Malian women take up solar cooking to halt deforestation

  • By Dansira Dembele, IRD/BRACED
  • 12/04/2016

A woman prepares the solar cooking kit in Kolokani, Mali /IRD

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Mariam cannot believe it. In front of her, in the soaring heat of Kolokani village, Mali, an ordinary cardboard box covered with aluminum on the inside serves as a kitchen stove. A beef dish simmers in a black pot contained in a heat-resistant plastic bag. Replacing traditional charcoal or wood stoves, the device arouses the curiosity of many in the village. It has been dubbed "Cookit": solar cooking kit.

Outside of the town hall, about 20 women from Koulikoro, Segou and Mopti gather for a training session on this unprecedented culinary technology, as part of the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme. One of its priorities is to increase vulnerable communities’ assets and access to resources by introducing improved Natural Resource Management (NRM) practices.

Cookit comes with an insulating basked called "thermos basket", woven with rattan and cotton inside. It preserves heat and cold and can be used to finish cooking dishes. The training also showcases a cooking stove using as little wood as possible. The "Cookit", the cooking stove and the "thermos basket” constitute the integrated solar cooking technology. The combination of solar energy and heat conservation limits the amount of wood being used, thus limiting deforestation and cutting down on costs.

Limiting wood use

A study by the Malian Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development found that wood represented 90 percent of the energy used for cooking. It puts wood consumption for cooking at 1.35kg of wood per person per day – somewhat alarming given the drastic reduction of timber resources and the advancing desert.

To remedy this, regional groups of 45 women are being trained and equipped with a thermos basket, a solar cooker and a metal hearth, all for home use. They are then trusted to teach these techniques to at least 30 women in their communities.

Komotene Fane, who followed the training session, explains Cookit’s benefits: "The abundance and zero cost of sun have drastically reduced families’ spending on wood. Deforestation is limited. Housekeepers no longer need to fetch wood for long distances." The cooking technique can also be used to simmer food, thus preserving its nutritional value.

The Malian Women Engineers Association, a partner on this resilience project, helps empower women both in urban and rural areas to limit wood consumption. The RIC4REC project ultimately aims to increase the resilience to climate extremes of 264,000 people across the Koulikoro, Segou, and Mopti regions.

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