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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

February 2021: Scientific evidence has demonstrated that clean cooking fuels provide better health outcomes than traditional fuels such as firewood. Nonetheless, the transition to clean cooking fuels in many rural areas in India is slow. New evidence highlights how social and cultural factors are major drivers of the fuel transition and that women’s beliefs often drive family behaviour.


Many users in India continue to believe that using firewood may be better for their family’s wellbeing than switching to Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). In rural India women continue to act as primary family cooks and their beliefs often drive family behaviour. The use of firewood for heating and cooking can cause significant indoor air pollution which, in turn, can cause health problems. Nonetheless, participants of a recent study indicated a preference for firewood as the sale of firewood provided income and collecting fuel provides an opportunity for women to socialise. The scientists had expected women to prefer LPG appliances as their use often increases social status and frees up women’s time to work outside the home, earn more money, and enjoy extra leisure time with their family.

Implications and opportunities

The findings underline that fuel transitions in developing countries are frequently linked with cultural perceptions and are driven by cultural behaviour rather than health considerations. To achieve the SDG 7 Access to clean cooking, it is critical to unravel the relationship between wellbeing and cooking fuel, particularly in rural areas in developing countries where women are frequently still responsible for much of the cooking. It underpins that future intervention to promote new fuels should actively involve women. Mechanisms to include women could actively promote open conversations about the benefits of different fuels or allow cooks to observe different cooking practices. Such interaction programmes could inform firewood users about positive wellbeing outcomes when using clean cooking fuels and address concerns women may have.


The study focuses on women in rural India and the study should be seen within its geographical context. Further research will be needed to verify the results’ transferability to other geographic and cultural contexts.


Malakar, Y., & Day, R. (2020). Differences in firewood users’ and LPG users’ perceived relationships between cooking fuels and women’s multidimensional well-being in rural India. Nature Energy. doi:10.1038/s41560-020-00722-4 

Koop, F., (2020). Mistaken beliefs are altering India’s transition to clean cooking fuels. Retrieved from