by Rosalyn Rappaport.
Over 90% of people in the Gambia cook on wood fires and must spend their income or time fetching wood. The country is semi-arid. Both forests and the open, dry woodlands are shrinking as the growing population chops down trees and burns charcoal to supply its cooking stoves.
The Gambia Renewable Energy Centre and the Methodist Mission Agriculture Program are working to promote solar cooking. Sam Davis, the MMAP director, persuaded thirteen women in and near Marakissa village to learn to use solar cookers and reduce their dependence on wood or charcoal. They, in their turn, could train others.
Visiting trainers demonstrated several different solar cookers, including the ‘Kookit’ and Box Cooker. The impact on the women when they observed a pot of water boiling was sensational. For the women, the possibilities were exciting and they formed a solar cooking club. But learning by trial and error can be frustrating and the technique remained an agreeable Sunday activity at first, not part of their domestic routine.
One problem was that the normal sized cooking pots tend to be too large to fit conventional solar cookers. Also there are no locally available ‘crisp’ plastic bags which are required by box cookers (see Footsteps 21).
The following conclusions were reached after the training sessions:
- Women will only be convinced of the benefits of solar cooking if they are encouraged and supported in experimenting with cooking methods. Demonstrations by ‘outsiders’ will achieve little. The policy of working closely with a small group of women over time and then using them to train others is ideal.
- Solar cooker designs must be easy for local craftsmen to produce and cheap to buy.
- Women were very quick to understand the techniques of solar cooking, the limitations and possibilities. They needed support to find the right design and to experiment.
Rosalyn Rappaport is an author who has worked as an extension agent with USAID and as a horticulturist in Zambia and Mauritania.