Oxfam: Improved Cookstoves and a Holistic Approach to Food Security for Displaced

By: Oxfam

June 17, 2015

Lack of fuel to cook food was one of the greatest challenges facing the people housed at the United Nations refugee camp in Juba, South Sudan until earlier this year.

There was no source of fuel in the camp and seeking fuel beyond the boundaries of the camp was risky. Women and children would venture outside the safety of the manned boundaries of the camp to collect firewood or purchase charcoal if they could afford it.

To overcome this life-threatening problem, Oxfam started providing fuel efficient stoves, charcoal and commodity vouchers to inhabitants of the camp in February 2014 with support from the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO).
In the camp, charcoal is now one of the main sources of fuel. Thanks to Oxfam’s charcoal voucher system, families are able to enjoy regular home cooked food without risking their lives.

Charcoal distribution in the camps

Oxfam’s charcoal voucher system was introduced to the camp in February 2014. They identified nine charcoal retailers within the camp. It was important that they were from within the camp to ensure that the income generated went back to supporting those in need.

Vouchers were then distributed to members of the camp with information on when and where the distribution would take place. The initial distribution targeted the most vulnerable members of the camp. After a successful pilot, Oxfam made blanket charcoal distributions to all members of the camp.

One charcoal voucher is equivalent to six small bags of charcoal. Each bag is worth 2.5 South Sudanese Pounds (0.82 dollar). On distribution days, members of the camp line up at distribution sites to receive their vouchers, these can be exchanged with charcoal vendors at anytime within the month. A normal distribution can take up to two weeks to complete in all three camps. There is a charcoal voucher distribution every month.

"Life here is not easy. When we first arrived, there were no tents or shelters, water or food. The conditions we’re living in now are not great, but at least we are safe. Now, there is charcoal, water, food and dignified places to go to the bathroom and toilet," says Martha Aylynya Yuach, a woman living in the United Nations camp in Juba.

At the end of the charcoal distribution, each vendor counts the number of vouchers collected and receives that amount in South Sudanese Pounds from Oxfam.

Fuel efficient stove distribution

For cooking, most of the inhabitants of UN House used to use stoves made of coiled metal. Due to their construction they consumed charcoal at an accelerated rate. Most of the time, one batch of charcoal would be used in preparing only one meal.
To tackle this problem, Oxfam distributed 104 fuel efficient stoves to selected members of the camp to explore whether the alternative design would ensure that the charcoal was burned economically and efficiently.

"Charcoal burns slower with this stove, compared to the one I used before," according to Yang Pal, a recipient of the fuel efficient charcoal stove. "It saves time, as you don’t have to keep adding charcoal and it saves money because you don’t have to keep buying charcoal after the vouchers have been used."

Following positive reviews, Oxfam is planning to distribute 4,000 stoves and also train 25 people on how to make fuel efficient stoves.

Oxfam also introduced commodity vouchers to complement the World Food Program (WFP) food distribution. Over 700 families received vouchers worth 150ssp (c.$25.50) which they could use to buy food and other items they might need in any of the thirty plus Oxfam affiliated vendors within the camp. This not only provides greater food choice, but also supports the vendors. Furthermore, in partnership with WFP, Oxfam distributes milling vouchers once a month alongside the general food distribution so that people can grind their grain with the millers inside the camps.

Oxfam’s holistic approach to food distribution ensures that all steps towards food security are taken. Oxfam is supporting over 27,000 people with milling and charcoal vouchers and targeted vulnerable households with commodity vouchers and fuel efficient stoves.

Cross-posted from Oxfam International.