Document Type

Article

Publication

Colorado Journal of International Environmental Law and Policy

Year

2011

Abstract

Solutions to a current serious problem for the rural energy poor might best be found at least in part in older practices.

The problem comes from cooking over open fires, impairing the health of the cook and of others in her family, using fuel so inefficiently as to threaten forests, and releasing soot that contributes to global warming. Small, cheap, reliable cooking stoves could address these issues, improving health by reducing smoke and exhausting it through a chimney and thus away from the cook, using fuel more efficiently so that less needs to be gathered, and more completely burning the fuel so that less soot is released.

Older practices may most effectively put such stoves into the hands of the rural energy poor: Traveling merchants once sold small tools in rural areas. More recently they have sold cellular phones, and now they can sell the stoves. They might also sell water filters and other small appliances, reducing costs by spreading them over more products. A problem here is that many developing nation governments are bureaucratic, unfriendly to business, or even corrupt, and these barriers to commerce hurt the energy poor. Reforming markets and politics, while of course important to people in business, is also important to those needing better access to energy.

The U.S. has a long tradition of county agricultural extension agents serving as a bridge between farms and ranches, on the one hand, and agricultural universities on the other. The agricultural universities are in touch with industries serving agriculture such as those selling fertilizer, pesticides, seed, and tractors. The agent transmits information both ways, telling the colleges and thus industry of problems on the farms and telling the farmers of new solutions. This model would be useful in transmitting the new technology of the efficient stoves, providing a neutral alternative to the self-interested traveling merchants. These agents might be hired from among the well-educated people in the developing nations who at present are finding it difficult to obtain suitable employment.