| Boiling Point No. 36 - November 1995 |
Stephen Gitonga, IT Kenya
In Kenya, interest in solar cooking developed mainly after the United Nations New and Renewable Energy Conference held in Nairobi in 1981. By 1987 about 80 cookers had been made and sold to various missions and development organizations in northern and central Kenya.
In other parts of Kenya (mostly dry areas), both concentrating-type solar cookers and box-type were being tested for use in the institutional and household sectors. After preliminary work, however, it was concluded that the concentrating-type solar cookers had no place in cooking activities in Kenya. The field of solar cooking in Kenya today is dominated by solar box cookers (SBC), and concentrating-type cookers are no longer promoted.
There are three basic designs of SBC being promoted in Kenya today, cookers with:
• a double glass panel with reflector
• a double glass panel without reflector
• a single glass panel without reflector
Solar cooker projects in Kenya
Currently there are five major organizations promoting solar box cookers in nine projects in Kenya. There are many other small initiatives dominated by school teachers, members of the Peace Corps, women's groups, and individual enthusiasts. These projects are supported by a strong team of both local and international solar box cooker promoters and researchers. They include Solar Cookers International (SCI) and its affiliates, Kenyatta University Appropriate Technology Centre, and the Kenya Girl Guides Association. SCI plays a leading role in solar cooker promotion, while funding comes from individual donors mainly from Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.
The general objectives for the ongoing solar box cooker projects in Kenya are variously stated as:
• to reduce deforestation,
• to reduce the work burden for women,
• to improve health standards,
• to provide rural poor communities with an alternative energy source and in some cases to create commercial enterprises by producing and selling SBCs.
It is not evident that any of the stated objectives has yet been achieved.
A review of solar box cooker activities in Kenya by ITDG revealed that the level of activity of existing projects is minimal, concentrating mainly on awareness creation and training. The projects studied operate in specific niches, reaching only a very small section of the community. The evidence collected indicates a relatively low level of penetration by current SBC projects. Currently, the success of the projects is measured by the number of cookers disseminated - despite the fact that only 17 per cent of all cookers are used once or more per week when the weather is favourable. It was estimated by GEF/UNDP that a total of 2200 cookers had been disseminated by October 1994.
Factors affecting adoption
One major factor in the adoption of solar cookers in Kenya is the degree to which the technology can be used to undertake existing traditional cooking activities. Of the people interviewed in the review survey 90 per cent found the cooker to be too slow. Fifty-four per cent complained that it could not cook their preferred dishes, and in many cases the cooker could not cook enough for all family members. Sixty-seven per cent had misgivings about leaving their cooker or food unattended and so only used them when they were present to watch over them.
The fear of other people interfering with food or even stealing the cooker has also affected adoption. In some areas where the technology is promoted there is real scarcity of food, especially in the dry parts of the country, and people will not experiment with the little food that they have. The cooker is seen as a very expensive item by over 53 per cent of the respondents especially since it can only cook during the day. In seven out of the nine project areas visited, firewood is freely available and there is little incentive for people to buy or use the cooker. In two cases the cooker is promoted in areas with low insolation (sunshine) levels, making it difficult to use effectively. Strong winds and dust disrupt solar cooking in two project
areas studied, although this problem could be solved by making the cooker more robust.
Socio-economic factors appear to influence adoption more than the technical features of the cooker. The survey showed that the choice of dissemination method or approach has affected adoption. This is true especially where the wrong choice of target groups and regions is made, for example, in Nuu Division of Mwingi District in Kenya where there is sufficient sunshine but there is also plenty of firewood. The purchasing power of the community is very low and there is no basic infrastructure to sustain any locally made solar cooker activity (local artisans, training and production materials). So although the area is sunny, adoption rates are very poor. Experience in India seems to suggest that promotion of solar box cookers is likely to be most successful in better off, urban areas. They should also be promoted for use as heat storage cookers when the sun is not strong.
The technology clearly has limitations such as:
• it can never completely replace other cooking systems
• it cannot cook certain preferred and common foods
• it can only be used at times of sufficient insolation
• it requires radical changes in the way cooking is perceived, especially with regard to common perceptions of the kitchen and the cooking hearth, and cannot cook quickly.
• the stoves currently promoted cannot cook for the number of people for whom food is frequently needed.
• it is at present too expensive to offer to poor communities.
For SBCs to be successfully promoted in Kenya in the absence of credit facilities they need to be affordable for the identified markets and socio-economic groups. This requirement is at present difficult or perhaps impossible to meet if rural populations are to be targeted. The cookers need to be strong enough to withstand hot sunshine, rain, humid conditions and strong winds. SBC designs need to be appropriate for the materials available in Kenya, and incorporate good insulation properties to conserve heat during cloudy periods.
The survey did not find any evidence of any relationship between SBC promoters and other energy programmes. The SBC sector has developed in isolation from broader energy or conservation initiatives, and no evidence of interest in linkages was found. Where there has been integration it has been with initiatives in other areas (health, evangelism etc) undertaken by organizations concerned. This has denied the organizations concerned an opportunity to learn from experiences of other biomass energy technologies and their promoter organizations.
Lessons from stoves and household energy programmes
Stoves and household energy programmes in Kenya have passed through a process of technology development (research and development), technology testing, production development, pricing, dissemination (including marketing), monitoring (including modification of the technology and dissemination approach), evaluation and project reviews. Issues of sustainability have come very much to the fore and are now paramount considerations in all household energy activities. Non-stove inputs - technical and sociological - are also now recognized as important contributions in the biomass energy sector, including a range of conservation techniques and practices. These processes are still continuing, and the supporters of stoves programmes have learned that flexibility and innovation are important ingredients of any successful adoption of stove/cooker technology. In the process, they have made many mistakes that SBC promoters can now avoid. They include choosing the wrong target groups or regions, giving subsidies to a level that threatened sustainability of the projects after funds were withdrawn, producing pieces of cooking equipment that could not be fabricated easily and cheaply, duplication of efforts and repeatedly 're-inventing the wheel'.
The SBC projects visited in Kenya had unclear and varied objectives, inappropriate target groups and unsustainable methods of promotion. The target communities should be much more closely involved in all stages of product development. Promoters should exchange ideas and experiences more regularly, and learn more from the lessons of other household energy activities.
IT Kenya, Household Energy
Regional Project, PO Box 39493,
Nairobi. Tel: +254 2
446243/442108. Fax +254 2