Solar cooker in use Maasai Mara

I didn’t believe it possible but I found this lady actually using a solar cooker in the Masai Mara!

Mama solar cooker

Mama solar cooker

Made only of cardboard and tin foil this cooker fold up into a neat little package. It apparently cooks potatoes and cabbage in just 1 hour!

She told me that she got it as part of a study – one solar cooker was given to every manyatta. She couldn’t rememer which organization was handing them out but she has adapted hers by putting her pot into a plastic bag which she says retains the heat better. She says she’ll continue using the solar cooker after the study and will even buy one  at Ksh 1,000.

She still has a 3 stone wood fire to cook meat.

I wonder what happens to this device when it rains…does the cardboard become a sodden mess?

15 comments » Write a comment

  1. Wow! Good memories! I lived in Ethiopia for a while, and we once got two of these from an american group from California that came to visit us. This model is made by Solar Cookers International and does indeed work great! Rain is a problem, you just have to be careful. It requires an (turkey) oven bag and something underneath your preferably black pot for insulation. Take a look at http://solarcookers.org/ for detailse

  2. Solar cookers have been around for a while now but this home made one is pretty cool and the willingness to use it instead of faster or convenient cooking methods deserves applause.

  3. These solar cookers were introduced by Solar Cookers International. They are also being made and sold by a local group in Nyakach in Nyanza using locally available materials. We have made one at no cost out of a cardboard carton a chocolate and crisp (American chip) wrappers. The main challenge has been finding an effective adhesive in rural areas to follow this through.
    Of course if they get wet the cardboard easily spoils, but rain is rarely a problem as you can only use them when the sun is shining, adn you need to supervise the cooking. There are limitations in that you have to keep a watch and move the cooker as the sun moves. The other major limitation is that most people eat later in the day. One solution to this is to use a fireless cooker (haybox or insulated basket) to keep the food warm for serving later.
    Solar cookers are also good for baking cakes. This is a particularly popular use for those who do not have ovens and the timing of cooking when the sun is high is far more suited to baking.

  4. Happy to hear about use of the great SCI CookIt. While the cardboard construction does not stand up well to the weather and wind in the Himalayas, or provide the high energy required for cooking here, we are excited to test baking bread w/ Michaela Borghese in W. China beginning August 2009. We look forward to reporting the results!

  5. Excellent!

    I’m surprised to hear that “she has adapted hers by putting her pot into a plastic bag” because the plastic bag should be essential and standard issue. It causes a greenhouse effect around that pot whereas otherwise the heat is just blown away from the pot by the breeze.

    Oven bags are the usual recommendation but sourcing these in rural Africa is a challenge (!). I have heard that it can be done with thin white supermarket poly bags but because they melt easily you have to keep them away from the pot with a wire frame or similar.

    Sitting the pot on three small stones gives an insulating air-gap underneath which also increases the pot temperature.

    just my 2pnth

    [m]

  6. Wow, thanks for all the great comments. I’m in Tibet -and am amazed to discover that the solar cooker is also used here – in the monasteries! How cool is that!? Also, much use of solar heating for water and yak dung, yes yak dung for warming houses and cooking up gallons of yak butter tea. That’s right it’s absolutely disgusting!

  7. Paula, I think I’m just north of where you are right now! The warm water for yaks or cows really does increase their milk production, but I’d have to say that yak butter tea is quintessential to Himalayan plateau survival.

    These people have lived for hundreds of years in this way…and instead I might suggest that the Big Mac is actually rather disgusting (you don’t even know where it comes from…). But, come back in the winter when it is -20C all day long, plus wind chill. It’s a great time for developing a taste for yak butter tea (little else grows around here, and when people offer you more than what they really have, it’s best to show your appreciation despite your gut’s true reaction).

  8. Thanks for that advice Scot, I have to admit, I could not digest the yak butter tea but we’ve had an amazing time. ..just back from Qomolangma (Everest) base camp which was amazing, yaks everywhere and yak dung mixed with sheep dung is the only source of fuel out here. Considering the size of beams in the temples and monasteries one has to wonder if this area once had big trees? Or was the timber imported? It’s such a bleak landscape, yet unbelievably pretty – when the sun is out. Lhasa is a bit of a police state – how on earth did you get permission to work out here?

  9. It is indeed pretty–that area receives an unbelievable amount of solar radiation, making it great for solar cooking with high-power parabolic designs, and the environmental features have necessarily dub the region as the Third Pole for both “local” and “global” reasons of climate change.

    One Earth Designs is not working in the areas you are now. Our main foci are energy, water, infrastructure, and education across the western China and northern India areas with a diverse group of peoples and communities, though or geographic scope is limited by financial constraints at the moment. We’ve received interest from people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, and other countries–and we hope to reach them soon!

  10. I am pretty amazed to see this after failing to see any solar stoves in real use in the field during 10 years of fieldwork in this region…

  11. Solar cookers are being used by Darfuri refugees, provided by Jewish World Watch and German CARE. You can read more and see videos of the cookers in action at http://solarray.blogspot.com/2008/01/my-solar-christmas.html

    I particularly like the fact that they are also using “hotbox” technology too, heating the pot of food in the solar cooker and then placing it in an insulated container for slow cooking on the retained heat. Back in the 19th century, hotbox slow cookers used hay as an insulator.

  12. You can make one of those cookers for much less than 1000 ksh. The cooking bags are the hardest thing to find. You should be able to get them from solar cookers international for about 10 to 20 ksh/piece. Each bag will last about 10 to 20 times. Without the bag, the food really doesn’t get hot enough. Solar cookers international supposedly has an office in Nairobi. According to google, the contact information is:

    P. O. Box 51190
    Githunguri Rd, Kilimani, Nairobi, 00200, Kenya
    +254 20 4347144

  13. Hi Michale, Gmoke, Frank and Scot. Thanks for these wonderful comments. The lady was using a normal plastic bag – Michael I’ll have to look into the availability of bags in Nairobi. Scot – Wow, sounds amazing! I wish I could stay in this region, it’s fantastic (am in Beijing which is great apart from the air pollution).

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