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Fireless Cooking: Combating Climate Change through Entrepreneurship

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The urge to bite into a meal cooked with pure solar energy led me on a trip to the outskirts of the Kisumu city center, to a place known as Rabuor.

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Elva Ondiek, seated far on the right having a discussion with her members, photo by Monica Guya

In Summary

  • Clean energy use can reduce the effects of global warming
  • Solar energy is a cheaper alternative to gas and charcoal

The urge to bite into a meal cooked with pure solar energy led me on a trip to the outskirts of the Kisumu city center, to a place known as Rabuor.

After 25 minutes on the road, I arrived at Armstrong Women’s Empowerment Center a few minutes past 9 o’clock.

Checking my phone’s weather application, it indicated an average temperature of 29°C for the day. Hopefully, this was enough sun to make a meal.

Elva Rebecca Ondiek, founder of Armstrong, shared this same concern, “The sun today isn’t as hot as yesterday, but hopefully it will get hotter throughout the day,” she said.

With a background in counseling psychology, how did she get into the world of clean energy cooking?

“Having worked in the non-profit world for 12 years, I was heavily involved with multiple community projects particularly on the importance of saving. However, people cannot save what they do not have,” she explains.

Noticing the gap, she created Armstrong in 2016 as a social enterprise center that would teach women how to save while engaging them in sustainable income generating activities.

Elva on the right with members Rose Akoth next to her, Susana Oketch and Pamela Auma preparing the meals. Sufuria's are lightweight and painted black to help absorb the sun's rays, photo by Monica Guya
Elva on the right with members Rose Akoth next to her, Susana Osodo (bending) and Pamela Auma preparing the meals. Sufuria’s are lightweight and painted black to help absorb the sun’s rays, photo by Monica Guya
Climate Action

Armstrong works in partnership with Afrishiners, a German organization focused on clean energy, clean cooking and waste management with networks in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and the DR Congo.

While Afrishiners provides the knowledge, expertise and technology on the solar products, it is the passion of Elva and the Armstrong women that has seen 20 households in the area take up clean energy cooking so far.

“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can only be achieved if it’s inclusive. They contribute to global warming; instead of telling them to stop cutting down trees why not offer a cleaner cheaper alternative?” she asks.

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Goal 13 of the SDGs is climate action focusing on taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. It targets improved education, raising awareness on human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning.

Experts on global warming were of the opinion that if average temperatures rose by 2°C, the adverse effects of climate change would be catastrophic.

Pauline Odhiambo checking on the boiling pot of rice which is then transferred to the fire less basket to continue the cooking process, photo by Monica Guya
Pauline Auma checking on the boiling pot of rice on the parabolic cooker which is then transferred to the fireless basket to continue the cooking process, photo by Monica Guya

However, a special report issued in October 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that if average temperatures rose to 1.5°C, the effects would be just as ominous.

The report also stated that there’s a 95% probability that human activities along with human-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide over the last 50 years have greatly contributed to the warmer weather we now experience.

An atmospheric interaction between these greenhouse gases and the ozone layer causes a depletion of the layer and a rise in temperatures leading to global warming.

Clean Energy Cooking

The women set up four different devices that will cook a diverse menu which includes; beef stew, roast beef, omena, rice and a cake.

Since they require solar energy, all but one of the devices is made of reflective material that directs the sun’s rays to a specific area to generate heat.

Resembling a satellite dish, the Parabolic solar cooker reaches temperatures of up to 350°C and higher is suitable for frying, grilling and boiling.

The solar box and the Haieles cooker, operate much like the Parabolic cooker except they don’t generate as much heat. They are suitable for slow cooking meals such as beef stew, roast beef, omena, and baking.

Mr. Timon explaining how the fireless basket on the right, the haieles cooker (center )and solar box on the far left work in order to cook rice, beef and omena , photo by Monica Guya
Mr. Timon Ambuso explaining how the fireless basket on the right, the haieles cooker (center )and solar box on the far left work , photo by Monica Guya

“Each device produces a different amount of heat, we must consider this when deciding what device to use while cooking”, explains Elva.

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The exception to the norm, the fireless basket traps, and stores heat cooking the food over a period of time. Made from newspapers, palm leaves, blanket waste, cloth, and black nylon (heavy gauge) paper, it also keeps food warm for up to 8 hours.

A member of Armstrong for the past 2 years, Rose Akoth, a widow, has been able to eke out a good living from making the fireless baskets.

“It allows me to provide for my household, save on fuel and have enough money left to save,” she says.

James Odhengo, 28, a trainer with the group says working with the women has changed his life for the better.

“I used to work as a shopkeeper but I prefer this job. Not only do I earn a better income, but I also acquired skills and knowledge which are invaluable,” he explains.

Challenges

With the parabolic cooker, solar box, Haieles cooker and fireless basket retailing at Ksh. 100,000/=, Ksh. 6000/=, Ksh. 2800/= and Ksh. 2000/=, the cost of producing them 100% is too expensive for the women.

“Currently some of the products have to be imported but we are working towards local production.

Our biggest challenge is finance, I would urge the government and private sector to invest more in solar technology,” says Elva.

She also encourages universities and technical colleges to revise their courses in relevance to the current climate change issues.

Hours after I arriving at Armstrong, wafting in the air was a sweet aroma indicating that the food was ready.

The final outcome, a plate of rice with potatoes, roast beef and beef stew, photo by Monica Guya
The final outcome, a plate of rice with potatoes, roast beef and beef stew, photo by Monica Guya

With a cooking time of 50 minutes, 11/6 hours, 1 ½ hours, 3 hours and 3 hours for the beef stew, roast beef, rice, omena, and the dessert for the meal, cake, the food was just as sumptuous as shown in the photo.

It was so well cooked, there was no tangible difference between the food and that which is cooked with charcoal or gas. It was certainly worth the trip.

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By Monica Guya

I am a freelance journalist and writer from Kisumu County. I am passionate about all issues to do with mental health. I also love to read and tell stories of everyday life!

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