Solar Cookers Revolutionize West Africa, By Audu Liberty Oseni, African Executive, 30 January- 06 February 2013

Events in communities of West Africa have shown that solar energy, other than providing alternative for electric power, is serving as basis for solar cookers, stoves and ovens. Ghana drew attention during the solar cooking year in 2002 when a project headed by Dr. Mercy Bannerman emerged as one of the top winners at the World Bank’s Development Marketplace, an occasion that takes place yearly to display excellent innovations in less developed nations. Dr. Bannerman, won the award for her project entitled “Simple Solar for Health + Wealth”.The $100,000-award was meant for preparing additional people to multiply the technology in Ghana. The project has now gone away from home use to the formation of small scale ventures for making solar cookers and marketing them. Dr. Bannerman has been given monies for related reasons via Rotary International’s programmes. Her award was a landmark for solar cooking supporters all over, with its appreciation of the prospects of the technology as a vital factor in development.

Frank Otchere, has successfully built and used a solar CooKit in Ghana. Expanding on what he has done, over 60 solar cookers have been constructed by villagers, and are being marketed for about $5 for one. Otchere and Bannerman had arranged to assist in supporting solar cooking in Ghana: Bannerman to focus in the Upper East, Upper West and Northern regions; whereas Otchere in the Eastern, Ashanti and Brong-Ahafo regions.

Efforts to improve on this invention by governments, individuals and nongovernmental organizations have been recorded enormously. Eleven women from the West Africa Network for Peace Building and the Women in Peace Building Network had a one-month training workshop in Ghana on making of solar stoves. The women were selected from Margibi, Montserrado, Bong, Nimba and Lofa. In a similar development, many participants from several parts of Togo and Ghana were present at a conference organized by Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement (JVE), displaying solar cooking and solar water pasteurization. Construction workshops were also available to conference participants. Beneficiaries of a JVE solar project gave evidence of how solar cooking has touched lives in the Vo region. Present at the conference were Togo’s Deputy Director of the Ministry of Environment and the Minister of Youth, and representatives of the media.

In the northern region of Ghana, Grace Akawe supervises 90 solar cookers and the users in Tamale and the immediate societies; she goes there twice every week. Whereas in the upper west region, Jacinta Ziem supervises a entirety of 25 solar cookers and their users in the municipality of Wa and the surrounding areas, where she visits two Saturdays in a month. Both of them are famous in their vicinity and have grown a strong relationship among the users. As they do the supervision, they also teach the users of the solar cooker on the ways to maintain it and keep it fit to use at all times.

In Liberia, for instance, NGO Sustainability’s project is introducing Small Scale Solar and this move intends to sustain community participation in training on the use and making of solar cookers, enhanced cook stoves, solar pumps, WAPIs and solar lanterns. It is expected that upon triumphant achievement of this, the project would be initiated in other areas of Liberia as a scheme that assists in the alleviation of an adjustment to climate change. In a related development, True Faith Missions (Pastor Hal Nichols) has introduced solar oven to communities in Liberia and it is making a mammoth accomplishment and so far nine families have built and are using them, and the people were very glad to learn that they can cook rice using the sun.

In Nigeria, Prof. RoseAchunine had met with students of the Department of Physics and Industrial Physics at Evan Enwerem University in Owerri, a south eastern city. The students have designed their own edition of parabolic solar cookers and solar box cookers. They desire to enhance effectiveness and homogenize their designs to make the solar cookers more proficient and trustworthy for use by local inhabitants, as well as metropolitan inhabitants. They will carry on their endeavor to offer training workshops for the rural inhabitants. In a similar vein, Margaret Koshoni presented a solar cooking seminar in Lagos. The seminar was organized by the Cosmopolitan Women’s Club with over 400 participants from government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, women’s groups, schools, and even a few banks, in attendance. As a result of the usefulness of the seminar, Lagos State Government’s Commissioner for Women Affairs urged Koshoni to organize future workshops for the whole Lagos State Local Government Areas. On the same accomplishment, Renewable Energy Technology Company Ltd had a training program on solar cooking at New Bussa, Niger state. The company further collaborated with Girls Guide/Scout of America for the Girls Guide of Nigeria to replicate the workshop on solar cooking at the Women Centre in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.

The Gambia is not left out of the solar cooker initiative. Lamin Sawo of the Health Education and Agricultural Development (AHEAD) discussed exploits in AHEAD’s large-scale solar cooking scheme in The Gambia, disclosing that 900 households now use solar cookers. AHEAD had carried out solar cooking trainings in five villages in Gambia and had workshops where it trained 12-15 women per village in the art of making and using solar cookers. These women that were trained in turn trained others. They have put up a trainers’ cooperative called Tilo Tabiro. In a similar effort, Boka Loho Organization, has built and demonstrated solar cookers at agricultural shows and other events. They manufacture cookers, tutor users, and also work with schools in the encouragement and support of solar energy usage. In supporting this move, the Gambia Ministry of Trade and Industry has trained women’s groups as users and carpenters in the making of box cookers for solar cooker making.

Mali has also bought into the initiative of solar cooker, as The Association of Handicapped Women of Mali (AMAFH) continues to put together solar cooker training for its members in Bamako, with assistance from the Association of Women Engineers (AFIMA) and monetary assistance from Dutch KoZon Foundation. At the moment AMAFH has taught 60 deaf and hard-of-hearing women, fifty women with leprosy and 20 mentally disabled women on means of utilizing CooKit solar cooker at two day training it organized for them.

The Togolese are also in the race to catch up with solar cooker revolution as Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement (JVE) has taken its hot message to over 150 youths in the country. Over 100 participants from several cities in Togo, Cote d’Ivoire and Benin assembled for a workshop in Notse. On this three-day workshop, participants learnt fundamental solar cooking concepts and skills; they crafted their own solar CooKits. JVE had organized Operation Amis du Soleil, a five-day gathering in the Casablanca quarter of Lome and this brought jointly numerous numbers of persons, the majority of which were youth, to be trained on solar cooker use and to make solar cookers for JVE’s solar water pasteurization project in Vo prefecture.

The prospects of solar cooker in West African urban poor communities are enormous; about 87% households use either kerosene or firewood in making their food in the region. In Nigeria, for instance, kerosene is no longer affordable generality of the populace as the price has skyrocketed in the face of subsidy removal and sharp practices by marketers who convert the commodity to aviation fuel. And those who use electric stoves are likely to opt for the solar cooker option too as power supply is epileptic and increasing in cost. Desperate search for firewood has been caused serious deforestation, exposing the communities to the vagaries of climate change. Those trainees who eventually venture into the business of making solar cooker are likely to be in for a boom, as the liquefied natural gas alternative to kerosene, electric and wood stoves is yet to kindle.

Of course, immediate areas of intervention should include support for businesses and not-for-profits engaged in training, production and support for users of solar cookers in West Africa. Government agencies, especially MDAs responsible for health, environment, energy, technology, women and the like, must be made to understand the organic place of these devices through behavior change workshops and exercises. In its discussion on sustainable energy for all, the regional body ECOWAS must take local technological inventions in the region serious and must commit more money for research and development where initiatives like this can be improved upon and standardized. This will be most imperative for ECOWAS as it pushes for West African regional integration as technology is a driving force for development.

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