Africa, Development & Aid, Energy, Environment, Global Governance, Headlines

DEVELOPMENT-KENYA: Switch On the Sun to Get Cooking

Joyce Mulama

KAJIADO, Southern Kenya, Oct 31 2006 (IPS) - The women in Kajiado were sceptical – unwilling to believe that cardboard containers lined with aluminium foil on the inside could cook food when placed in the sun.

But, their minds were changed during a recent demonstration of the unassuming containers. These solar cookers, also called “panel cookers”, were loaded with several pots filled with meat, rice, eggs and other kinds of food – the pots black in colour to absorb heat, and covered in plastic bags to retain warmth. The shiny foil reflected sunlight onto the pots, creating additional heat for cooking.

After several hours the food was ready to eat, and giving off a mouth-watering aroma.

“I am shocked because I saw the food cooking without any fire. But here it is, really hot and tastier than the same foods cooked normally. This is amazing; I have never seen anything like this before,” said 70-year-old Esther Lokuso.

Lokuso is one of the members of the Oloika Women’s Group who congregated at a school in Kajiado for the demonstration, given by Solar Cookers International (SCI). Headquartered in Sacramento, California, this donor-funded organisation seeks to promote the use of solar power for the benefit of both people and the environment.

Kenya’s forest cover is said to have decreased because of the widespread use of firewood and charcoal in fires typically required to prepare food. According to government figures, 85 percent of Kenya’s 30 million strong population lacks access to electricity.

“We and our children walk for over four hours every day looking for firewood. Since it has been our main source of fuel, we have had no choice but to go collecting wood and even cutting down new trees to provide us with wood, so that we can cook for our families,” said Janet Sirinyi. “By using the sun for cooking, now we will be able to save our trees and forests,” the mother of five added.

The Oloika women were also excited by the prospect of being able to turn their attention to other chores while food was being prepared in the solar cookers. “Since solar cooking takes a longer time, we will be able to do other domestic chores such as fetching water and even looking after animals as the food cooks, killing two birds with the same stone,” observed Grace Orumai, smiling.

Proponents of solar cookers point out that they do not generate smoke that causes irritation to the eyes, nose and throat – as wood fires may do – or soot. In addition, the cookers do not pose as much of a risk as fires that can cause burns, or blow out of control.

The Oloika group is now trying to raise money to buy panel cookers for each of its 50 members. The model they aim to purchase is called the ‘Cookit’, which operates even at moderate temperatures. Priced at about eight dollars each, Cookits are affordable by certain standards, but costly for some in a country where government estimates that 56 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

In Nyakach, a region in western Kenya, women have gone one step further – not only using the Cookits, but also earning a living from them.

A project between SCI and communities there has allowed women to make and sell Cookits, and train people from surrounding areas in how to use the devices.

“Women come together to make these cookers, and some of them earn up to 300 shillings a day (about four dollars). The cookers have provided an income-earning opportunity for them,” Margaret Owino, SCI regional representative in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, told IPS. The project began in 2003.

But despite the benefits offered by solar cookers, they have yet to win acceptability across the board.

“Solar cooking involves cooking outside, and most Kenyans do not like cooking outside. A lot of awareness creation is needed in this area, because solar cookers remain unpopular in the country,” Jackson Maina, acting director of the renewable energy section in the energy ministry, told IPS.

“Unless the government plays a leading role, very few people will undertake the solar cooker technology.”

Tradition also presents challenges to be overcome. “Cultural beliefs have it that there has to be fire for food to cook. Without fire, the food is not food,” said Owino, telling of how men in Nyakach warned their wives against eating solar cooked food when the technology was introduced in the region.

She also cautions that solar cooking is not a replacement for traditional cooking techniques – still needed on rainy days, for instance – “but (is) just another alternative to help save on fuel, since the sun is free”.

In light of this, communities informed about solar cooking are also given information on other fuel-efficient devices that can be used alongside solar technology. These include the ceramic jiko (stove), which uses relatively less wood and charcoal, and the basket cooker: an insulated basket designed to complete the cooking of food that has already been partially prepared on a fire. The basket can also keep food hot for up to eight hours.

There are also various types of solar cookers on offer, such as the more expensive box cookers which are made from metal, and often able to contain two to three pots each.

Republish | | Print |