Building clean burning stoves for migrant farm workers

During coffee picking season, migrant workers from Panama and Nicaragua travel to Costa Rica to work on the coffee plantations. The work is hard and the living conditions poor. It’s common for several families to share one small shelter that includes an open flame stove for cooking with no ventilation. Respiratory disease runs rampant among the workers, and as a result their life expectancy is less than 60 years.

Unfortunately, cooking over open flame stoves is the way of life in many third world countries. That’s why SeaChar, a Seattle based, non-profit group, developed the Estufa Finca BioChar project. SeaChar is researching and building small clean burning stoves. The biostoves, as they are called, use an extremely efficient biomass gasification technology that produces clean heat and gas. The stoves produce 60-75% fewer emissions while co-generating biochar, a fine-grained, porous charcoal that can be used as a soil amendment and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The stoves can be made out of “found objects” like discarded paint cans, pieces of corrugated tin roof, even an Altoids mint tin.

Several months ago, Art Donnelly, co-founder of SeaChar and Arturo Segura, owner of Costa Rican based Sol Colibri Coffee, met at a Seattle Tilth event. Donnelly was demonstrating the biostove technology and Segura became interested in the project as a way to help improve the living conditions for the migrant workers on his farm. Segura also was very interested in using biochar on his coffee farm.

SeaChar and Sol Colibri Coffee have partnered to bring the Estufa Finca BioChar project to the migrant workers of Central America. To be successful, SeaChar will need funding, materials and volunteers to travel to Central America to construct the stoves. Donnelly estimates that the stoves will cost as little as $20 each to build and believes that he can teach anyone to build them. He has been teaching stove building workshops in the Seattle area for six months and has built 65 stoves.

EcoTeach is excited about the Estufa Finca BioChar project and is working with Santos Tours, a Costa Rican eco-tourism company, to provide EcoTeach groups the opportunity to participate in stove building as part of the Highlands Community Service trip in the coffee growing region of the highlands of Costa Rica. If you’re interested in getting involved with the Estufa Finca BioChar project, please contact us at 800-626-8992 or

Now that is one way that EcoTeach travel can help change the world.