- See also Calendar of events
News and recent developments
- May 2011: Twelve women participated in a program where they first constructed solar box cookers under the direction from the Solar Women of Totogalpa in Nicaragua. Then they set about to create their favorite recipe and demonstrated their new ovens in a cook-off at the Solar Trade Fair. Mauro Perez, a member and only man in the Women's Association is working on the project to develop solar equipment use. In addition to solar cookers, the association constructs solar energy panels and equipment for homes and farms. The group also sponsors international university students to come to the workshop and participate in the construction programs. Perez also reported to have received support from United Nations Program for the construction of infrastructure at the workshop. It is encouraging to see the participation of the United Nations in the effort to promote solar cooking programs.
- February 2011 UC Davis alternative energy group sent a team to Nicaragua to set up a solar box dryer. More information...
- July 2010 Solar Women of Totogalpa is the name of a cooperative made up of 19 women and a man who are working to promote, produce and do research on renewable energy in the northern province of Madriz, Nicaragua, for the sustainable development of the family and the community. They have been involved in their community for quite a while helping to promote energy production in areas with no traditional source of electricity . Early emphasis was primarily with photo voltaic solar panel installation. After some time, the women agreed that they thought the solar ovens were more a priority, as even with electricity, they were still cooking with wood stoves. Saving the forested areas and smoke elimination while cooking were deemed more important for community health. More Information...
- April 2010: Grupo Fenix was founded in 1995 by a group of engineering students and professor Susan Kinne at the National Engineering University (Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería) in Managua, Nicaragua. The mission of Grupo Fenix is to contribute to the wellbeing of rural communities, creating an awareness of sustainable lifestyles through technical and cultural exchange, promotion, and research in the field of renewable energy. A 1999 Grupo Fenix project to reintegrate landmine victims into society through renewable energy technology jobs gave birth to the Solar Women of Totogalpa — a group of nearly two dozen women, mostly single mothers with little time or money, that recognized the potential benefits solar cookers and solar food dryers could bring to themselves and their community. The Solar Women have been learning about and teaching solar cooking and drying for several years. A 2008 survey of 18 Solar Women, predominantly living in Sabana Grande, revealed that they use their solar cookers daily or almost daily, usually in conjunction with a more traditional wood or gas stove. They frequently use solar cookers to roast coffee, as well as to cook meat, rice, eggs, beans, and bananas. Twelve of the surveyed women say they are now able to bake and roast foods that they could not do easily over fire, while 11 of them use the solar cookers to produce items for sale, such as baked goods, candies, and roast coffee. According to Grupo Fenix volunteer Charlotte Ross, the Solar Women are committed to working together to create job opportunities for themselves and future generations. “Women that have been generally shy and passive for generations are now taking a vested interest in bettering their community and environment, making and voting on decisions about their future, listening to themselves and one another, and feeling proud about what they have to say.” The Solar Women not only teach others to make solar cookers from simple materials like scrap cardboard and aluminum foil, but also manufacture and sell solar box cookers made from durable materials like metal and wood. These cookers are fairly large, and accommodate multiple cooking pots. Through service-learning partnerships with university groups like Engineers in Technical Humanitarian Opportunities of Service-learning (ETHOS) and Engineers for a Sustainable World, the Solar Women have been able to improve upon their solar cooker designs while giving real-world development experience to students. The planned sustainable community in Sabana Grande recently passed its first milestone with the construction of a solar center Grupo Fenix and the Solar Women hope to create a model sustainable community in Sabana Grande that creates jobs and is replicable. Recently, the Solar Women took a huge step forward by planning and constructing a solar center on three acres of land situated on the main highway to Honduras. They hand made the nearly 6,000 adobe bricks used in the structure, and collectively volunteered over 8,000 hours in one year to build the center. This first building houses a small office, a shop for building solar cookers and photovoltaic panels, and a small warehouse. Grupo Fenix and the Solar Women hope to further develop the land to include a research center, market, and solar restaurant. Recent grants from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) and the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS) will be used to get the solar restaurant up and running. In late 2007, the Solar Women fulfilled their first significant order for solar box cookers. They won a solar cooker competition hosted by the Mayor of Esteli, which led to funding to build and deliver 22 solar cookers to select families in Esteli. This was followed by workshops on how to use and care for the solar cookers, and tips for assimilating the solar cookers into daily routines. Grupo Fenix and the Solar Women have received national and international recognition for their dedication to sustainable development and for serving as a model to other communities in Nicaragua and beyond. Most recently, the Solar Women were one of five Supporting Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development (SEED) award winners. SEED is a global network founded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), and UNDP. SEED awards support local start-up enterprises working in developing countries to improve livelihoods, reduce poverty, and manage natural resources. The specific project submitted by the Solar Women — Lighting up Hope and Communities — includes the production and sale of solar cookers and solar food dryers, solar roasted coffee, solar-baked cookies, and solar-produced jams, jellies, and pickles. “This award recognizes [the Solar Women’s] innovation and entrepreneurship, and their likely contribution to promote economic growth, social development, and environmental management in Nicaragua,” noted SEED Executive Director Helen Marquard.
- August 2009: Students create Salud del Sol to market solar cookers as autoclaves in Nicaragua - State Department Federal Credit Union Brass Magazine
- November 2008: Project report: Uso y Impactos de Cocinas Solares (See also English version) - Grupo Fenix
- August 2008: Elena Pineda is known as "the tortilla lady" in Jinotega, a mountain community in Nicaragua. She had used a wood-burning stove to cook her totillas for a long time, but it produced a lot of smoke. Elena's life changed though when she was visited by Sue Kellett. Kellet is a member of the St. Edward Parish in Bloomington, Minn and is developing a new smokeless cooker. When her and Elena met, Sue knew that Elena would benefit greatly from using this new cooker. Since Sue gave her the gift of a new stove, Elena has been able to cook tortillas faster and in a much safer environment because it does not produce huge plumes of smoke.
- August 2008: Wendell and Sammie Rickon of Mendocino, California (USA) have experimented with a number of solar cookers since being reintroduced to the concept in the summer of 2006. Later that same year they ordered a solar CooKit and some literature from Solar Cookers International (SCI), joined the organization, and learned much more about the usefulness of solar cookers on a global scale. After many successful solar meals, and a few failures, the Rickons were confident that they could solar cook most of the non-fried foods in their diet. Their thoughts turned to the community of Ciudad Dario, Nicaragua where their son directs Seeds of Learning (SOL), a small nonprofit educational organization. The Rickons asked if he could incorporate a solar cooking component into his work at SOL. He challenged them to write a project proposal, secure funding, and volunteer some of their own time to get a project going. They met his challenge, and spent much of 2007 gathering training materials from SCI, building solar cookers, and, of course, cooking! In November 2007 the Rickons packed a supply of aluminum foil and transparent oven roasting bags and headed for Nicaragua. Upon arriving in Ciudad Dario, the Rickons promoted solar cookers to anyone who seemed interested, including family members, friends, SOL staff, and Peace Corps volunteers. They conducted a number of small workshops, during which participants learned to make and use solar CooKits and sampled solar dishes such as beans, rice, squash and chocolate chip cookies. In all, the Rickons taught 48 people, including several SOL staff members and two university students that agreed to continue the project with the support and assistance of SOL.
- July 2007: The foundation Sustainable Technology and Energy for Vital Economic Needs (STEVEN), of Ithaca, New York, is partnering with the Cornell University chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) on an upper-level engineering course, now in its fourth year. Teams of students gain hands-on experience in a variety of real-world service projects. One team is working on a solar cooking project for the Sabana Grande community of Nicaragua. The team has taken the name "Amanecer," which means "sunrise" in Spanish, a suitable title for solar cooking advocates. Francis Vanek has taken a prominent role in the service project and has made a close connection with nongovernmental organization Grupo Fenix, based at the National University of Nicaragua in Managua. Amanecer is experimenting with a variety of solar cooker designs, and hopes to improve performance and implement use of the cookers in rural Nicaragua. To promote sustainability, Amanecer is paying attention to expense, local availability of materials, and the expressed needs of the community. The specialized engineering course provides students an abundance of learning opportunities — cultural exchange, ethics, an applied approach to engineering, resourcefulness, an understanding of user needs, and an awareness of local and international communities. Amanecer has sub-teams that focus in three areas: cooker construction, light simulation, and community and market research. The construction team worked on solar cooker designs, while the light simulation team built an indoor testing facility with controlled lighting systems. The community and market research team evaluates the social and environmental impacts of solar cooker use in Nicaragua, and is researching the Kyoto Protocol system of carbon credits in hopes of offsetting solar cooker costs in the future. The ultimate goal of Amanecer is to travel to Nicaragua to implement their solar cooker designs, and gather feedback and data useful to future design modifications. [A note from Francis Vanek: I think you are giving me too much credit, and Tim Bond not enough! It is Tim who has been at the forefront of developing the project with Grupo Fenix, while I have been playing a supporting role.]
- March 2006: Last year, 300 unassembled SPORT solar ovens were purchased by St. Edwards Catholic Church of Bloomington, Minnesota (USA) for the community of Jinotega. The cookers were assembled locally under the direction of volunteers Sue Kellet and Andrew Knutson, who were also responsible for trainings. SPORTs were sold to families at a subsidized price of $10. Staples like rice, beans and bananas were popular solar dishes. Other solar foods included chicken dishes, vegetable stews with milk, and cooked mangos. One solar cook commented that the mangos cooked better in the solar cooker than over a fire. More information...
The History of Solar Cooking in Nicaragua
The Central American country of Nicaragua has been active in promotion of solar cooking for some time. One of the organizations connected to the network associated with Bill Lankford's long standing work in Central America is located here, and has been active in training women in the construction and use of solar cookers for a number of years. The project here, known as Centro Girasoles Proceso, uses methods similar to those described above, that is, assistance to women to build their own solar ovens, carefully and exactly, to produce excellent functioning. Training is continuous, and follow-up is as intensive over an extended time period as any solar program aiiywhere. In the view of the Proceso groups in the Central American countries, solar cooking is a critical, but only one, element in the overall process of improvement of life for Central Americans. Girasoles believe that the cookers are used over 80% of the time, once the training and follow up has been completed. They continue to work in the community, extending their activities to other needs as indicated.
Centro Girasoles Proceso has also reached out to extend knowledge of solar cooking to other groups working in Nicaragua. A more recent arrival on the scene in Nicaragua is Grupo Fenix, an organization that provides a range of renewable energy resources in the country. Girasoles, as the knowledgeable group on solar cooking, worked with Fenix to pass on knowledge and experience. Fenix has in that manner developed skills in teaching low-income people how to build simple, effective, and low cost box cookers. The ovens are made of scrap cardboard, newspaper, aluminum foil and plastic in an afternoon, or over a week for a large and durable oven made of wood and other materials. They have learned, as all solar promoters must, that follow up for new trainees in solar cooking is an essential ingredient in the program, since the cooking method is quite different. They have also learned to pasteurize milk and water, and are working on other techniques for sterilization, using the most efficient of the oven types.
The group also promotes photovoltaic lighting, working with Terrasol, a US/Nicaraguan volunteer project. In addition, they are working to exploit the abundant rainfall, which feeds streams and rivers, ideal for small-scale generation of electricity to supplement that which comes from the national system and often fails before reaching remote rural areas. To assist local people with acquisition of this range of renewable technologies, Fenix is working to establish micro-loan programs like those successfully in place in many parts of the world.
Climate, Culture, and Special Considerations
We came across this paragraph, from a student service learning project, while researching an article for the Solar Cooker Review. The student was working with a solar photo-voltaic company in Nicaragua, where some solar cookers have been introduced. Judging from the description we assume the cookers are large parabolic or box cookers. In any case, this is a good reminder of one reason why solar cookers (especially if they are not the appropriate type for a given population) are not always as readily accepted and used as we promoters would like.
- "A strong example of a renewable energy not working as it was intended was apparent in Nicaragua. Solar ovens were viewed as an answer to women cooking all day in the poorly ventilated and smoke filled kitchens. It was believed that solar cookers would allow the women to not spend as much time in the kitchen as well as eliminate the need to collect wood for the current stoves. The problem lay in the fact that the solar cookers did not fit into the culture appropriately for them to be utilized effectively. The culture of Nicaragua had always dictated that the social center for a woman to meet and talk with friends would always be the kitchen so that they could talk as they worked. Wood burning stoves gave this ability as they required a person to always be around cooking or tending to the fire. With solar cookers, the oven was outside and because food took longer to cook, there was more downtime where the women would end up sitting around in the kitchen anyways. The time to cook a meal with direct sunlight in a solar cooker was usually 50% to 100% longer and a much longer preparation time was necessary, because of this, the solar cookers had to be repositioned so that they were getting the most sun possible. This task was difficult for women who could not move the solar cookers on their own because they were too large, and the number of women, were few who knew how to move them so they would get direct sun. Dinner was served usually when it was dark out, as it is in most cultures, so the food would have to be prepared beforehand and somehow reheated for dinner. Because of these problems it became apparent solar cookers would not become a technology that would fit well into the culture of rural Nicaragua."
- Solar Women of Totogalpa
- Solar Ovens for Nicaraguan Women
- The Sabor Solar Cookbook from Grupo Fenix shows how to cook Nicaraguan foods in a solar cooker: (English version or Spanish version)
- Solar cooker dissemination and cultural variables
Possible funders for solar cooking projects in Nicaragua
- ADIM (Asociación Alternativa Para el Desarrollo Integral de las Mujeres)
- Asociacion para el Fomento al Desarrollo Nicaragua (AFODENIC)
- Centro de Promoción del Desarrollo Local (CEPRODEL)
- Fundación Leon 2000
Articles in the media
- July 2010: Nicaraguans Swap Firewood and Fossil Fuels for Solar Energy - Latin American Herald Tribune
- April 2010: Nicaragua Solar Project- We are very happy to be working on a program with the Solar Women of Totogalpa in Nicaragua where we bring a small group of people from North America to a remote village in the Central American highlands. Participants will build a solar oven, take solar cooking classes, and tour local sustainable projects. More information... -World Wide Ecologies
- July 2009: Global Fellows Vicky Tian and Tamas Kovacs Describe Their Work in Nicaragua and The Philippines - Cornell University: School of Operations Research and Information Engineering
- June 2009: Harnessing Both Sun and Cell Phone to Close Gaps in Local Health Care - Worldchanging
Audio and video
- April 2011: Local television video of the Las Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa complex.
- Dozens of Spanish-language videos showing solar cooking activities - TubeOli