Not real ladders -- but it does offer a way up, at least a few steps.
I've written about a stove project in Africa before, in Eritrea where some applied good sense has been getting the smoke out of the kitchen. That's not the only place where a little technology and a modicum of economics is helping people: folks in Ghana at the lower end of the economic spectrum (and that would be quite a lot of people) have traditionally cooked with charcoal, over open-sided sheet-metal stoves.
Problem is, those stoves aren't very efficient and worse yet, there are more people cooking than there are trees to support their fuel.
So a company -- a for-profit company! -- called Toyola came up with an efficient little sheet-metal-and-ceramic charcoal stove. The primary components are little more than scrap metal and well-sifted mud,* resulting in a nice-sized stove that sells for about seven bucks. And if even that is too much (sip your four-dollar latte for a minute and ponder the implications), why, they'll advance credit and you haul your stove home with a tin-can bank, with the suggestion that you take the money you're saving on charcoal, put it in the can and save up towards payments on your stove.
End result? Toyola is making money. People are able to buy better, more efficient stoves. For the professional charcoal-burners.... It's kind of a setback for them, I admit, but on the other hand, they were starting to run out of trees; people are still using charcoal, just not as much. (Burning charcoal is nasty work no matter where you live, requiring constant vigilance for days at a time, and the world's charcoal burners are traditionally and typically a wild and rugged bunch; also ragged, as the pay is lousy even if you're self-employed).
You can read the article and find a lot of blather about carbon this and green that; all very nice, if you like that sort of thing, but for the Ghanan housewife (or, if I interpret the photo, fast-food vendor), it's about things more concrete and immediate: a better stove -- and more money to spend on something other than cooking fuel. It's a step up.
At one time, "kitchen improvements" for the poorer countries were one of many wildly inappropriate schemes that transplanted only mildly adapted First-World approaches to places where nobody did things that way. They'd hand people shiny gadgets that couldn't be built locally or even maintained locally. The programs would sputter on awhile, supported by big slabs of cash, and then sputter out. Nowadays, more and more, the people who come up with these notions are paying attention to the end-users; they're either locals themselves or willing to listen. And I think it's making a stronger and more lasting difference.
* Admittedly, it's got to be the right kind of mud.
YANKEE RADIO TOOL KIT, #106
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