Household demographic results

Table 1 provides information on household level baseline demographic characteristics and current energy use. Only one household had a main cook who was male. Household size ranged from 1 to 10 with an average of 6.1. The age range of 21–90 years demonstrates that the pilot represents both young and old cooks’ response to this model. The occupation of each main cook was roughly split between caring for the home and children, farming, and business. Sixty percent of main cooks were married, while 17% were single and 23% widowed. Sixty seven percent of main cooks had finished primary school, and 13% had no education. Only 23% of the households were connected to the national grid, TANESCO. Seventeen percent and 43% relied on solar panels and lanterns for lighting respectively. No household utilized kerosene for cooking, but 23% used it for lighting.

Table 1 Household demographic and baseline energy information of the 30 households

We compare our results to the 2017–2018 Tanzanian Household Budget Survey for the Mara Region. The region has a slightly higher rate of marriage, divorce and solar use, while significantly lower rates for expenditure on electricity. The Tanzanian Household Budget Survey utilized different employment categories, but 63.72% of female heads of households were self-employed, 14% were unemployed, never worked, or didn’t know, and 17.5% were unpaid household workers.

Baseline cooking fuel use and expenditure results

In our study, 54% of households used both charcoal and firewood for cooking, while 33% or 13% used only firewood or only charcoal respectively. The only other fuel that two individuals used was “magoonzi,” a type of agricultural waste. Forty-three percent of households were only collecting firewood, while 37% were both buying and collecting firewood. Eight households, all from Michire, reported no expenditure on cooking fuel as they only collected firewood for free. However, 22 households purchased cooking fuel. On average, households who purchased fuel spent 0.68 USD/day on cooking fuel. We note that this cost per day does not include the opportunity cost of time for those collecting. From the Tanzanian Household Budget Survey, we determined the percentage of households purchasing fuel and the total cost of cooking based off reported expenditure on gas, charcoal, firewood, coal, and kerosene. The Mara region has slightly lower rates for expenditure on kerosene, charcoal, and firewood for those households purchasing cooking fuel. This is expected as this average from the Tanzanian Household Budget Survey captures the entire region, including more remote areas than Kabwana and Michire in Shirati. The percentage of households that purchase fuel is roughly the same between our sample and the regional average, and thus those purchasing throughout the Mara region must be supplementing purchased fuel with collected fuel which the survey does not account for. The Tanzanian Household Budget Survey in addition did not measure the time spent collecting firewood or cooking fuel consumption values.

Cooking patterns

All households in the study reported preparing three meals per day, consisting typically of tea and ugi (a porridge) in the morning and a lunch and dinner of ugali (a traditional dish of corn flour and boiled water), dagaa (small fish), and vegetables. Occasionally, households prepare rice, larger fish, potatoes, beans, and makande (a corn and bean mixture). Households reported being unable to prepare beans with LPG; however, the CTW explained that if you soak the beans overnight then the beans will cook much faster. Households that did cook beans, only reported making them once a week. No household mentioned using LPG to reheat meals. The use of hotpots is common to keep food warm throughout the day. Households complained that they were unable to prepare larger meals with LPG.

Refilling

The small sample allowed us to follow individual households. Over the course of the year, 24 families out of the 30 consistently refilled the gas cylinder each month (80%). Three households had stopped refilling after 6 months of consistent refilling due to sickness, loss of a parent (who provided the income), and loss of a business (10%). The remaining three families inconsistently refilled due to economic setbacks from school fees or decreased business revenue (10%). This resulted in a lag time between their refills, but the households eventually resumed refilling the gas cylinder. Initially, without a meter, households struggled to know when the cylinder would run out. Over time, households were able to estimate how long the cylinder would last, which reduced the gap between refills. Over the course of the study, among the 24 families that consistently refilled their gas cylinders, the households averaged 1.2 kg of LPG per person per month (Range 0.4–3 kg/person/month SD: 0.6).

Exclusive use, mixed use, no use

Figure 3 depicts the temporal trends (from the time of intervention) of the percentage of families who were exclusive LPG users, majority LPG users, minority LPG users, and those who did not use any LPG. Examining the trend lines throughout the study revealed that exclusive LPG use and majority LPG use were the most common categories. Exclusive LPG use and majority LPG use were higher initially in the first few weeks of the study, but slowly decreased over time. Contrastingly, No LPG use increased in the latter 6 months of the study. However, minority LPG users were stable throughout the study period (Fig. 3). On average, 41% of households were exclusive users, 40% of households were using LPG for the majority of meals, only 7% were using LPG for the minority of meals, and 11% were not using any LPG (Table 2). At the endline, 47% of households were exclusive users, 23% of households were using LPG for the majority of meals, only 13% were using LPG for the minority of meals, and 17% were not using any LPG (Table 2). We note that there was high variability week to week for each category; therefore, we emphasize the trends throughout the study period, rather than any specific week’s average. Overall, we find that although relatively high throughout the study period, rates of exclusive LPG use declined over the study period and rates of no LPG use increased.

Fig. 3
figure3

Trends in Exclusive LPG Users, Majority LPG Users, Minority LPG Users, and No LPG Users over the course of the study (June 2018–May 2019). These results revealed that exclusive and majority use of LPG steadily declined throughout the study period, while abandonment of LPG (No LPG User) increased throughout the study; however, the percentage of minority LPG users stayed relatively constant. All households reported cooking three meals per day, thus these categories were defined as 0/3 (No LPG Use), 1/3 (Minority LPG Use), 2/3 (Majority LPG Use), 3/3 LPG use (Exclusive LPG Use). The number of meals cooked with LPG was calculated from the quantitative survey that asked how many meals the household was cooking each day, and of those, for how many did the household use LPG. Exclusive LPG use and no LPG use were determined from the quantitative survey that asked about continued biomass expenditure and whether the household was refiling their cylinder

Table 2 Average Percentage of Households in LPG Use Categories

Interviews revealed that these trends were largely due to liquidity constraints, the LPG refill is a lump sum compared to the small daily purchases of firewood or charcoal. However, households noted that the CTW visits were important reminders to save. Additional investigation at the village level offered further explanation of these trend lines.

Village comparison

LPG cylinders can be exchangedFootnote 4 at retail points in Kabwana or a nearby village, Obwere, which has the largest trading post in Shirati. Therefore, households in Michire faced a longer distance to refill their cylinder. All households were within 2 miles of an LPG retail location.

On average in Michire, 30% of households were exclusive LPG users, 58% were majority LPG users, 7% were minority LPG users, and only 4% used no LPG (Table 2). Michire had consistently higher rates of partial use and consistent fuel stacking than Kabwana (Table 2). Contrastingly, Kabwana had higher rates of exclusive use (52%), lower rates of majority LPG use (22%), similar minority LPG use (6%), and higher rates of no LPG use (19%) (Table 2). The majority of households in Kabwana used LPG exclusively or not at all, while the households in Michire consistently stacked their cooking fuels. The endline values for both villages support these results. At endline in Kabwana, 47% of households were using LPG exclusively, 0% were majority users, 13% were minority users, and 27% were not using any LPG. At endline in Michire, 47% of households were exclusively LPG users, 58% were majority LPG users, 0% were minority users, and 7% were not using any LPG.

Qualitative interviews revealed that Michire’s proximity to wooded areas and therefore free biomass led to continued fuel stacking. Despite access to free biomass, Michire households reported that the CTW reminded them and encouraged them to prioritize LPG use. In Kabwana, households reported school fees, hospital visits, and other expenses unexpectantly arose and drained the funds that the CTW encouraged them to save. However, the CTW in Kabwana noted that she would meet with troubled households and create a plan to help them refill again.

Boiling water

The consistent need for sterilized water prohibited exclusive LPG use. On average throughout the entire study period, 3 households out of the entire sample (~ 10%) were using firewood to boil water (4 SD, 0 Min, 14 Max). The CTWs reported that households did not want to boil water with LPG, as they preferred LPG for cooking. Subsequently, the CTW educated the households on Water Guard, a purification tablet, to help eliminate biomass burning for water purification. After 10 months, no household in the pilot used biomass to boil for the remainder of the study. Therefore, at endline, no household was using firewood or charcoal for boiling water. Discussion in the focus group revealed that the CTW had taught the families techniques to rid the water of a distinct smell associated with Water Guard. Households were then able to adopt Water Guard and abandon boiling with biomass.

Perceived ability to refill

At the endline, 86.6% of families overall (80% in Kabwana and 93.3% in Michire) reported feeling confident about being able to refill their cylinder. On average throughout the study period, 93.7% of families (87.9% in Kabwana and 97.4% in Michire) reported feeling confident in their ability to refill. The families did not report experiencing an overbearing economic burden in refilling the stove. The follow-up survey taken around the Christmas holidays (the 26th follow up survey) reported the lowest levels of household’s confidence in their ability to refill the cylinder at 50%, 93.3%, and 73% for Kabwana, Michire, and overall, respectively. Interviews revealed that this was because households often have extra expenses around the holidays. Households reported that the CTW increased their confidence in their ability to refill. The CTWs example and vote of confidence improved the households’ perception of their capability to refill their LPG cylinder.

Savings

Our study asked if households were saving for their next cylinder and if so, how much they were saving. An LPG refill costs ~ 10 USD (23,000 TSH) or ~ 1.67 USD/kg. Families saved on average 5.2 USD [Range: ~ 0.5–8 USD (1500 TSH–18000 TSH)] for the refill throughout the study period. At the endline, households in Kabwana had saved 3.8 USD (8900 TSH), while households in Michire reported no savings. It is interesting to note that the families in Michire claimed they were able to save for the next cylinder, but then revealed that after the first 3 months of the study, they consistently had no amount saved. Households in both villages expressed that they wanted a more formal savings account for their LPG cylinder refill. The households that were saving for their cylinders were doing so informally at home. The reported barriers to refill were the fluctuating LPG prices and the lack of an organized mechanism for saving. Although the LPG price changes throughout the study period were minimal (± 0.5 USD (1000 TSH)), this amount is substantial to low-income households. Households noted that it was hard to save that large of a lump sum compared to spending smaller sums more frequently on biomass, especially when the LPG price changes month to month. They articulated that it is often hard to set aside money for the refill when they have so many other financial demands. The interviews revealed that households appreciated the CTW visits specifically for the reminder and encouragement to save little by little.

Maintenance and safety

In total, there were 10 issues reported with the stoves, all within the first 6 months of the study. Most problems were due to defective, flimsy burners, which the CTW helped replace. Interviews revealed that the CTW provided a level of convenience and speed to minimize the number of meals cooked with unclean fuels before getting the new part. Households did not understand that they could request a free replacement from the gas company and did not know where they could purchase a new burner, as some of the refilling stations in the village did not sell them. On occasion, the CTW would re-review stove use and safety training. There were no accidents.

Education

In post household visit interviews, families stressed the importance of the education that the CTW provided on stove use and safety. Thirteen of 30 interviews expressed an appreciation for education and for the knowledge that we did not foresee as an effect of the pilot. These families appreciated learning and gaining the education about the gas stove. A woman in Michire said, “There is nothing that has passed me… I have memorized it.” Women in Kabwana asked “if there were any more teachings.” A woman in Michire offered “I do welcome you anytime if there is anything else that you want to teach me.” They expressed that the presence of the CTW gave them confidence in LPG use and safety. The CTWs also enjoyed providing education as Michire’s CTW said, “My favorite part of my job is teaching families how to use the stove.” The CTWs felt a desire to help the community.

Community involvement for LPG use and beyond

Households noted the friendship and trust that they had built with the CTWs. Households alluded to a continued relationship with the CTW in a positive light. Many families wanted to continue and sustain the relationship with the CTW. For example, one Kabwanan woman, when asked about CTW visits, said “Come in the morning, afternoon, evening. Wake me up. There is no problem.” Another woman in Michire revealed the intimacy of the pilot and the importance of proximity. When asked if she felt comfortable contacting the CTW, she responded “Yes and if she does not answer, I will send a kid to her house.” The focus group reiterated the importance of the relationship between the CTW and the households. For example, one woman from Kabwana said, “We have become friends. We greet each other. You find out what the problem is, and you help. If there is a problem, we find a solution.”

All families suggested the continuation or expansion of the project. They wanted to include other community members and even expand it to other topics such as electricity, HIV, orphans, and solar lights. A main cook in Michire said, “This project should not just focus on cooking.” These narratives indicated the importance of community involvement in achieving any sustainable solution.

Throughout the interviews, we asked if the households would prefer text messages or phone calls instead of physical visits. Highlighting the importance of face-to-face interactions, households suggested the use of phone calls for emergency situations, but implied that they may not be honest about their LPG use over the phone. Households stressed the importance of the physical visit but did note that bi-weekly visiting would be acceptable compared to weekly.

Social pressure to refill?

Finally, the interviews investigated why the households were refilling to ensure that the CTW was not placing an undue burden on already financially and psychologically stressed households. Families noted that they had adjusted to the gas stove and were not refilling to please the CTW, but rather refilling for their own benefit. One woman posed the question, “How can [the CTW] pressure me when the gas helps me, not the CTW?” The families discussed how the gas stove eases the work and allows them to finish cooking faster and continue with other activities. The majority of families claimed that it was their responsibility to refill the cylinder as it was benefiting their family. One family noted that “It is my responsibility to refill it even without being monitored because I know how valuable it is.” Participants felt this “responsibility” not to the CTW, but rather to themselves.

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