“When you don’t have enough food to eat, from where you will get the money for gas?” asks Lakshmibai Hireappa Sampagani, a 60 year old widow from Itagi village in Karnataka’s Gadag district. She makes just 30 rupees a day in the fields. With a gas cylinder threatening to cost `800 in the near future, Lakhmibai’s question sounds ominous.
The only alternative for Lakshmibai is firewood from the forest; but that is a long walk, time consuming and very difficult in the rainy season. Worse still, the heavy smoke from the firewood chulha troubles her eyes.
But Lakshmibai is not alone; there are millions of rural poor women who are caught between the fire and the fireplace, and have found a way out now : BP Oorja, a smokeless biomass stove. The stove was developed by Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science in partnership with British Petroleum India Energy Ltd. It burns pellets made from agricultural waste, is smokeless and costs less than Rs 700. This stove was pilot-tested in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra in 2006. The success of this pilot led to BP introducing Oorja on a commercial scale and it now has more than 25,000 customers.
Oorja has a chamber for burning pellets and a mini-fan, powered by rechargeable batteries and controlled by a regulator, blows air to fan the flames. This technology increases combustion efficiency. Most of the families who have adopted Oorja have reported a 50% reduction in their cooking costs. Rural families report that it costs roughly `330 per month, to cook entirely with gas; in contrast a monthly supply of eight sacks of pellets cost just around `160, which tends to be as much as `50 cheaper than wood purchased in a local market.
More importantly it does not create irritation in the eyes and utensils are cleaner since there is no smoke generated. It is important to remember that according to World Health Organization, indoor air pollution kills nearly 400,000 people in India each year. From a macro point of view, the stove is a significant move towards reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions – currently the fourth largest in the world and likely to climb due to surging energy needs.
BP Oorja is remarkable not only for its technological advantage, but for its marketing strategies. It is sold through a network of rural women entrepreneurs, who sell the stoves as well as the locally produced biomass pellets. So, a whole new opportunity for self employment and income generation has been created – in selling stoves and producing pellets from locally available agricultural wastes.
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