Mistaken beliefs are altering India’s transition to clean cooking fuels

Popular belief in India that using firewood for cooking is healthier than Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) is making the transition to clean cooking fuels more difficult, a new study showed. This means better information programs are needed to train people, the researchers argued.

Credit Flickr Carl Stead

India has more people who rely on solid fuels for cooking than any other country in the world (780 million), and estimates indicate that it will stay in this top position at least until the end of 2030. The scale of solid fuel use in rural areas signals that the widespread uptake of clean fuels is a distant reality.

Women are the main family cooks in rural India. That’s why researchers decided to focus their study on them and their views on fuel transition. The team performed a qualitative analysis of data from focus group discussions with comparable groups of women who have those who have not transitioned to LPG, seeking to understand their views.

The findings showed women believe firewood causes health problems but feel that it contributes more to wellbeing than cooking with LPG. For the researchers, this helps explain why India’s switch from traditional solid fuels is going slower than expected.

Study co-author Rosie Day said in a statement: “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.”

The researchers from the Universities of Birmingham (UK) and Queensland (Australia) focused on women from four villages in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. This allowed to do a comparison, as two of the villages mostly used firewood and the other two LPG, having switched from using firewood.

Those who use firewood believed that cooking with this fuel improved their financial wellbeing because they generated income from its sale, whilst collecting firewood gave them an opportunity to socialize and is a tradition they would like to continue. They viewed LPG as a financial burden that gave food an undesirable taste.

On the other hand, LPG users said 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.

The researchers suggested 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. They said information should be distributed on the positive wellbeing of LPG.

“We have gained important understanding of women’s views in this setting, but further research is needed to analyze the perceived relationship between women’s fuel use and multi-dimensional 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,” said Day.

The study was published in the journal Nature Energy.

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