Abstract Improved stoves have largely failed to achieve widespread dissemination in developing countries for a number of reasons. Improved stoves were not necessarily more efficient than traditional designs nor were they always smokeless. Improved stove programmes emphasize fuel economy whilst stove users regard versatility and the ability to cook quickly as being more important. Other concerns of villagers such as water supplies and income-generating technologies may have a higher priority than the supply of traditional cooking fuels. Moreover, stove programmes are unlikely to significantly reduce deforestation. The likely effects of stove programmes could have been determined and a number of problems avoided had these projects been appropriately monitored.