Nicaraguan program focuses on energy efficient tortilla making

Every day, more than 4,000 home-based tortilla-making businesses add to family incomes.

The contribution of these small enterprises is critical in a nation that, according to the CIA WorldBook, has an unemployment rate hovering around eight percent, and an underemployment rate of over 46 percent.

Many of these businesses are run by women who make their tortillas on a metal plate over an open, wood fire. The Nicaraguan Energy Commission estimates that at one time, 95 percent of these businesses use traditional open-fired stoves without a chimney.

However, a program is slowly reversing that trend.

Prolena Nicaragua, a non-profit NGO that seeks to promote the modern use of biomass, worked with many of these local businesses to develop the ecostove. The stoves use 50 percent less wood for cooking, and emit 35 percent less CO2.

The Ecostove is built with a metal frame filled with an insulating pumice stone. The stove uses a “rocket elbow combustion chamber,” which is a small burning chamber that creates an “elbow” between a wood and air inlest and an opening that leads hot flue gas to the base of the metal cooking griddle. It’s relatively small burning chamber, combined with the insulated elbow, makes the fire burn at higher temperatures, reducing the fuel needs.

Through this efficiency, businesses have time to cook and sell more tortillas, as the traditionally, the women would gather the cooking wood by hand.

According to a Prolena technical report titled “The Pro-Tortilla programme: modernisation of household tortilla businesses in Nicaragua with the ‘Ecostove,’” 

Tortilla-makers are able to purchase the stoves at a subsidized price of about $50 U.S. Those who purchase the stoves must sign an agreement stating they will use the stove, and will not take advantage of the subsidized price by trying to resell it.

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