Homes and gardens

Behind India’s cheapest eco-stove

Don’t be surprised if you spot village women whipping up a Thai green curry or French crêpes while you are in Puducherry next. The new culinary skills are thanks to the team at city-based Prakti Design, the social enterprise that has been designing and selling clean-burning, fuel-efficient stoves since 2009. They host a cooking show on their YouTube channel as one the initiatives to interact with rural communities.

It all started in 2003, when founder/CEO Mouhsine Serrar visited Nepal and noticed how toxic fumes from the traditional ‘smoky’ mud stoves were causing respiratory problems, especially among women and children. This stirred the designer in Serrar — who had, by then, spent almost a decade working as a mechanical engineer for MNCs such as Motorola, Intel and Boeing. Back in the US, driven by his two passions, design and entrepreneurship, he studied stoves at the Aprovecho Research Center and started working on creating clean-burning variants for developing countries.

After studying stoves at the Aprovecho Research Center in the US, and working in West Africa, he came to India in 2005 under a Shell Foundation grant. He moved to Puducherry and founded Prakti Design two years later which has since thenbenefited over 2,70,000 people across India, Nepal, Congo and Haiti.

Behind India’s cheapest eco-stove

We speak to Serrar ahead of the launch of Prakti Ray, touted to be the cheapest eco-stove in the market. Excerpts:

What are the many features of Prakti stoves?

We offer eight stainless steel stove technologies, accommodating charcoal, wood, and organic matter-based fuels. They have proven to cut fuel needs by up to 50% and indoor air pollution by 80%. The single burner charcoal stove is widely used as a camping stove in the UK and Africa. In India, the wood stove is popular. Our double burner variant with a chimney can double up as an indoor heater. There are two types of institutional stoves: for mid-day meals, disaster relief/refugee camps.

Their USP?

All our stoves come with a year’s warranty and are made at our Chennai and Puducherry factories. They are tested for emissions and durability at our Puducherry lab. We don’t want users to change their cooking style, so our designers work with women to understand what they cook and how they cook. We’ve employed a full-time ‘testing’ cook from a nearby village, who test our stoves each day. If our stove doesn’t work well, we don’t have lunch, and we have an upset cook!

Behind India’s cheapest eco-stove

What’s new about Prakti Ray?

It’s the latest in our single burner wood stove design series and much lighter than our other variants. With Ray, we made a significant improvement in usability, allowing fuel and smoke reduction. While most stoves have small doors, our models have larger outlets. To be priced at ₹999, it will be the cheapest in the market and we are aiming for a pre-Diwali release.

How do you work out the pricing?

While social enterprises are an excellent way to create a sustainable, scalable impact, the support and funding available is inadequate. We are competing against the traditional chullah, which costs nothing. So we source material and staff locally and buy in bulk, which helps reduce overall pricing by over 30%. The single burner stoves are priced at ₹1,499 and our institutional ones at ₹4,500. But they are subsidised for rural markets and prices go as low as ₹800 (for a bulk order).

Your work towards promoting healthy cooking in rural households is popular.

Our products are aimed at the poor, but we treat them as any other paying customer. Creating innovative methods to interact with them are important, and our online Prakti Cooking Show is one such tool. Our focus is on promoting healthy, local ingredients and we bring in foreigners who speak Tamil to teach villagers how they can tweak international recipes with locally-available produce. For instance, a video of our French colleague from Auroville cooking a Thai green curry, was a big hit. They have also learnt how to cook their own version of the banana flambée using jaggery and ghee.

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Corrections & Clarifications: The price of the eco-stove is slated to be priced at Rs. 999 and not Rs. 900 as previously mentioned in the article. 

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 7:37:39 AM |

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