Rodelle Project: Anything but Vanilla

New stoves will help Ugandans' health, the environment

It started out as a quest for the best quality vanilla and will result in new stoves for thousands of Ugandans, which will lead to better health, less impact on the environment and reduced deforestation.

Ugandans have gourmet baking ingredient company Rodelle to thank for this, but how did the Fort Collins, Colorado-based company get involved with such a worthy project?

Rmgt talks to Dan Berlin, one of the company’s owners.

How did you get involved with Uganda?

Six years ago we began working with partners to buy vanilla from Uganda, and agreed to purchase beans at a premium above the market price. To do this, the beans are bought directly from the farmers, to be able to get more money into the farmers’ hands.

Seeking the best vanilla, we offered to pay about twice the world market price for vanilla and in return, asked the farmers to keep the vanilla beans on the vines until they are completely mature and of the best flavor.

We also launched some microfinance programs in these Ugandan towns to help the people earn money.

One features a lock box in each village that operates as the local bank. Three women in each village have a key to unlock the box and local residents put money into the box and can petition to borrow money from it—with interest.

We also have an annual Vanilla Day run by our Ugandan partner with AIDS testing and malaria prevention, and other health clinics.

Then, we saw that there’s a lot of smoke from cooking that people are inhaling, especially women and children. Lung problems are huge. So we decided a stove project was important.

Why do the Ugandans need new stoves?

The goal is to get the Ugandans stoves so they’re not breathing in the smoke and also for the carbon reduction going into the environment. They cook in outdoor kitchens over stones, usually in a small room with open walls to let the smoke out. The average woman there inhales about the equivalent of two packs of cigarette smoke a day through cooking.

You have the carbon impact of the smoke and what’s being cut down to be burned. So in combination with this we’re looking at reforestation and replanting. We’re also looking at trees whose limbs can be used without cutting down the entire tree.

Now, we are funding new stoves for the Ugandans. We came up with a stove design that we think will work well. The stoves are wood-burning and they burn a lot hotter with a lot less wood. They have a design combustion chamber at the bottom, so it sucks in air and it’s a lot more efficient.

When will you launch the stove project?

We’ll probably work in eight to 10 villages with about 20 participants this fall. We’ll take it slow as we’d rather do it slow and right than put something out there and not have it right, because the trust issue (from the Ugandans) is really important. We’re strangers coming in saying ‘you’re doing it wrong; do it like this.’

What’s your long-term goal with the stove project?

It is to get the majority of our vanilla villages using these stoves. I imagine us having a few different options (of stoves). The users in the villages could bring the materials and we could bring the expertise to build these stoves.

We have about 10,000 farmers who are touched by us by purchasing vanilla, so that’s about 50,000 people. The goal is to have everybody using a more efficient cooking method. So we’re looking at about 10,000 stoves. We don’t limit this to just the farmers but the whole communities we work with.

What are some of the challenges with the project?

The first are stove design and implementation and what they are used for. Another major challenge was cultural—changing cooking habits is very, very difficult—like changing from gas to electric—I think you’d get an uproar from anybody in the U.S. about that.

There’s a lot of trust that needs to be built up. That comes from trying it locally and seeing it work. It’s about getting the buy-in from the local communities that this is a better option than what they’re using now. We’re doing it very, very slowly and it could take years.

We don’t go in knowing everything but we go in with ideas and listen to what’s being done in the villages, especially from the women. We have heard that stoves take too long to heat up or they are too hot and burn pots. That’s how you build the trust—really listening and coming back with something they can see the difference with.

To read more about Rodelle’s project visit: