“Cooking without the sun shining is possible with the right solar cooker.” First-world countries may find such a statement trivial, but it means a lot for countries in Africa. In a region where many conflicts result in depriving the citizens of a normal living standard, knowing one can cook without the sun shining is very reassuring.
How so? For starters, Africa has an energy crisis until now. Last 2015, World Banknotes that 22 African countries have lower than 25 percent access to electricity. 7 of those countries even have lesser than 10 percent access.
Because of that, solar cookers are very much helpful to countless communities there. These solar cookers utilize the sun’s rays through a design that focuses the heat on cooking the ingredients. Thus, no electricity or any other fuel resources required. However, the biggest challenge lies in whether the cooking system remains useful without sunlight.
The African communities are recently sorting out viable solutions. Some are insulated baskets, wherein the heat from the sunlight is held, while others use backup stoves fueled by firewood and charcoal. Last year, Peter Wanga, a local who started using the solar cooking system, said that the baskets used as contingency enable them to prepare tea in the morning and drink at night.
The said baskets conserve just the right amount of energy for heating beverages. He said that the solution was also affordable and convenient to use. In Busia County of Kenya, over 1,500 households rely on solar cooking from 2013 to 2017. FWA has spearheaded this change, or Farmers With A Vision, a local organization from Bumala Township.
For that period of 4 years, Didacus Odhiambo, CEO of the organization, says that thousands of solar cookers and energy-efficient wood stoves have been sold. Solar energy appliances are being promoted. However, the transition to clean, renewable energy is more challenging as a significant portion of the buyers, around 60 percent, have defaulted on their loans.
Faster Cooking Leads to More Trees Saved
As the market for solar appliances remains difficult, the usage of the solar cooking system seems dependable. Not only has it eased the energy crisis, many trees, which are used for producing firewood and charcoal, are spared. In addition, the transition from traditional cooking has aimed to reduce deforestation in Kenya and eliminate smoke pollution from burning wood and coal.
According to buyers and users of the solar cooking systems, they not only save money on the equipment, but the system also takes a shorter amount of time to heat water or cook food. This can only apply to a place similar to Africa, wherein its geographical location has more exposure to sunlight than Western progressive countries.
A Ministry of Energy and Petroleum official in Busia County, named Julius Magero, says that aside from protecting the delicate forests, the cooking systems are also helping the users reduce the time for searching firewood. Lilian Nyapola, a ‘Farmers with a Vision’ member, says the affordable new technologies usher the decline of paraffin and firewood use. The equipment used is expensive and produces smoke.
The faster cooking and fewer amount of health hazards can help her organization’s campaign. For future buyers to afford to buy the cooking equipment, they can apply for loans from local accredited credit agencies. This type of loan is usually paid back in 6 months or more.
The organization’s CEO is trying to get in touch with M-Kopa, a money borrowing scheme owned by Safaricom (the premier mobile telephone company in Kenya). This move hopefully can help allow buyers to pay their loans for purchasing the equipment through mobile phones.
Overcoming Cloudy Days
Odhiambo says the organization’s focus is solely on selling solar cookers. However, rain and cloudy days have become a great obstacle for the users, and they start to complain. Fortunately, there are now different designs of solar cookers as solutions to the problem.
Some of these designs are solar cooking boxes, solar thermos systems, parabolic reflector cookers, and clean cookstoves. For example, the box cooker is designed in collaboration with the Free University of Amsterdam. The device tries to trap the sunlight that is shone through the glass top of the box.
Odhiambo claimed that even when the sunlight is not that abundant, the device can normally cook for about 3 hours longer. He also announced that his organization has been seeking a partnership with EcoZoom. It’s a company that makes improved charcoal and wood stoves from cast iron.
Watch the video below and see how a solar oven CAN cook your roast even on cloudy days:
The newer designs for solar cooking systems are promising to use even with the absence of sunlight. However, the usage of insulated baskets can still achieve almost similar results for now. As long as people remain hopeful for improving technology, there will be positive consequences in the long run.