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Improving firewood for clean cookstoves



How can rural residents in Colombia efficiently and inexpensively dry firewood for clean cookstoves?
Submit proposals:
Rules:All entrants must agree to the Contest Rules. and Terms of Use.
Deadline:Monday, May 23, 2016 at 19:00:00 PM Eastern Standard Time
Judging Criteria & Prizes:See below.


This initiative is part of the Conservation Landscapes Program, funded by USAID, and developed by The Natural Heritage Fund (Fondo de Patrimonio Natural), in alliance with Minka-Dev. These organizations promoted a co-creation process in collaboration with rural communities in the Caribbean Region of Colombia, to design clean cookstoves and develop a sustainable business model to create access to them. Yet, to bring this solution to rural, humid, and cold areas in Colombia it is necessary to develop inexpensive and efficient means of drying firewood.

Over the past 20 years, more than 30,000 clean cookstoves were installed in Colombia to provide rural farmers, “campesinos”, a cleaner and greener cooking technology. These cookstoves are meant to be used with highly efficient fuel types – such as briquettes or pellets – which, in many countries, are now cheaper and more accessible than firewood.

However, due to the abundance of free, local – but wet – firewood in humid and cold areas of Colombia, some of these clean cookstoves are actually consuming more wood, and producing more greenhouse emissions and soot than open fires would. Regulation, briquette business models, and educational programs have been tested but have failed to tackle this problem. Patrimonial Natural, a non-governmental organization, has identified a potential opportunity to significantly decrease emissions and soot through the development of more efficient cooking products, but the issue of wet firewood remains.  If the rural population had access to dry firewood, instead of the wet firewood they currently use, fuel would burn longer, cleaner and more efficiently.

The Area

Colombia is encountering many conservation challenges to maintain its great variety of ecosystems and biodiversity. Specifically, the tropical dry forest has been very susceptible to deforestation and other anthropogenic impacts, such as the use of fire as a tool to clear pastures and fields. Currently, 98% of this type of ecosystem has suffered drastic transformation, and only 1.5 % remains in the Colombian Caribbean region. Tropical dry forest ecosystems are a conservation priority because of their many unique species and because they have lost over 95% of their former extent. This region also contains many species that remain dormant in inclement (wet or dry) weather, and species that magically find enough water to develop flowers, fruits, and leaves at the height of the dry season (e.g., Janzen, 1967, 1982a,b). The communities that inhabit this ecosystem are mainly farmers or indigenous peopless. Due to regional strife and conflict over the last two decades, the majority of the population living in rural areas fled, and almost all of their houses were destroyed. Today, families are struggling to reconstruct their way of life in the countryside. They need support in acquiring new knowledge to be able to build more sustainable ways of living that will ease their work, help protect their ecologically-significant ecosystem, and retain their local cultural traditions and expressions.

Efficient Stoves around the World

New cook stove and fuel technologies have had positive environmental, social and economic impacts, reaching a broader audience in underdeveloped countries. These new technologies and fuels have been developed and are intended to be used together. The best way to keep improving cook stoves is to be able to control the type of fuel that burns inside the combustion chamber. Several organizations have developed small and inexpensive machines that allow people to easily make briquettes and pellets, and others have developed businesses to cost-effectively distribute fuels like liquefied gas and corn fuel. These methods have worked in some regions due to: 1) the limited availability of local  wood; 2) the proximity of the new fuel to the user; and/or 3) the less expensive cost of the cleaner fuel.  Clean cookstoves in some regions have been successful at fighting extreme deforestation and improving the air quality of rural villagers.

The Challenge of Efficient Stoves in Colombia

In Colombia, firewood is cheap and easy to access. Many campesinos living in remote and disparate areas consider this fuel as an endless and free resource. For this reason, there isn’t a strong incentive to buy fuel – like the cleaner and available liquefied petroleum gas.

Due to  this, over the last 20 years, the Colombian government and other organizations have installed for free, more than 30,000 high-efficiency wood-burning stoves, and started reforestation programs to encourage the planting of trees to procure a more conscientious use of the resource. However, these stoves aren’t burning the available wood efficiently. Colombia’s geography and its wide range of ecosystems make it difficult to secure dry wood in the most humid cloudy regions of the country, which represents 70% of the population in need of cleaner cooking solutions.

According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), wet wood contains a great deal of moisture, which reduces the burning temperature of the fire, and enhances the release of smoke and pollutants. Burning wood inefficiently means that more wood is needed and more greenhouse gas emissions are released. As a result, the need for wood has not diminished, and the production of smoke increases significantly during an incomplete combustion process.


The Natural Heritage Fund (Fondo de Patrimonio Natural) and USAID launched a business opportunity in Minka-Dev's platform focused on finding suitable partners to scale or replicate this initiative in multiple regions in Colombia. Follow this link for more information.


Key Issues

Firewood is free and abundant for poverty-stricken campesinos. How can they – and other rural residents in developing countries – improve the quality of their firewood in non-interconnected areas with inexpensive methods in order to increase its efficiency?

How can innovative fuels be used in old firewood stoves to improve their efficiency?

This contest seeks proposals that offer practices, business models, and technologies that:

Please consider the following:

The geographical area where the winning solution will be tested is the Teyuna National park, an attractive tourist destination.

Some of the features of these woodstoves include:

Geographical Scope of the Challenge

Teyuna National Park

Ciudad Perdida, which means “Lost City”, was discovered by chance. Over the past 30 years, archaeologists have located more than 200 structures covering an area of approximately 60 hectares (150 acres). Teyuna-Ciudad Perdida was one of more than 250 towns inhabited by the Tayrona up until the end of the 16th century. The park is reached by a 23.3-kilometer (14.5-mile) trail that winds upriver from the small town of El Mamey. The round trip takes five- to six days, with one night spent at the lodge closest to the park.

The Teyuna-Ciudad Perdida Park is located in a humid and temperate climate at 1100 meters above sea level. Humidity varies between 70 and 80% depending on the season. Nights are cold, between 16 and 22 °C.

The upper Buritaca, Don Diego, and Guachaca river basins-contains some of the best preserved swaths of rainforest and montane forest in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, making it an important wildlife conservation area and sanctuary.

Covering approximately 120 square kilometers (30,000 acres), the upper section of all three basins is home to endangered species. The area thus conjoins great cultural and natural wealth, both of which require continued preservation efforts and education of local populations to ensure protection.The indigenous communities of the region all face certain threats to sustained preservation of the rich historical, living, and natural heritage of the Sierra Nevada. Among these threats are the following:

Uncontrolled Tourism

Tourism to Ciudad Perdida has increased from approximately 2000 people in 2007 to 8000 in 2012, becoming unsustainable in the coming years if left unregulated. Today, local people cut more than 500kg of firewood every day to cook meals for  tourists. Thus, dry wood is needed quickly, giving no opportunity for the wood to dry naturally.


Judging Criteria

Judges will be asked to evaluate proposals on the following criteria: feasibility, novelty, impact and presentation quality.  Winning proposals will be especially strong in at least one of the first three dimensions, and also well presented.  

For details about the judging criteria, click here.

You can find the proposal template here, and contest schedule here.


Judges Choice winners will be flown to Colombia, to Teyuna National Park and will be able to test his/her design for 2 weeks. Flights from US, hotel and dining expenses in Colombia will be covered.

Resources for Proposal Authors



Photo credit: Russ Keyte