Myanmar Stoves Campaign

Indoor cooking on inefficient stoves is a silent killer in developing countries such as Myanmar. Globally, air pollution from domestic cooking is responsible for the premature deaths of 4 million people a year, more than HIV/Aids and malaria combined.

The Myanmar Stoves Campaign is a programme of the Soneva Foundation. The Foundation did not have the professional communications materials they required to effectively talk about their projects to potential donors and partners. They specifically wanted to illustrate the impact clean cook stoves can have on health and livelihoods in remote villages in Myanmar.

The Soneva Foundation commissioned Maria and Cat to visit their Myanmar programme with a film crew and to build up a database of words, pictures and film.

Cat provided stills photography and Maria provided words and shoot logistics, including overseeing the production of a short promotional film.

Cat’s images have been used in magazine articles, as online galleries and in exhibitions. Maria has written content on the Myanmar Stoves Campaign for websites, magazines and the Soneva Sustainability Report.

Top left: The Envirofit M5000 fuel-efficient cookstove; Top right: Daw Thin Kyi using a traditional three stone stove; Bottom: Ma Cho and Than Than Win using the Envirofit M5000

Cooking in rural Myanmar is traditionally over an open fire or a three stone stove and with this method of cooking, four tons of wood are required per family per year. The forest has literally been burned in cooking fires. The fuel efficient stove supplied by the Myanmar Stoves Campaign, a programme of the Soneva Foundation, reduces wood consumption by 50%, air pollution by 80% and CO2 emissions by 60%.

The Myanmar Stoves Campaign provides the Envirofit M5000 at a subsidised price, creating much needed employment opportunities for cook stove vendors. Three sticks of wood create enough heat for boiling, cutting fuel requirements by 50%. Smoke is contained and sparks do not escape, greatly reducing the risk of a household fire.

Young girl, Thit Hla Kyin village

This young girl has applied thanaka to her face, a cosmetic paste that has been used by Burmese women for over 2,000 years. The paste is traditionally ground from the bark of the thanaka tree. As well as cosmetic uses, it is used as sun protection.

Goat herding, Thit Hla Kyin village

Myanmar was ranked 148 out of 188 countries in the 2015 Human Development Index. International aid agencies give less to Myanmar, per capita, than any other country except India, and Myanmar’s government spends the least percentage of GDP on healthcare of any country in the world.

Scenes from Thit Hla Kyin village

Rural families in Myanmar spend as much as 40% of their income – or time equivalent – on purchasing or collecting firewood. Cutting expenditure on wood makes a huge difference to families already living in poverty, and saving time of foraging for wood means more time to spend on smallholdings and securing a good harvest.

Collecting firewood in Myanmar’s Central Dry Zone

Li Nyunt Aung loads his cow cart with wood for fuel. The distances he travels as he forages for wood are growing greater as the forest retreats.

Myanmar is one of the highest contributors to deforestation worldwide. The impacts are devastating. Rapid deforestation affects the micro-climate and decreases resilience to extreme weather events such as drought or flooding. Once the anchor provided by the trees is gone, and the nutrition removed from the soil, the land soon becomes barren, dry and of little practical use.

As the forests disappear, the price of wood is rising, driving more and more families into energy poverty.

U Khway Pu (standing, far left) and his family

U Khway Pu is 88 years old and the patriarch of four generations of his family. He has witnessed many changes in his long life. “When I was a child, it took me one day by cow cart to get to the large forest. Now it would take me 15–16 days.”

Only 25% of the population of Myanmar have access to electricity, and this is predominantly in cities. U Khway Pu is keen to access solar electricity, which he hopes the Soneva Foundation will bring to his village soon.

“When we get solar here we will have light at night. We can continue working in the evening – like packing the chilli harvest or sewing. It’s also safer. We will be able to see snakes and it will prevent me falling.”

Top: A chilli merchant packaging station; Bottom left: Young woman, Thit Hla Kyin village; Bottom right: Ma Cho harvesting chillies

From a distance, Thit Hla Kyin in Myanmar’s central dry zone appears to be carpeted in red with the bounty of the chilli harvest. Chillies are harvested, blanched and then dried in the hot sun for up to six days. 

The harvest is sold to a trader who will take it to the city for onward sale. If they are lucky, farmers will receive 2,500 kyat (£2.50) per viss (1.6kg) of chillies. The trader will sell on to a merchant who will package the combined harvest from surrounding communities for export as a dried product to China, Thailand and Indonesia. It is the green chillies that are typically eaten fresh.

At a merchant packaging station in Pyabwe, women scoop baskets of chillies from a mountain of red into large sacks for packaging and export. Men in protective masks haul the weighed sacks on to a waiting lorry. Nothing can protect them however, men and women alike, from the strength of the chilli dust in the air. Eyes water and the sound of coughing mixes with conversation and laughter.

Than Than Win and her son Wia Moe Aung

“Buying the cook stove was a big investment for us, but it was the right choice. It uses about 60% less wood than our old stove and it cooks much faster. But it is more than just saving wood and money. I have peace of mind. My kitchen is not going to catch fire and I can leave it cooking while I get water or feed the animals.”

Her concern goes beyond the daily pressures of sourcing firewood and household safety.

“I know there is global warming as there is less rain and it is hotter. I’d like my son to be well educated so he can join the government and help prevent global warming.”


The Myanmar Stoves Campaign has used materials in the following ways.