Thursday, February 28, 2008

Solar Cookers International: An Elegant Win-Win Innovation

Win-win innovations are elegant - suddenly two problems cleverly merge into two solutions; often the sum of the parts seems greater. And they're heartwarming. It's great to see human ingenuity conquering problems that seemed intractable.
In developing countries, cooking over a fire is the norm. This means that trees and other sources of fuel are in constant demand, eventually deforesting land and causing a downward spiral of land erosion and global warming. It also means that much time must be spent gathering wood, primarily a children's and women's task. Or precious resources must be spent to purchase fuel, adding to the world's load of fossil fuel depletion and contributing to climate crisis, which already disproportionately impacts the world's poor. And the fires themselves cause millions to suffer from bronchial health problems, as well as putting families at risk of burns and fires.
Put several hundred thousand people in refugee camps, and imagine how these problems compound. In addition to all the problems above, women who leave the camps to collect wood are often raped and brutalized.
Solar cookers and an amazingly simple solution. They concentrate the sun's rays in a contraption that looks like a giant vegetable steamer. It is simply a heavy cardboard box-like affair, covered with reflective material, where the food cooks in a closed bag in the center base. For $30, a refugee family is provided with 2, along with supplies for the year. Learning to use this technology involves some adaptation. Cooking takes longer. On the other hand, there are no hours wasted searching for firewood. And occasionally it's too cloudy to be practical, so some back up fuel must be available.
Here are some ways this little gizmo solves immense problems:

  1. It's free!
  2. It's carbon-emission free!
  3. It keeps families together, safe from attack, allowing them to concentrate on other tasks.
  4. It saves families from constant exposure to the toxins and fire risks of woodburning.
  5. The kits are manufactured on site, providing employment for refugees.
Probably there are additional benefits, which others may want to add.
Solar cooking is an option for anyone. There are quite a few cookers on the market, or you can just make one. You can learn more about the international movement at
If you live in Philadelphia we're featuring a Solar Cooker event this Sunday, March 2, at 9:30 at Germantown Jewish Centre in Mt. Airy. Speakers from Darfur Alert will be there, along with a demo of the solar cooker. The folks from Darfur Alert have done a great job keeping this crisis in the forefront; four years running and the genocide continues....
If any readers have experience with solar cooking, please share it.

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