Calibrating cooking to affect deforestation and violence against women in displaced settings

Cooking activities, deforestation and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) are dynamics that closely interact in displacement settings across the globe. Commissioned by Irish Aid, IIED’s study on cookstoves and fuels examined options for displaced communities in Kigoma, Tanzania, and considered lessons from other countries. 

February 2019 – August 2019
Kevin Johnstone

Senior researcher, Shaping Sustainable Markets

Transforming energy systems
A programme of work focused on equitable energy driving climate-resilient communities
A man and woman sat down cooking with a charcoal cookstove.

Colleagues at Good Neighbors Tanzania fabricate briquettes in Nyaragusu Camp, May 2019 (Photo: Kevin Johnstone)

Refugees and asylum seekers in Kigoma, Tanzania, live in three camps: Nyarugusu camp, which was started in 1996 to shelter refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo; and Nduta and Mtendeli camps, set up in 2015 to shelter Burundians escaping violence in their country. 

There were around 275,000 refugees and asylum seekers living in these camps in 2019. 

As in other countries, refugees and asylum seekers in Kigoma mainly rely on woodfuel to cook their food. Wood is usually sourced from areas surrounding the camps and harvesting it is gruelling work, involving long walking distances and many hours’ labour every week. 

This burden typically falls on the shoulders of women and girls, which leaves them open to risks, such as violence and rape, during the long periods they spend outside of the camps. Some women suffer domestic violence too, often being blamed for long stays away from home or not providing cooked meals at times expected by men.

What did IIED do?

Providing cooking solutions, such as fuels and stoves, is often seen as a logical way to address many of these issues. However, experience in other countries shows that interventions targeting cooking solutions do not necessarily reduce rape and violence, and worse, sometimes result in them being transferred to other facets of daily life.

To reduce violence against women and girls, best practices on mitigating SGBV must be integrated with the cooking solutions from the start, while simultaneously developing other needs such as livelihood solutions.

Harvesting woodfuel can contribute to deforestation as camps are usually densely populated, which leads to unsustainable harvesting from surrounding forest areas. While satellite imagery has shown a link between deforestation and recent refugee arrivals in Kigoma, there is little data comparing the impact of refugees collecting wood to other factors.

For instance, studies have shown that communities have intensified their farming activities specifically to trade with refugees, and local people told us that herders coming from outside the region had cleared land for cattle grazing. These external dynamics must be considered when identifying ways to reduce deforestation.

Cooking methods can be an important part of cultural identity. The most efficient and least polluting stoves do not necessarily meet the cooking priorities of women who are the main users, and many have low adoption rates among households.

Even when people have access to improved cookstoves, they often continue to use open fires for cooking. We need solutions that are not purely designed to technical specifications but respond to women’s preferences and perceptions, and build users’ capacity to adopt different technologies.

Organisations working on sustainable energy for displaced peoples are increasingly interested in engaging with private sector companies to build market solutions (see for example The Moving Energy Initiative and Smarter Communities Coalition (PDF)).

However, in very challenging settings like Kigoma – where camps have restricted economies and strict government guidelines on interventions – private sector partnerships are not viable. 

Prohibited from earning money, people living in the camps lack the cash to pay; and the policy environment is not stable enough to allay concerns over the sustainability of investments or partnerships. Also, many 'market-building' approaches do not prioritise gender within their design.

The assumption seems to be that a refugee camp will function like any other market, but within these ‘markets’ are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, especially women and girls.

Project findings

IIED undertook field research in Kigoma, Tanzania. We interviewed host community members and refugees as well as UN and implementing agencies.

IIED’s analysis found the only viable fuel options for the Kigoma camps’ to be sustainable woodfuel and briquettes. Liquified petroleum gas have prohibitively high programme costs and refugees are forbidden from using sustainable charcoal.

Given the camp economic restrictions, the only possible delivery mechanism appears to be bulk procurement and distribution to refugees – which could involve the private sector as a service provider, but not as a market builder.

Next steps

Our work was preliminary and the next steps need to involve more extensive data gathering on energy consumption and an inclusive design process – for example, IIED’s Energy Delivery Models. 

We recommend there is investment upfront to understand people’s needs – both in the camps and host communities – and to prioritise gender-centric approaches across the design, implementation and monitoring phases of interventions. Getting a thorough understanding of communities’ priorities and of the complex drivers of different behaviours does add costs, but also creates more appropriate and sustainable solutions.

Addressing multi-faceted problems like SGBV and deforestation needs many agencies working and communicating together. For Kigoma, there needs to be much better collaboration between government, partners and sectors – including within and between the humanitarian and development actors – to deliver solutions in an integrated manner. 

An example would be a land and forest management programme that builds new skills, jobs and income for local people, and over a longer term provides a sustainable wood supply that can be distributed to camp residents.  

The situation in Kigoma is protracted, complex and subject to ongoing change. Any energy intervention must have good feedback mechanisms so it can adapt to external and regional changes that can rapidly shift, sometimes literally overnight. 

Additional resources

Can cooking solutions for refugees better serve gender dynamics?, Kevin Johnstone, Nipunika Perera (2020), IIED Briefing