Most of this cooking is done on smoke emitting stoves or over open fires, releasing copious amounts of greenhouse gases. (Photo credit: India Environment Portal)
By Ramanshu Ganguly, Pragati Kaushik & Shekhar Kedia
Biomass-based fuel is the most relied upon source for cooking. Studies point out that close to 40 per cent of the global population relies on biomass-based fuel for cooking, with India having the largest proportion of solid cooking fuel users. Most of this cooking is done on smoke emitting stoves or over open fires, releasing copious amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and black carbon. In turn, the increased presence of greenhouse gases raises the global atmospheric temperature.
Moreover, the use of solid fuel adds on to the pressure on local forests and natural resources contributing to deforestation, reducing carbon uptake. Solid fuel usage also adversely impacts the indoor environment by releasing toxic fumes and particulate matter and thus, increasing indoor air pollution (IAP). Research on adoption of improved fuels and cookstoves (by Jessica J. Lewis & Subhrendu K. Pattanayak) point out that traditional cookstove also leads to increased time investment in fuel gathering and cooking, hence diverting time away from economically productive activities and education among women and children who typically engage in them.
Clean cooking measures could be a possible solution to the adverse health, social, and environmental impacts of solid fuel usage. Clean cooking measures can involve cleaner fuel such as LPG or devices that lead to reduced emission such as improved biomass cookstoves or induction cooktops. There have been several governmental as well as non-governmental initiatives to enforce and enhance the adoption of clean cooking measures. For instance, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), a flagship program of the Indian government, promotes access to LPG cooking solutions by poor households.
However, the adoption of clean cooking witnesses huge roadblocks, even though the efficacy stands proven. Thus, it becomes critical to understand the factors that drive or restrain adoption. Observing the World Environmental Health Day 2019, we attempt to explore some of the factors that influence the adoption of clean cooking solutions. These socio-cultural factors drive the cooking behavior, which can impede a household’s progression in the clean cooking adoption spectrum.
Various socio-demographic factors such as gender and age of the primary cook, level of education of primary cook and decision-maker of the household and household composition influence the adoption of clean cooking solutions. For instance, in the context of gender, several studies highlight that women are more likely than men to adopt clean cooking solutions, but owing to lack of authority given to women, they are unlikely to make any monetary decision. Also, educated beneficiaries are more likely to adopt improved cookstoves as compared to illiterate consumers.
Most studies exploring the relationship between the rate of adoption and age have found that the younger the individual, the higher their propensity to adopt clean cooking technology. Similarly, size of the household also plays an important role in determining uptake of clean cooking solution. The smaller the household, the larger is the likelihood of adopting clean cooking solutions. This is primarily because, the clean cooking solutions that are currently available cannot prepare food in large quantities.
Income is one of the most common influencers. Many studies find income to be one of the key drivers in devising consumer behavior and decision to purchase clean cook stoves. It was found that households with higher income are more likely to adopt clean cooking solutions as compared to households with lower incomes. A higher level of income provides the household with the possibilities to adopt improved cooking technologies.
Attitude towards technology and behavioural change:
Despite easy access to clean fuels and stoves, the sustained usage of clean cooking solutions is still a persisting challenge. To address this challenge, several studies were undertaken to analyze the role of consumers’ attitude toward new technologies. One study, in particular, claims that a successful household-level transition to clean cookstoves involves undertaking new behavioral actions and ceasing old behavioral patterns.
For instance, rotlas are the preferred staple in rural Gujarat. These are usually prepared on traditional wood fire which gives them a burnt texture and taste. However, such taste and form are not seen when rotlas are prepared on clean cooking solutions. As a result, a cook must decide between using both tyes of cooking solutions or using just one of them, and studies show that they tend to prefer traditional cookstoves. All of these behavioral aspects result in consumers’ resistance towards new technology, leading to a lower intention to adopt new cooking systems.
The way forward:
Cooking is a deeply ingrained behavior with strong social and cultural values. This makes the transition to a clean cooking option becomes a complex behavioral challenge. Hence, providing easy access to clean cooking fuels and stoves is imperative but not enough. To achieve the optimum health and environmental benefits of clean cookstoves, continued and sustained usage is a necessity. In this context, behavior change interventions can help influence key determinants of behaviors- including social and cultural norms, attitudes and knowledge. However, there is still the need for robust data on consumer behavior and the influence of these factors on the adoption behavior of clean cooking solutions. Therefore, it is crucial that the data available is not only reliable and diverse but also concurrent and dynamic. In the end, all data and insights need to be used by policymakers to drive better decisions and capitalize on new opportunities.
The authors work with Sambodhi Research & Communications. Opinions expressed are personal.