Kenyans turn to solar cooking

solar power
solar power

Busia, Kenya - In this sunny part of Kenya, solar cookers - which trap sunlight to heat food - have surged in popularity in recent years.

But a big problem remains: How to cook when the sun doesn't shine?

Communities are now starting to sort out solutions, from insulated baskets that hold onto heat after the sun disappears to use of back-up, fuel-efficient charcoal and firewood stoves.

"Fluctuations in sunshine can hinder cooking using the solar [system], but with the basket we nowadays prepare tea during the day and can drink it after sunset," said Peter Wanga, whose family has been using a solar cooking system since last year.

The insulated basket "conserves enough heat to cook food even when there is no sunshine" - and is affordable and easy to use, he said.

In Busia County, western Kenya, as many as 1500 households have turned to solar cooking, mostly over the last four years, according to the county's ministry of energy figures.

Other families have adopted more efficient charcoal or firewood stoves. The changes in large have been driven by Farmers with a Vision (FWA), a local community organisation based in Bumala.

Over the last four years, "we have sold thousands of solar cookers and energy saving charcoal and wood stoves, and also found a platform to promote use of solar energy appliances such as lighting equipment", said Didacus Odhiambo, FWA's CEO.

He said the clean energy effort has faced significant challenges, including as many as 60% of buyers defaulting on loans for equipment.

The switch to more efficient cooking aims to cut deforestation in Kenya, and health problems related to cooking over smoky fires.

Those who have bought the new systems said another attraction is that they require only about a third of the usual time to cook food or heat water.

Lilian Nyapola, a member of FWA, said the new technologies have led to a decline in use of firewood and paraffin that are costly and emit smoke.

Nyapola said her 32-member organisation has worked in schools, churches and homes to train community members on the new technologies, and that men have backed women switching to new cooking technology, not least because food can be cooked faster and rarely burns, and children aren't injured in fires.

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