A look at the daily cooking routine of women and children in rural Bolivia. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 3 billion people - almost half the world's population - burn biomass to cook. It's no wonder that 4.3 million people die from indoor air pollution a year. Let's raise awareness to make clean cookstoves the solution.

Nearly three billion people in the developing world cook their meals using wood, crop waste, dung and coal. Bolivia remains one of the poorest countries in South America. According to UNICEF, 59% of Bolivia’s population lives in conditions of poverty, and 24.4% live in conditions of extreme poverty. But this poverty is not felt equally, and the rate among Bolivia’s rural population is as high as 82%. Bolivian families living in extreme poverty must spend approximately 1/3 of their household income purchasing cooking fuel: LPG gas, wood and biomass. Nearly one million families in Bolivia use wood as a cooking fuel in rural and urban Bolivia, with biomass accounting for approximately 90% of household energy use in rural areas.

Given the widespread use of biomass as a form of fuel throughout Bolivia, families must spend a large part of their day focused on finding fuel for cooking. The burden most often falls on women and children that must give up part of their day to search for fuel. At school, teachers either assign wood-gathering for homework or carve out one hour of each day to gather wood to burn for lunch. Each hour of a child’s day begins to add up. With a typical 1-3 hour walk to school, 1-3 hour walk back from school, and 1 hour to find and transport clean water back home, must of a child’s day is already gone. With less time available for studying, homework, helping with agricultural duties, creative development, or even just time to let a child be a child without adult burdens, children are more likely to drop out of school. This repeats a dangerous cycle within generations of a family, preventing families from escaping poverty and bettering their standards of living.

Families, most often women and children, spend hours each week searching for cooking fuel. Because forests are being depleted, every year it becomes more difficult and takes more time to find wood. (According to the FAO, between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia lost an average of 270,000 hectares of forest per year.) This unsustainable level of biomass harvesting depletes forests, which in turn interrupts the water cycle, reduces soil fertility, and decreases biodiversity. Human burning of biomass has increased over the past 100 years, releasing hundreds of years of stored carbon dioxide in the air – a major contributor to climate change.

Toxic smoke from open pit cooking fires is one of the leading environmental causes of death and disease, it has long been neglected by governments and private aid organizations. Burning biomass can cause health issues such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumoconiosis, cataract and blindness, pulmonary tuberculosis and adverse effects to pregnancy – on the world’s most vulnerable. The World Health Organization estimates that indoor air pollution caused by open pit cooking ranks fourth as a health risk factor in developing countries. According to U.N. statistics, nearly three billion people in the world cook meals on open fire pits, and an estimated 1.9 million, mostly women and children, die from smoke inhalation every year. Bolivia has the highest infant mortality rate in South America, 67 deaths per 1,000, and the World Health Organization estimates that globally 7-10% of infant deaths are attributable to the inhalation of indoor smoke. (The 24-hour particulate matter density from open cooking fires in rural Latin America averages between 300 – 3,000 ug/m3. By comparison, the U.S. EPA standard is 50 µg/m3 and the E.U. standard is 40µg/m3.)


CEDESOL provides an alternative to cooking sources that pollute, degrade the natural environment and cause damage to health. Through the use of solar cookers, the problems associated with open pit fires are eliminated; no fuel is required and no pollution is produced. Since solar energy is free, solar cookers pay for themselves in the long term as the need to collect or buy fuelwood and LPG gas is substantially reduced, and although the costs of purchasing a cooker are high for its intended users, subsidies and microfinance opportunities make them a viable technology for Bolivia’s rural poor. In addition to the financial gain from solar cooking, as a result of lower temperatures, food retains more nutrients and supervision is not required when cooking. More time and money can be reallocated to work, education, medical expenses, social/cultural development and pleasure. Solar cookers do not offer a complete alternative to conventional cooking methods, as there is clearly not always sufficient sunlight available. For this reason, CEDESOL also promotes efficient biomass stoves, such as the Rocket Stove produced by Sobre La Roca, which consumes 70% less fuel than standard methods. These can be used in conjunction with solar cookers using the principles of heat retention: it is possible to start cooking meals using rocket stoves and finish to cook them with solar cookers, even if there is no sun.