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Child’s Play: The power of toys in promoting clean cooking technology

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4th Oct 2010
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Improved cookstoves are once again in the spotlight here in India after the recent announcement of America’s $50 million commitment to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and last year’s launch of India’s National Biomass Cookstove Initiative. Most efforts to date have focused on educating adults about the dangers of traditional cooking methods with varying degrees of success. After over 30 years of cookstove development and deployment efforts in India, have we overlooked the role that children (the next generation of consumers) can play in the adoption of clean cooking technology?

Imagine you are a child in India waiting in a long queue to enter the temple with your family. Your excitement mounts as you near the entrance, where scores of vendors sell offerings, snacks, souvenirs and children’s toys. Amongst the hustle and bustle, the noise of the crowd and the smells of the street, something catches your eye. It’s a miniature toy liquid petroleum gas (LPG) cooking set complete with a plastic LPG tank, range, pressure cooker, pots and pans that you have been wanting. Maybe this time your parents will purchase one for you.

LPG cooking playsets, along with toy mobile phones and computers, can be found in toy stalls throughout southern India for around 30 rupees ($0.65 USD). Their bright plastic sides are adorned with stickers of popular consumer brands, such as LG and Panasonic (doubtful those companies are aware of the fact). To most adults, LPG cooking playsets might seem like just another toy. However, for those working in the development sector, products like these may be one of the missing pieces to the puzzle of how to promote clean cooking technologies.

According to the National Sample Survey Organisation, approximately 68% of Indian households use biofuels (such as firewood or cow dung) as a primary cooking fuel. Although a majority of the population uses traditional cooking methods, traditional cookstove (chulha) toys are nowhere to be found. Neither are toys of improved biofuel cookstoves. Why is this? If improved cookstoves are supposed to be aspirational, where are the children’s toy versions of products, such as Envirofit or Prakti Design stoves? What would happen if we pushed improved cookstove toys into the market?

Toys can make clean cooking technology fun and accessible to a new generation of potential consumers. They allow for consumer buy-in at an early age and the potential for children to teach their parents about a new technology. Playing with improved cookstove toys can also raise awareness of alternatives to traditional cooking methods and ready future consumers for the bigger health and environmental issues they will face.

As the improved cookstove movement progresses, adults should not turn a blind eye to the power of children in economic development and the role they can play in the fight on indoor air pollution. With nearly 31% (352 million) of India’s population under the age of 15, product education through the use of toys can be a powerful approach. Let’s start thinking of ways to get children involved. After all, it is their future we are trying to protect.

Richard Woodbridge is a member of the Rural Market Insight team at the Centre for Development Finance, a division of the Institute for Financial Management and Research.

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