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

 

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This programme is funded by European Union