Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

James Mihelcic, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Amy Stuart, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jaime Corvin, Ph.D.


Peace Corps, sustainable development, Sustainable Development Goalse, household air pollution, appropriateness, education, behavior change


Household air pollution contributes to the premature death of more than 4 million people annually. Improved cookstoves are one technological intervention that can potentially reduce exposure to household air pollution. However, improved cookstove implementation programs need to consider measures to increase sustainability and promote long-term adoption. The objectives of this research were 1) to develop and implement a new ferrocement cookstove for Peña Blanca, a rural indigenous community in the Ngäbe-Bugle region of Panama, 2) to evaluate its potential sustainability in comparison to the most common cooking technologies observed in the community, 3) to prepare a construction manual for the stove to promote future development, and 4) to provide guidelines for applying a holistic approach to improved cookstove projects.

A bottom-up, community-driven approach to development focused on integration and capacity building was used to design and implement a ferrocement improved cookstove. A survey was administered to 26 households to understand the familial and environmental health of the community as well as knowledge, opinions, and needs related to cooking practices and improved stoves. Finally, the ferrocement stove developed for this study, along with the three stone fire, the ecojusta stove model, and a gas stove were evaluated both quantitatively and qualitatively using a sustainability assessment framework developed specifically for improved cookstoves.

The results of this study suggest that design and implementation of an improved cookstove in the field that incorporates community feedback and provides educational opportunities may produce solutions that are more likely to be sustainable and meet users’ needs. The process allows for design flexibility to reduce smoke and fuel use while incorporating community preferences such as simplicity and ease of use, ability to control heat, stove features and size.

Results from conducting household surveys emphasize the importance of a community-based development process that focuses on meeting community-specific challenges and needs. Conditions such as extreme poverty and lack of support structures pose significant challenges and shape community opinions regarding cooking technology and practices. In fact, the community’s desires in this study differ greatly from that found in the established literature. Specifically, 84% of rural Panamanians from this study felt that reducing smoke indoors was important to them.

Sustainability evaluations of improved cookstove implementation programs in Panama highlighted common strengths in the needs assessment and implementation project life stages. These programs excelled at involving the community in identifying project needs and participating in the construction of stoves. On the other hand, the post-implementation and follow-up life stages were assessed to be weaker as these programs generally do not perform evaluation and monitoring of stove use and adoption after the implementation stage or continue user education. Additional qualitative analysis from this study suggest that the traditional stove may be the most sustainable and appropriate stove technology at this time for the community if combined with improving education related to family health, the environment, and stove use that results in behavior change. This approach may have the potential to fulfill the goals of improved cookstove programs globally through education and behavior change as an alternative approach to implementing an inappropriate technology. Moreover, an improved stove that is developed in the community that uses local materials and provides educational opportunities that focus on caring for resources and improving stove operator skill is more likely to be sustainable than other options.

General guidelines and lessons learned for applying a holistic approach to improved cookstove development in the field include enhancing community understanding through involvement of local leaders, empowering the community in the decision-making process, providing educational opportunities or facilitating the implementation of a technology that is affordable, effective, and that meets users’ diverse needs, or both. As well as evaluating sustainability likelihood by utilizing comprehensive tools such as surveys, stove testing, program assessment frameworks, life cycle assessments, and incorporating results from post-project monitoring and evaluation iteratively until needs are met and exposure to household air pollution and deforestation rates are reduced.

The implications of this work are that 1) technology implementation may not be the best solution, similar investments made in education and behavior change may result in equal or greater sustainability early on, 2) the design and implementation of an improved cookstove in the field with high standards for technical design, that reduce emissions, and with flexibility for elements that do not affect performance can result in meeting users’ needs better with higher adoption rates, and 3) a more holistic approach to development using available tools is suspected to result in improved cookstove programs that improve human and environmental health while meeting users’ needs for the long-term.