ICS movement catching fire

by Yohanes Iwan Baskoro, Lead Technical Advisor, StovePlus program

A question was posed to me recently: More than 50 years after the notion that had put improved cookstove (ICS) as part of the solution to the global fuel, environment and health problems began to gain global recognition, why are we now still talking about promoting worldwide adoption of the ICS?

Coincidentally coming in the wake of a recently concluded first ever Cookstoves Future Summit hosted by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in New York City, the question is loaded with implications and goes right to the heart of the challenges that confront ICS project developers all over the world.


But first, I would like to say that – the implications of that question aside – that we are still talking about promoting global adoption of ICS underlines a continuing global recognition of the situation: that nearly half of the world’s 7 billion people each day cook on open fires, or, coal- or solid biomass-fueled (wood, charcoal) rudimentary cookstoves, and that this creates an untenable situation for our forests (In 2005, the total world woodfuel consumption was about 1.9 billion cubic meters), climate (Black carbon, which results from incomplete combustion of solid biomass when burnt on open fires or rudimentary stoves, is estimated to contribute the equivalent of 25 to 50 percent of carbon dioxide warming globally),  and global health (The global burden of disease study in 2010 estimates that exposure to smoke from cooking is the fourth worst risk factor for disease in developing countries, and causes four million premature deaths per year, exceeding deaths attributable to malaria or tuberculosis).

Now, going back to the question. The question implies that why, when there is global recognition of the role of ICS in helping address the above mentioned problems, has the improved cookstove revolution not caught fire to ignite a worldwide switch from health- and environment-harming practices to sustainable production and consumption behavior.

This question is particularly relevant in the Asia-Pacific region where more than half of the world’s population resides and an approximately 2.2 billion people live in rural areas where biomass continues to be the predominant energy source, primarily for domestic uses. And while there is a natural tendency for users to move up the so-called energy ladder – from firewood/agricultural residues/dung to charcoal/kerosene, and on to LPG/biogas/electricity – whenever these fuels are affordable and accessible, in practice, a drastic and mass movement to these fuels is very unlikely due to rural poverty, among other factors. An outlook in 2009 made by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on woodfuel consumption towards 2020 posits that cooking and heating, the two most energy-consuming activities in most rural and urban poor households where biomass energy is the most important energy source, are the last to switch. Even as income increases and the fuel options is widened, the fuel mix may change but solid biomass would be rarely entirely excluded.

And while many countries in Southeast Asia currently enjoy access to abundant, and in many areas, “free,” woodfuel (wood and charcoal) resource (e.g. in Cambodia and Lao PDR, forest area is more than 60 percent) – which determines to a large extent the households’ choice of fuel – the same Outlook report paints a scenario where more than 50 million of the rural population will live in woodfuel-deficit areas, with both Cambodia and Vietnam considered vulnerable with over 40 percent of the entire population facing critical woodfuel deficit, and Myanmar being less critical with 28 percent of its population facing woodfuel deficit.

All of these make measures and initiatives that promote a switch to sustainable consumption patterns pressing and compelling. And this specter of global catastrophe which threatens our very way of life is what provides a backdrop and rationale for GERES’ work in Southeast Asia.

In 1998, when Cambodia was just beginning to step out of the shadow of war, GERES began work to initiate a biomass energy development program, piloting such in the province of Kampong Chhnang. Then in 2002, it began to implement a wood energy policy in the country (Cambodia Fuelwood Saving Project-Phase 2) through a program designed to complement the FAO’s bigger work on Wood Energy Policy Development in Asia. Then, as now, the strategy encompassed interventions targeting end use (by promoting improved cookstoves), fuel (by promoting sustainable charcoal, and to a certain extent, biogas), and fuel source (by promoting sustainable forest management) in order to contribute to global efforts advocating a switch to sustainable consumption to help protect the environment, the population and, indeed, their very way of life.

The answer to the question relating to the seeming lackluster performance of the improved cookstove movement relies on a confluence of many factors, with one factor taking precedence over another depending on the context. I cannot highlight enough the importance of taking into account the context – environment, available resources, customs and culture, cooking habits, level of technology, political situation, level of entrepreneurship, income levels, willingness and capacity of private sector, responsiveness of government, level of cooperation among stakeholders, etc. – when designing and implementing an ICS project.

GERES’ experience in Cambodia has shown that developing and promoting a product that is accepted by both household users and producers, and putting in place a wide-reaching and sustainable supply chain through the producers and distributors association, make for a successful formula. From the production facilities in Kampong Chhnang province, GERES’ New Lao and Neang Kongrey stoves managed to reach households in communities hundreds of kilometers away through the traditional ox- and motor-driven distribution network. The product itself was marketed as one that would make households save on fuel expenditures, and marketed to women as a stove that would make them spend less time hunched over a stove cooking a meal for the family, while still producing the tastiest dishes that her family enjoys. The women loved it! And so the stove producers kept on producing it and the distributors kept on carrying it on their ox carts – and from an initial average monthly sales of 2,000 in 2002, sales steadily grew year-on-year until it spiked in 2006 with 9,000 unit sales and continued such a steep growth to reach more than 40,000 average unit sales per month in 2014.

And what’s more, this wide acceptance of the product among the Cambodian population encouraged us to try and access Carbon Finance – and we did! In 2006, the improved cookstove project was first validated and verified under the Voluntary Carbon Standard, and the project received carbon credits retroactive from 2003. Ours was the first ever ICS project to enter the carbon market. Over 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent were successfully sold at various voluntary carbon markets to various entities – businesses, organizations, individuals – from Asia, Europe and Oceania willing to support climate change mitigation projects while at the same time offsetting their carbon emissions. The resulting sale amounting to over US$11 million had allowed GERES to continue and expand its work.

Our work in Cambodia has given us many successes, and at the same time taught us many invaluable lessons. This is the same success which we hope to replicate, and the same lessons which will constantly remind and guide us, as we try and expand our work in the rest of Southeast Asia and beyond. We have recently started to work in Myanmar – a context that holds its own challenges and possibilities. But we want to focus more on the possibilities – and they do abound in this country which has only recently opened up to the world. If you are keen on joining us in this work exploring these possibilities, we would be delighted to hear from you. With your participation, maybe we can kindle the ICS movement and help it catch fire, beginning in Myanmar.


Yohanes Iwan Baskoro started and led for 14 years GERES’ sustainable biomass program in Cambodia which is responsible for the dissemination of more than 3.5 million units of improved cookstoves to date. As current lead technical advisor at the StovePlus program, he provides coaching and support to biomass development programs, including improved cookstoves, sustainable charcoal and sustainable forest management, in countries in Asia and Africa. Contact Iwan at i.baskoro@geres.eu.



  • Biomass Energy in the Asia-Pacific Region: current status, trends and future setting, Asia Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study Working Paper Series No. APF SOS II/WP/2009/26, Tini Gumartini, FAO, Bangkok 2009
  • Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves website: http://www.cleancookstoves.org/
  • Improved solid biomass burning cookstoves: a development manual, Regional Wood Energy Development Programme in Asia, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Bangkok, September 1993.
  • “What makes people cook with improved biomass stoves?” A comparative international review of stove programs, World Bank Technical Paper No. 242 Energy Series, Douglas F. Barnes, Keith Openshaw, Kirk R. Smith, Robert van der Plas, Washington DC, May 1994.