Mewar Angithi

Rajasthan, India

The first batch of 1000 MAs were distributed in Rajasthan, India, in late 2015. A follow-up field visit was conducted six months after families had received their MAs, to get feedback from users and inspect the MAs. The enthusiasm for the devices took us by surprise. Cooks said they don’t cry from smoke anymore while they are cooking. They can make their meals faster and use less wood. None of the cooks we observed were ever excited about removing an MA so that we could record control data. A couple of them even tried to sneak it back into the chulha before starting the fire.

In a representative sample of 80 households in Rajasthan who received MAs, 71% of them used their MA regularly with no issues. None of these MAs had suffered any measurable weight loss or significant damage. Some women reported that they do not collect wood as many times a week as they did before they received an MA. Reasons for not using MAs included insufficient information upon receipt of the device and extra small chulha openings that could not accommodate the MA as supplied. Of the people who were able to use the MA, none reported any inconvenience induced by the device.

A second batch of 1200 MAs were distributed in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, India, in 2016. Once again, field personnel reported that the MAs uptake was excellent and people were using them on a regular basis.

Odisha, India

In April of 2017, India Development Services (IDS) of Chicago deposited $3500 in the account of the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) to initiate the deployment of approximately 1000 Mewar Angithis in the Satkosia Gorge Tiger Reserve area of Odisha, India. The goal of this
deployment is to reduce the impact of fuel wood use on the Forest cover of Satkosia Gorge and thus to improve the habitat of the tiger(s) in the reserve.

The Satkosia Gorge Tiger Reserve area is spread out over 4 districts of Odisha: Angul, Cuttack, Nayagarh and Boudh. The Reserve has an area of 964 sq. km. and is at the confluence of two biogeographic regions: the Eastern Ghats and the Deccan Peninsula, thus constituting a unique
ecosystem with rich biodiversity. Within this Reserve are various human settlements totaling a population of around 10,000 people and these people have grandfathered rights within the Reserve. FES has been partnering with these people on the management of their commons for
years. The Head of FES Angul, Swapna Sarangi, felt that there would be greater cooperation from these people on any Tiger protection requests if they were gifted MAs that genuinely improve their lives. IDS granted $7000 for this deployment, half of which was transferred to FES in April.

Though the funds were available in early May, the project faced an immediate setback due to the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana program, which offered free connections and subsidies for gas cylinders to families living “below the poverty line.” There was tremendous euphoria in the villages as the people awaited the arrival of these Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) connections. The Ujjwala Yojana program has been well publicized and its corporate partners then did their part distributing free stoves and the first gas cylinder to households in rural areas.

But within a few months, the initial euphoria died down. Firstly, the villagers were not well versed in the use of these gas stoves. In traditional fuel wood cooking, the fire takes time to catch, and this time is used by people to do other things such as cutting vegetables, but in the gas stove this practice wastes fuel. Secondly, while the LPG connection was free, the recurring cost for re-filling the gas cylinders is an added expense for the households. While it can be argued that gas is worth this extra expense, this ignores the financial realities of households (the men control the money) as well as the social realities of villages (the women use fuel wood collection for socializing). Thirdly, women must rely on men’s help to take gas cylinders to towns on public transport or motorcycles for exchange. By contrast, women do not need to rely on men to collect fuel wood. Therefore, by September of 2017, the villagers of Satkoshia Gorge became genuinely interested in the MA deployment in their villages once again. Meanwhile, this waiting period turned out to be fortuitous as the byzantine taxation policies of the state of Odisha, which had hampered our earlier deployment in Dhenkanal district, was replaced with a simpler, though substantial General Sales Tax (GST) of 18%.

The order for 1000 MAs was placed with Dhanasekaran Industries of Chennai for a unit price of Rs. 300 each in October of 2017. As of Jan 13, 2018, 993 units had arrived in Angul, Odisha and 928 units had been given to the women in 19 villages within and around Satkosia Gorge Tiger Reserve. Life within the villages of the Satkosia Gorge Tiger Reserve is not easy. People are materially poor. Their main income comes from raising cows, goats and chickens, which can be difficult to do when there are predators around. They use a lot of fencing to keep their domesticated animals confined to prevent them from becoming leopard lunch. They supplement this income by stitching plates and bowls from Sal leaves using thin bamboo reeds as the “staples”. Swapna Sarangi, the Head of FES Angul and her team have done an excellent job of distributing the MAs within a month. The process involved

1.    Conducting a demonstration of the use of the MA in each hamlet
2.     Getting all users to agree to use the MA with a written signature
3.     Getting all users to agree that in case they don’t use the MA, it will be confiscated.
4.     Taking a group photograph of the recipients in each hamlet with their MAs.

The initial survey of Jan 13, 2018, was conducted in five of the nineteen villages: Hidisingh, Pampasar, Hinsrida, Badakheta and Gopalpur. In these villages, the women typically cook a meal of watery rice in the morning and go out to collect Sal leaves or do other work in the field for the rest of the day. The next major cooking session takes place around sunset. Therefore, during our visits to the villages, it was difficult to find women, especially those who were cooking. Nevertheless, we were able to interview 27 women over the 5 villages and gather photographic evidence of MA usage as it was happening. Of these 27 women, 24 were using the MA on a regular basis, two hadn’t yet started using them and one found that the MA didn’t fit into her stove.

The two who hadn’t started using the MA lived in Gopalpur village where the deployment happened on Jan 11, 2018. The women said that they hadn’t yet gotten around to using the MA yet and wondered why the “inspection” was happening just two days after the deployment. A follow up detailed survey will be conducted in late August/early September of 2018. This would allow sufficient time for the users to familiarize themselves with the MA usage. At that point, we can assess the impact of our deployment on the frequency of fuel wood collection and therefore, its impact on the forest.