| Boiling Point No. 36 - November 1995 |
A letter from Elisabeth Castiglioni of The Institute of Cultural Affairs, Nairobi.
In 1990 we started integrating solar cooking into most of our regular programmes, the first pilot project being in Kakamega, Western Kenya, with 20 women's groups Since that time, approximately 1000 cookers have been distributed to women who have been thoroughly instructed, over a period of one to two years, in the use and function of the cookers, and who enthusiastically praise this relatively new cooking method.
I do not want to hide the shortcomings of this cooking method; solar cookers only work when the sun shines. They cannot yet function early in the morning, at night or on cloudy days. But here, on the equator, sunshine is plentiful for most months of the year! Especially with meals which take a long time to cook (maize, beans, tough meat etc.), it is a great relief to get one's cooking done without supervision, without constantly having to add water, firewood, charcoal etc., without the risk of burning and overcooking, not to mention the cost of the fuel required. Which mother in rural areas, without a solar cooker, can bake bread and cakes?
We never hide the fact that you need another cooking stove besides the solar cooker, and we actively support Intermediate Technology's Stoves and Household Energy (SHE) programme. We do not consider solar cooking to be in competition with IT's work.
We also do not contest the fact that many women in rural areas cannot yet afford a well-built, solid, solar box cooker. But is this a reason to ban solar cooking? To categorically declare that the cookers are unacceptable and inappropriate to the needs of the poor? That they cannot be recommended? There are a large number of families who can afford this expense. Many family members, with an average-paid job, buy cookers for their mothers, sisters and relatives in rural areas. International donors often subsidize promotion programmes, and our organization encourages companies and other organizations to distribute cookers on a payment-by-instalment basis.
The cost of solid solar cookers is often grossly exaggerated. Kenya is still experiencing high inflation, yet we today build quality cookers in our workshop, here in Nairobi, at a selling price of KSh 3,500 (approximately US $65). This price includes the cost of locally available quality materials, salaries, some overheads and profit; and it allows us to work sustainably. During one-week training courses, we teach carpenters from remote rural areas how to build their own cooker, and we encourage them to include solar cooker production and promotion in their income-generation projects.
The food to be cooked is prepared in the house as usual, and only then is the pan carried outside and placed in the solar cooker. No food (potatoes, cassava, yams, corn and beans etc.) needs to be boiled before being placed in the cooker. Since solar cooking is 'slow cooking' and requires about double the time used with a regular cooker, we recommend that dry beans and corn be soaked overnight. We do not want to list all the advantages of solar cookers but here are some: no fire, no smoke, no accidents, no fuel or maintenance costs.
There is, however, the social aspect to consider. Cooking practices need to change. Lunch should be in the cooker at about 10 am, if it is to be ready when the children come from school. The housewife has to plan her meals in advance. She will also miss the social interactions with daughters, in-laws and friends who come to chat in the smoky kitchen during the long mornings. Constant supervision, adding water and firewood is no longer necessary, but she may miss tasting the food.
Women will give up some of the time-consuming chores in the kitchen and have to reorganize their accustomed daily routine, which may cause problems. It is hard to change traditions, but women, in time, will eventually handle this issue. They will realize and appreciate the new freedom they acquire with more hours of free time!
We are impressed by the aims and work of Intermediate Technology and urge you to support the cause of improving and promoting solar cookers.
The Institute of Cultural Affairs, Rose Avenue, Ngong Road, PO Box 21679, Nairobi, Kenya. Tel: +254 2 7243/4/729375 Fax: +254 2 729375