There’s no smoke without fire. But there can be fire without smoke. At least, without so much smoke as to cause serious problems.

My wife and I recently returned from visiting our daughter and her family in Tanzania where they are serving with Emmanuel International. Tim and Rachel’s main focus is currently on a project to introduce fuel efficient stoves for villagers to cook on.

The traditional way of cooking uses a 3-stone fire. Three large stones become the support for the pot, and an open fire burns beneath. These fires may be outside the house, but are sometimes used in the home. The smoke from them when burning indoors is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day – and the health hazards for the whole family are the same. In addition, with widespread deforestation, the women often walk for hours to find enough wood to burn for the day’s cooking needs.

The alternative that is being presented is specially designed clay pots that are used as stoves. The wood burns in the pot – minimizing smoke and maximizing the heat that reaches the pan. The aim is to establish a sustainable supply of energy efficient stoves in rural communities, using up to 50% less wood, and producing minimal smoke. The pots can be made from local clay by local potters – so this income prospect will be an incentive to produce more stoves.

Tim introduced the idea in one village while we were there. After the service the whole congregation was invited to stay behind to watch water boil. While this would not be a great attraction in Canada, nearly everybody stayed there! A competition was set up: two ladies were each given the same amount of water, wood and rice. One was to cook on a traditional 3-stone fire; the other was to use the new fuel efficient stove. At the end, they could eat the rice and we weighed the wood left over, demonstrating to all that (a) the stove works; (b) it generates much less smoke; and (c) it uses much less wood. Working like this with local churches enables those churches to make an impact in their communities. It also creates a context for encouraging good nutrition and hygiene.

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. So on our last evening there, my wife cooked supper for us all on one of these stoves. It works. And it could save lives. You can follow Tim & Rachel’s progress on their blog: “What’s cookin’ in Tanzania!” – or see it all through the eyes of their young daughters who also have their own blog site.