by: David Evitt December 26, 2013

Guatemala has a huge need for quality cookstoves: 70% of the population cooks with wood and 60% to 70% of families don’t have an adequate chimney to get the smoke out of their house.

While Guatemala has a history of cookstoves being given away through government and NGO projects, there’s a tremendous opportunity to supply this need through market mechanisms. Over 1.3 million Guatemalan families buy wood for cooking. For these families, there’s a cash return on their investment in an efficient cookstove.

Estufa Doña Dora is a social business working to build this market. Based in Quetzaltenango, the country’s second largest city, we build ‘plancha’ type griddle stoves and sell them direct to consumers.

Learning the hard way
Over the past three years we’ve learned a lot about how to sell (and how not to sell…) stoves in a market like Guatemala.

Here are a few of the more unexpected insights we’ve picked up along the way:

1. Monthly installments
‘Plancha’ griddle type stoves are larger and more expensive than a single-pot stove for Africa or India (a stove of this type typically costs $100 to $250). It quickly became clear paying in cash was out of reach for most families. So we began to think about affordability in terms of the monthly payment available through microfinance. Monthly payments can be as low as $13. With our product, a typical family that buys wood will see a minimum $11 in wood savings per month. Most families can manage a $13 monthly payment and the stove pays for itself on a month-by-month basis.

2. Make it look fantastic
At the beginning we assumed the key selling points for our stoves would be efficiency and value for money, right? Wrong! When we started selling we realized how important it was for our product to be desirable on an emotional level. The silver finish, the glossy ceramic tiles, the easy-clean food preparation surface…these make the sale.

3. Make darned sure it cooks!
Sounds obvious, but in our market research the number one complaint from people using efficient cookstoves was that the wood families typically use was too big to burn well in the small combustion chamber. Families would either modify the internals to make more space, thus destroying the efficiency or abandon the stove entirely. We made sure our combustion chamber was big enough to work well with standard sized pieces of wood. And that even with damp wood, all three cooking rings could boil at once. By prioritizing ease of use and flexibility over efficiency as tested in the lab we have raised adoption rates and wood savings in the field.

4. Make it movable
Traditional stoves in Guatemala are built in place. To change the position of the kitchen (Guatemalan family compounds are often altered to accommodate changes in the family), the stove must be rebuilt. To solve this issue our stove is self-contained in a metal frame. Families can move the stove within the house and conserve their investment when the inevitable changes in the home occur.

5. Be part of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves!
It is so important to us at Doña Dora to be an Alliance partner, and to play a part in moving the Guatemalan cookstoves conversation from a donation to a market focus.

We love talking about our experiences – and hearing other people’s. If you ever want to talk, count us in. We’re at