SWITCH-Asia builds capacity for production of improved cook-stoves
  • 18 September 2015
  • News

Mr. Khammai and his wife Ms. Chitsana run a stove-making business out of their home in Champassack Province in Lao PDR. Ms. Chitsana manages the finance and five employees at their home, while Mr. Khammai takes responsibility for delivering stoves, along with his son. The family started their stove business in 2005 and in 2012 joined theEU-funded SWITCH-Asia project "Improved Cook Stoves" (ICS).

"We joined the project because we saw that there is an opportunity to sell ICS in the market," states Ms. Chitsana. "We were told about the project one day through the project staff while delivering stoves. We wanted to join the programme because we wanted to learn how to produce different stoves than we did previously. We thought this would be a way to increase our revenues."

Khammai and Chitsana passed their production accreditation in 2013 and were then certified to produce ICS. In March 2014, they took out a loan to improve their production capacity by purchasing more raw materials and hiring more workers.

"If the market demand continues to be high, we would like to increase production, and increase our workforce," states Mrs. Chitsana. "We have the potential to produce a lot, but sometimes we still have challenges to pay for production costs or find labourers."

The couple's workshop currently produces an average of approximately 300 stoves per month, with a total of 5,811 since joining the project. Word of mouth among producers is a key factor, as with consumers and retailers, and the pair recommended their acquaintance, Mr. Amphone, living in a nearby village, to join as well. As he already knew about the potential benefits and support provided, he was eager to do so.

As with many enterprises in Laos, cook stove production is often run as a family business. Many families who make cook stoves set up small workshops in their compound, with a few staff or family members to help out. Prior to the start of the SWITCH-Asia ICS project, most stove producers made their own ceramic stoves, with no particular consistency in quality or durability.

Currently, the project works with 19 active stove producers in the Vientiane Capital area, Savannakhet Province, and Champassack Province, three of the most populous areas in the country. At the start of the project in 2013, representatives visited existing stove producers who were recommended by retailers or other producers in target areas to introduce the project and stove design and ask if they were interested in participating.

The ICS is designed to use traditional materials and lend itself to traditional cooking methods, to make it more acceptable to both producers and consumers and more easily integrated into the market.

Some producers continue to make traditional stoves alongside ICS, while others have converted their workshops completely to ICS production. Once stove makers are able to meet a series of quality standards, the project signs cooperation agreements and the producer gets an accreditation certificate. The stove accreditation is a process between producers and the NGO ARMI (a local Lao NGO and implementing partner for the project). The stove standards have recently been endorsed by theMinistry of Science and Technology, which is the designated authority to test the stoves and assess if labels can be issued to a certain batch of stoves, based on a laboratory test that determines the efficiency rates according to a specific testing protocol.

The project helps producers create business plans, and take out loans to finance improvements to their workshops, such as better roofing for their kilns, if necessary, providing valuable business management skills to the entrepreneurs along with technical training.

New producers receive training from their peers, to increase skills in proper operation of the tools and moulds that ensure the right dimensions are met and that the production process is done according to standards. Some necessary materials are provided by the project, including moulds, tools, kiln components, clay mixers, and stove display units. Although the design of the stove does not require any difficult or expensive technologies compared to traditional stove-making, it is important that the producers are able to employ the same techniques to ensure a consistent and high-quality product, which users and retailers now expect. Producers who stand out as models are recruited by the project staff to train newcomers to the project.

In the three provinces where the project works with producers, monthly meetings are held with project staff from SNV and ARMI and representatives of each producer. They share challenges they are having with production and network with one another to share knowledge of the market and strengthen ties as fellow businesspeople.

From the start of the project, 50,000 ICS have already been produced.

In each province, the project is beginning to set up both formal and informal business associations for the producers to share ideas about further developing the sector and helping members adhere to quality production standards and fair pricing. In so doing, the interventions of the SWITCH-Asia ICS project not only support technical skills but focus explicitly on the enabling environment of the stoves sector as a whole.

Author: Bastiaan Teune 
Editor: Silvia Sartori

 

Promotion Campaign at Boat Racing Festival 2014

During the Boat Racig Festival in 3 Provinces Vientiane Capital, Savannakhet and Champasak. All Promotion Officers and the representatives from Lao Woman’s Union help promote the ICS programme by giving information, brochures, handbills…etc. Explain on how the ICS is produced step by step. Other than that, the Promotion team conducted some activities to entertain the audiences such as: Cooking Demonstration to compare the efficiency between Tao Dam and ICS, playing quiz game to win ICS T-Shirt and Aprons.

Savannakhet can sell up to 157 stoves in 5 days.

Champasak Province can sell up to 87 stoves.

Vientiane Capital can also sell up to 77 stoves.

The Activities end at around 19h00 of the 9th October 2014 with the happy on the face of ICS Fan and The Promotion team.

The SME Training for ICS producers to become the SME Entrepreneur

From 8-9 September 2014, a Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) training for Improved Cook Stove (ICS) producers was held at Pakse Hotel in Champasack Province.

The main objective of the training was to provide support to improve the ICS value chain, and to build the capacity of the ICS technical team. Many aspects were covered in the 2-day training from developing business skills and investment and business plan writing to providing a solid understanding of ‘franchise business models’ and SME registration requirements.  The workshop also detailed methods for increasing access to finance to improve production and how to establish a producers association.

 

The capacity building components also aimed to develop SME practices including how to apply for and manage a loan from local banks. This was identified as the primary skill needed for all producers to develop their business and to be able to build and improve their financial management, producing and marketing skills.

In total, 54 participants attended the workshop of which 24 were female.

The next plan is to follow up the Business Plan that link to the establishment of the SME Entrepreneur in all three provinces.  

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This programme is funded by European Union