When people think of GRACE, they likely think of the care we provide to orphan Grauer’s gorillas. But did you know that we also help conserve wild gorillas and their habitat? GRACE is located near the Tayna Nature Reserve, home to an important population of wild Grauer’s gorillas.

Three-stone stove (Photo: T. Bettinger)

While gorillas are not typically hunted in this region, habitat loss due to deforestation poses a serious threat to Tayna. People depend on wood to cook food, boil water, and provide heat for their homes.

The traditional stove is made up of three stones on which a pot is placed. These stoves use a great deal of wood, produce a lot of smoke, and cook very slowly. Wood has to be collected from the forest and then carried, sometimes as far as 5 km, back to people’s homes. This means women and girls, who are often the ones assigned this chore, spend hours each week on “wood duty” rather than on schoolwork or other more productive activities. Additionally, the smoke from the three-stone stoves poses serious health risks for those tasked with preparing meals.

Collecting and carrying wood is often a chore done by women and girls (Photo: GRACE).

One alternative for these problems is building stoves that burn wood more efficiently. In addition to consuming less wood, fuel-efficient stoves can be vented to direct smoke away from the users, they cook faster than traditional stoves, and they can accommodate up to three pots at one time. While fuel-efficient stoves are used in many places around the world, they have been met with mixed success. The appropriate stove design, the costs of construction and maintenance, and difference in taste of the food prepared have all been cited as factors resulting in low user acceptance.

Efficient stove models allow more than one pot to be heated at once (Photo: GRACE).

To determine if fuel-efficient stoves would be accepted by people living around Tayna and to quantify wood use, the GRACE educators conducted a survey of 100 households. They determined that 65% of households depend only on wood, while the remaining households use charcoal or a combination of wood and charcoal. The women expressed concern over eye and head aches, coughs and chest problems they get from being around smoke. They also reported that in recent years, they were having to walk farther to collect wood, as nearby sources were depleted. If affordable, the women were very keen to try a fuel-efficient stove.

GRACE Educator Gracianne Basyanirwa asks about cooking and wood use practices (Photo: GRACE).

With funding provided by a grant from the Disney Conservation Fund, the GRACE educators, working with a local women’s group, were able to launch a pilot stove project in 2018. They conducted a feasibility study with the local community to determine if the taste of food cooked on the fuel-efficient stove was acceptable, which type of stove worked best in the wet environment around Tayna, and also came up with a solution for building low-cost units. People in this region are very resourceful, and with encouragement from the GRACE team, they came up with an excellent option. Many buildings in the area are made from brick and after each building project, there are broken bricks that are tossed aside. Women gathered the broken and discarded bricks, and, working with a local craftsman, were able to construct stoves at a greatly reduced cost using just brick pieces, mud, and a small amount of metal.

A demonstration at International Women’s Day for how to build and use fuel-efficient stoves (Photo: GRACE).

In the year since the pilot project began, GRACE has helped place more efficient stoves in 60 households in the village closest to GRACE. The old cooking method consumed around 15 kg/wood/week while the new stoves use 8 kg/wood/week. This is a 47% reduction in wood consumption! In one year, that means from just one village, we have saved 24 tons of wood from gorilla habitat! The plan is to expand this program to two additional villages in 2019. Additionally, tree planting programs have been started to not only help reforest areas that have been cut but to also grow wood locally for household use.

“No smoke anymore in my kitchen. My kids are not disturbed by the smoke and can’t get eye ache anymore…I wish that all women build this stove.”

-Rozali, project participant

A participant in the stove project weighs the amount of wood she uses for her stove to quantify results (Photo: GRACE).

“We were traveling for long distances to look for wood. But now, some wood from my compound is sufficient.”

– Gloriose, project participant

Women plant trees to use for fuel (Photo: GRACE).

The women are very excited with their new stoves. They love being able to make a meaningful contribution to gorilla conservation, living healthier lives, being able to collect wood from their own compounds and reducing the time they spend on household chores. Listen to women share their experiences in a film produced by the GRACE education team:


-Blog post by Tammie Bettinger, Ph.D., Education & Community Program Consultant to GRACE

About GRACE: Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center is the world’s only sanctuary for Grauer’s gorillas. The largest primate in the world, Grauer’s gorillas only live in war-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Their numbers have dropped by nearly 80% in the past 20 years due to heavy poaching. They are considered one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world with only 3,800 remaining. GRACE cares for 14 orphaned gorillas rescued from poachers and works to rehabilitate them so they can return to the wild. At GRACE the gorillas live in a single gorilla group that functions as a surrogate family and spend their days in 39 acres of forest. GRACE also partners with local communities on education and conservation initiatives to protect a critical population of wild gorillas living in Tayna Nature Reserve. For more about GRACE, visit: www.gracegorillas.org