustainable cooking options. PTI AK IND IND