Wood-saving cookstoves are helping Zambia cut forest loss

A partnership between United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF) with Zambia’s government is developing energy-saving wood stoves which are helping rural communities reduce forest loss, improve life’s quality and help combat climate change. The project already reached more than 5,000 households in Central, Western and North-western Zambia who are now using the stoves.

Photo: Moses Zangar Jr/UNDP Zambia

“The energy-saving stoves will transform the way women cook in rural communities. It will also help cut forest loss, save lives, improve livelihoods and protect the environment at the same time,” says Israel Dessalegne, UNDP Resident Representative (ad interim) in Zambia.

Only four percent of Zambia’s rural people have access to electricity and wood fuel or charcoal constitute a major source of energy for cooking, accounting for over 80 percent of the total number of households nationwide.  The information is from the 2015 Living Conditions Monitoring Survey Report by the Central Statistical Office.

The Government of the Republic of Zambia has set a goal for universal electricity access for all Zambians by 2030. Energy has been identified as an important driving force behind economic development in Zambia, and the government has declared its commitment to developing and maintaining energy infrastructure and services.


With unreliable electricity, many rural families are often forced to depend on wood fuel or paraffin lanterns as a primary source of lighting or burning wood, which emit soot and harmful smoke.

The use of open fires and solid fuels for cooking is one of the world’s most pressing health and environmental problems, directly impacting close to half the world’s population and causing nearly 4 million premature deaths each year, according to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. 

The initiative has helped reduce demand for firewood in a country where deforestation rate is at a staggering 250,000 to 300,000 per year – one of the highest in the world, according to UN statistics.


To encourage more households to use the stoves and consequently less firewood, the project has distributed two goats per household with the requirement being that a household must have constructed an energy saving stove before benefiting.

In partnership with the Ministry of Energy, the project has taught a select number of beneficiaries how to construct and maintain the stoves. Those trained are passing on the knowledge to others.

Photo: UNCG/Zambia

The stove – known locally as ‘bitofu byankunyi,’ a Kaonde(a Bantu language spoken primarily in Zambia) phrase that means a stove that uses less firewood for food preparation, costs 100 Zambian Kwacha ($7) to build and it is made from soil and other locally available raw materials.