"Cookstove-Biochar Ecosystems" for Clean Cooking and Soil Restoration in Bangladesh

Julien Winter
Published: 26 July 2021
Last edited: 03 August 2021
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Bangladesh faces harsh challenges as it loses land to rising sea levels. However, the impact can be buffered if we raise the productivity of inland soils. Presently, yield is being limited by low soil organic matter.  We can increase soil humus by applying biochar fertilizers.  We have seen dramatic increases in crop yield. The challenge has been to make biochar, because good biomass in high demand for use as cooking fuel. We make biochar sustainably as a by-product of cooking by using a culturally-appropriate top-lit updraft (TLUD) gasifier stove for rural homes. When implemented in villages, we call this “the cookstove-biochar ecosystem” wherein the women with their cookstoves are ‘keystone’ species that make biochar possible, and farmers with their biochar are ‘ecosystem engineers’ that make ‘permanent’ increases in soil organic matter and biological productivity. Improved crop yields incentivize the adoption of cookstoves and the production of biochar.   


South Asia
Scale of implementation
Disaster risk reduction
Ecosystem services
Food security
Gender mainstreaming
Health and human wellbeing
Indigenous people
Land management
Outreach & communications
Renewable energies
Science and research
Sustainable financing
Sustainable livelihoods
Waste management
Wastewater treatment
Erratic rainfall
Land and Forest degradation
Sea level rise
Lack of access to long-term funding
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 7 – Affordable and clean energy
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Sendai Framework
Target 1: Reduce global disaster mortality by 2030
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030
Target 3: Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to GDP by 2030
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with associations
Indirect through consumers
Indirect through government


Dhaka, Bangladesh | Shibalaya, Manda, Daudpur, Monohardi


Our project is complex and multidisciplinary. In a proof-of-concept intervention, challenges were addressed, but all aspects need continued research and broader participation by scientists and development workers.

Env1: Demand for fuel wood is greater than the supply, so compressed biomass fuels should be developed.

Env2: Locally appropriate agronomic use of biochar has to be researched and demonstrated.

Soc1: Villagers have to be acquainted, and have practical experience with several technologies at the same time.

Soc2: The knowledge has to take root in the village.  We deliberately target recipients who are innovators and curious to adopt new technology.

Soc3:  Women have to prepare fuel for the TLUD stove, but that can be somebody's livelihood.

Ecn:1:  The cookstove has to be affordable.

Ecn:2:  The 'ecosystem' will not develop its postive feed-back loops until biochar has acquired a 'commercial' value by virtue of farmers' experiences with yields.



Women and household:  healthier, livelihoods.  

Farmers: higher yields, lower costs.  

Country:  rural to urban migration; climate refugees. 

Planet: C sequestration.

How do the building blocks interact?

The TLUD Cookstove - Biochar Ecosystem


There are many 'building blocks' in an ecosystem, but a only few of the play a predominant role.  Ecosystems are usually named after dominant features or species, such as the Sundarbans or Sal Forests.


In our ‘ecosystem’ women with their cookstoves are ‘keystone’ species that make biochar. Farmers with their biochar are ‘ecosystem engineers’ that make ‘permanent’ increases in soil organic matter and biological productivity.   


They interact through positive feed-back loops that reinforce each other through the flow of materials (biochar, manure, composts, foods, fuel) and money.  Biochar could increase Akha acceptance


Biochar increases the productivity of the ecosystem, with creates new opportunities for livelihoods.   Increases in cash income make it possible for families to purchase imported technologies such as photovoltaic energy, electronics, school supplies and medicines.  


Other minor 'species' or 'building blocks' in the ecosystem include women making TLUD fuels, agri-businesses making biochar fertilizers, and university professors.  This is called biodiversity.


Top-Lit Updraft (TLUD) Gasifier Cookstoves compared to traditional biomass cookstoves:

  • Drastically reduced exposure of women to cooking smoke.
  • Automatically makes biochar as a by-product of cooking.
  • Uses half as much fuel, despite producing biochar.
  • Provides income through the sale or use of biochar.
  • Improves women's qulaity of life and empowerment.


  • Sequesters atmospheric carbon into soil organic matter.
  • Increases soil biodiversity and productivity by building humus in organic matter-depleted soils.  Soils with higher organic matter have:
    • better aeration
    • better retention of plant available water
    • a buffered supply of plant nutrients
  • Combined with urine and manures, conserves plant nutrients:
    • reducing damage cause by eutrophication of water and NOx emission to the atmosphere.
    • increases the efficiency of recycling plant nutrients
    • reduces the need (cost) of commercial fertilizers.
  • Improved crop growth
    • increases household income and village economic activity
    • increases the resiliance of crops to drought.
    • allows Bangladesh - a densely populate country - to compensate (partially?) from land lost to rising sea levels.

Contributed by

Julien Winter Bangladesh Biochar Initiative

Other contributors

Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh
Bangladesh Biochar Initiative