solar-cookersAn estimated three billion people around the globe rely on open, bio-fuel based fires to cook. Open-fire cooking can cause injuries from open flames, generate long-term health issues from smoke inhalation, and aggravate deforestation. Furthermore, the time-consuming and often dangerous task of traveling long distances to collect biofuel and maintain the fire disproportionately burdens women and children. Solar-cookers offer a cheap, clean and safe alternative to cooking with an open fire. Implementing this technology can help families avoid the detrimental effects of open-fire cooking that contribute to the cycle of poverty. 

How Solar Cookers Work

Solar-cookers are oven-like devices that use mirrored surfaces to concentrate the sun’s thermal energy and heat the cooker’s contents. These devices are easily constructed with low-cost materials and even the most rudimentary model—the box cooker—can cook at a temperature up to 140° Celsius, or 284° Fahrenheit. 

How Solar-Cookers Help Break the Cycle of Poverty

  1. The only fuel needed to operate solar-cookers is both free and abundant—the sun. While some regions are better suited for harvesting sunlight than others, 85% of the 500 million people living in sun-abundant territories suffer from regional biofuel shortages. Due to these shortages, families either spend as much as 25% of annual income on biofuel or regularly travel long distances to collect it themselves. Solar-cookers relieve families of this financial burden. Besides the initial cost of purchase or construction, solar-cookers need only sunlight to operate. The funding typically allotted for fuel can then be spent on education, increased healthcare or more nutritious foods.
  2. Solar-cookers provide time for families to pursue other activities. Cooking with open fires can require as many as four hours daily to retrieve biofuels. Comparatively, solar-cookers eliminate the need to travel large distances in order to cook altogether. Additionally, the food in solar-cookers does not need regular stirring and can be left unattended for the total cook time. For the women and children typically involved in the process of maintaining the fire or gathering fuel, the valuable time saved can be spent on other economically beneficial activities, such as pursuing education, caring for family members or producing and preparing goods for sale.
  3. Solar-cookers can reduce the rate of infections and death due to water-borne illnesses. Solar cookers can be used to pasteurize water in locations where potable sources of water are unavailable. Eliminating the cost of biomass fuel to heat the water, solar-cookers make consistent purification of drinking water more economically viable. Water purification also saves families from unnecessary and costly expenditures on healthcare due to water-borne illnesses.
  4. Solar-cookers combat malnutrition. High levels of childhood stunting, a direct effect of chronic malnutrition, correlates directly with household poverty. Biofuel-scarcity contributes to malnutrition, as families exclude foods with higher nutritional value due to longer cook times. Solar-cookers eliminate this problem, allowing families to restore nutrient-heavy foods to their diets. Additionally, the slow cooking style of solar-cookers allows food to retain more nutrients than if cooked through traditional methods. Lastly, local food production and availability improve as solar-cookers reduce deforestation; the increased quality of soil and water lends itself to superior agricultural production.
  5. Solar-cookers eliminate the risk of health issues caused by open fires. According to the World Health Organization, household air pollution from open fire cooking and simple stoves are responsible for approximately four million deaths annually. Accidents from open-fire cooking can lead to burn injuries and disfigurement, as well as the destruction of property. Solar-cookers are entirely flame and smoke-free. These devices effectively eliminate the detrimental consequences of meal and water preparation and save families from burdensome healthcare costs.

Solar-Cookers in Action

The success stories are plenty. In the Iridimi refugee camp in Chad, distribution of solar-cookers by the NGO Solar Cookers International caused an 86% drop in trips outside of camp to collect firewood. This reduced exposure to violence from the Janjaweed militia group. Additionally, food consumption increased as families no longer needed to barter food rations away for firewood. In Oaxaca, Mexico, where households spend as much as 10% income on energy, Solar Household Energy supplied 200 local women with solar cookers in 2016. Today, users report that the cookers have reduced the use of their woodstoves by more than 50% and that they have more free time. Many of the women now organize solar-cooker demonstrations in their homes to promote the benefits of leaving open-fire cooking behind. 

– Alexandra Black
Photo: Flickr


Solar Cookers International aims to provide thermal cooking technologies to those who most need them. Over three billion people eat food cooked over an open fire, and burning organic matter instead of returning it to the land causes soil erosion and a decline in crop production.

Solar Cookers International has already distributed 155,000 units worldwide.  They teach individuals how to cook during sunny weather, at night and during severe weather. They also educate the users on how to use a water pasteurization indicator so that they may produce safe water to drink.  Moreover, Solar Cookers International has recently made it their goal to provide 20 percent of families with access to solar cooking technology by 2030.

Projects to distribute the cookers in Chad, Haiti, Kenya and Madagascar have been successfully implemented.  Solar Cookers International provided cookers in four refugee camps in Chad where many of the women have been teaching each other how to use the technology. Cookers were distributed in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake in an attempt to help preserve more of the forests.

Cookers were also distributed to refugee camps in Kenya and now provide food for over 15,000 families.  Cookers were distributed in Madagascar, also to help preserve the forests, and as a region that averages 330 sunny days per year, the cookers have become an extremely common means of cooking. Over 50,000 cookers are in use; as a result, deforestation has been reduced by around 65  percent.

Solar Cookers International operates on four basic principles: visibility, technology, training and conferences.  The goals are to “increase awareness about the life and earth saving power of solar cooking, to improve solar cooking designs, to promote and provide training in how to use solar cookers, and to expand [their] role in regional and international conferences on solar cooking and other fuel efficient cooking methods.”

Solar Cookers International’s ultimate goal, however, is to “change and save lives with solar cooking thermal technology.”

– Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: Solar Cookers International, SCInet Wiki
Photo: EPA


Solar Cookers International (SCI) is a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading knowledge and techniques of solar cooking technology to the poorest parts of the world. The organization works extensively in Chad, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe. Founded in 1987 by a small group of solar cooks in Sacramento, California, SCI began as a small effort by a contingent of people devoted to a single cause: to provide poverty relief through the technology of solar power. By 1999, UNESCO became a beneficiary of SCI by sponsoring regional conferences in poverty stricken countries like India, Kenya, and Honduras. Since its founding, Solar Cookers International has delivered its technology to over 30,000 families in Africa.

Solar cookers are particularly helpful in Africa because they remove the need for African women to leave their homesteads to gather firewood. For instance, Sudanese refugee women in Chad are frequently assaulted by enemy combatants upon departure from their camps, often resulting in severe injury or death. The presence of solar cookers in villages in Chad allows Chadian women to provide for their families while preserving their own personal wellbeing.

So how does Solar Cookers International receive funding for such an ambitious project? Although much of its support base comes from the generous donations of individuals and foundations, SCI also raises money through the sale of solar cookers in the United States and other developed countries. If you are interested in supporting this great cause to alleviate poverty in Africa, visit the SCI website for more information on purchasing a solar cooker. In addition to being energy efficient and better for the environment, the profits will be going towards poverty reduction in some of the poorest areas of the world.

– Josh Forgét