Solar Connect Association (SCA) started their solar cooking projects in Uganda in 1994 with the support of several organizations including WWF Switzerland. The problem that led to the initiation of these solar cooking projects is the depletion of biodiversity and concern for conservation of our beautiful forests and well being of the rural poor to seek a practical, local solution to these problems. To understand the relevance of SCAs solar cooker project, it is necessary to look at how forests have been cut in most parts of the country and that intact forests are being menaced. Large, mostly agricultural-based population, the majority of whom live in abject poverty, inhabits Uganda.
This poverty and lack of awareness has led to the following:
- Deforestation in the countryside
- Waterborne diseases
- Abject poverty
- Serious reduction of medicinal trees and plants used traditionally to cure many diseases
- Climatic change.
- Time spent by the girl child collecting firewood.
The seriousness of the situation was well illustrated on a radio talk show made by Brother Anatoli, a prominent traditional herbalist of Banakaroli Brothers in Kiterede Diocese Masaka District. He complained that the biggest problem for herbalists is the diminishing number of herbal trees and plants that have been rampantly cut for firewood, charcoal making, cattle ranching and agriculture. He suggested that ways have to be found to reduce the felling of trees and that people should plant medicinal trees and plants on the sides of their farms and homes.
The above observations have brought SCA in close contact with rural communities, where we observed extreme hardships suffered by the subsistence farmers and their families. These observations motivated us to start the solar cooker project.
We persistently improved on solar cookers between 1994 and 1998, using at first cardboard and plywood cookers, then parabolic solar cookers and cook kits. The solar dryers are also being constantly modified to suit different conditions of use. We tapped into the large the large unemployed local workforce and hired carpenters, metal workers to produce the first batch of 300 plywood cookers and 700 cardboard box cookers which we began distributing for free in the districts of Masaka, Soroti, Tororo and Kampala. For this initial phase of the project SCA received backing from Gruppe Ulog and assistance in the form of free materials from EG Solar. Foundation Lord Michealham of Hellingly bought the first office furniture and provided funds for transporting the materials and personnel. In June 1994 WWF-Switzerland started to support the project up to date. Then we went on to produce at least 900 solar cook kits and 80 parabolic cookers on average per year. Over 10000 solar cookers are currently actively used in homes throughout Uganda. The population supported by Pvei Project in Virunga uses unknown number in Eastern Congo. The Pvei staff was trained by SCA how to make and use solar cookers.
We decided to sell our idea to the rural people, 100% of whom use firewood to cook. Solar energy can contribute a great deal in saving the remaining forests when it is used to cook food and dry fruits and foods.
The extremely simple and inexpensive solar cooker is starting to revolutionize lives in project areas. Solar cookers limit the health hazards of inhaling smoke and people can drink clean water by first pasteurizing using solar energy. Food that used to be wasted during bumper harvests is now solar dried and kept for the rainy day. People have used solar drying for centuries but not in such a modern way.
We promote solar cookers and solar dryers to help the development of the rural poor a cost effective, participatory and sustainable way. Young women and men are generating small-scale jobs for themselves and these include metal work, carpentry, canning fruits, baking small cakes and bread and boiling drinking water.
As a result of SCA project, people do not only use solar cookers but are aware of the importance to rationally use our forest resources so as to protect the environment and future generations.
The impact of solar cookers and dryers is that income levels and sanitation have noticeably risen in homesteads using solar cookers since 1994. Married women can work their fields while the sun does cooking. This raises their productivity in terms of time put in productive work. Women are also engaging in baking cakes, bread and canning fruits using the cooker and some dry fruits that get ready market.
Also girls are liberated from having to walk long distances looking for firewood each day. Instead, they are now free to attend school, and the number of girls enrolling in village primary schools of targeted areas is rising. Trees are less cut and the environmental impact that takes time to manifest itself is shown by once bare hills starting to get shrub and wild tree cover. Most of all people are aware of the consequences of their actions to the environment. In our view that is a very important development.
These factors, coupled with the effect that the solar cooker has had in stemming water borne diseases and respiratory diseases due to smoke inhalation plus slowing the pace of the rural exodus to cities, are what make the solar cooker a tangible and exciting solution to a severe local problem of firewood scarcity. For eight years now, over 10000 solar cookers are in use countrywide.
Encouraged by these results, SCA will soon begin to include fuel efficient stoves in its activities so that when there is no sunshine, still firewood can be economized. We want open up focal point offices in the regions targeted so that the beneficiaries themselves do much fieldwork so that SCA devotes more efforts on partnership and resource mobilization.
However, looking back at SCAs experience over the past 8 years, we understand that one of the biggest obstacles is educating the villagers about this technology. We noted that at training workshops, village PR women and men were only moderately successful. SCA devised an educational campaign tailored to village life and the illiterate population. The innovative campaign features a video recorded documentary by local actors using solar cookers, in which their benefits are dramatized. SCA now shows the video in villages using a TV and portable generator after workshops. One of our future projects is to make a video play featuring local villagers that we shall show in villages as part of the awareness campaign.
Currently SCA sells the solar cookers and solar dryers 15% higher than the original production cost. We are slowly phasing out cooker donations as awareness increases. While the proceeds help finance manufacturing and distribution costs, SCA looks to the very timely WWF financial and technical support without which this project would find difficulty. The WWF Project Assessment carried out in August 2002 brought out weakness of SCA some of which management was not aware of. A strategic Plan was for SCA was made during the assessment and the project can be expanded. We estimate that it will take 3 years to cover the whole Albertine Rift Eco- Region in Uganda and our final objective is to be able to export the solar cooker and dryer to other sunny countries of East Africa facing similar deforestation problems. The solar cooker solution will address the primary needs of the rural Albertine Rift population for whom the basic necessities of life are very limited and at the same time conserve our forests.
In conclusion, many times the simpler a device, the greater its impact. Clearly, the cheap solar cooker can dramatically improve sanitation, a balanced diet, and quality of life for the rural population in project areas and slow the destruction of forests. The solar cooker has 1000 positive consequences for people and the environment.
In the villages of Kikokwa, Ruharo, Biharwe and Orukiga Refugee Settlement in Mbarara in Western Uganda, women use solar cookers quite frequently in the dry season and even in the rainy season when the sun comes up. The total number of participating households in these four villages will reach over 2000 by the end of 2007.
[Text for this topic was originally taken from http://www.solarconect.4t.com/about.html in March of 2007. It may have been updated or edited since that time.]
News and recent developmentsEdit
- August 2013: Uganda NGO with proven profitability plans for expansion at new location - Henk Crietee, from Solar Cooking Netherlands, was in Uganda for two weeks in early August to evaluate Solar Connect Association (SCA) project activities. During Crietee's visit, a piece of land was secured in Mbarara, on which SCA will construct a building to house a new Renewable Energy Center. Integrated solar cooking appliances will be produced, advertised and sold from this new location, which will offer better exposure for their products to local residents, tourists, and political opinion leaders. While SCA has shown itself to be relatively self sufficient in terms of covering operation costs, through the sales of solar cookers, hay baskets and rocket stoves, they cannot afford yet to construct a new building. Participation by Solar Cooking Netherlands with help in securing the land has been appreciated. Donors wishing to help contribute to the building construction can contact Solar Cooking Netherlands. This fledgling effort is another example that demonstrates solar cooking, and related integrated cooking methods, can be a successful business by incorporating local manufacturing, sales, and long term consumer support.
- February 2013: Solar Connect Association has made a lasting impact on people's lives in Uganda - They have a production facility for solar cookers, hay baskets and WAPIs, as well as a retail outlet, in the Mbarara district of western Uganda. The facility in Mbarara is now self-sustaining financially, after years receiving support from donors, by being able to sell their products for a modest profit. Solar Connect Association has now opened a new distribution center in Kampala. The Kampala distribution center will help reach the rest of the country, South Sudan, Eastern Congo, as well as Rwanda and Burundi. They still need some logistical support from any donor, in the form of a distribution van/pick-up vehicle for this Kampala Distribution Center. Selling from nine store in various villages, the association has sold 770 solar panel cookers, 770 WAPIs, 301 hay baskets, 37 solar box cookers, 846 Rocket Stoves, and 42 parabolic solar cookers in the second quarter of 2012. They seek collaboration with stakeholders worldwide, who share the dream of making the 3-stone cooking fire a thing of the past in Eastern Africa. Read more at Solar Connect Association: Integrated Cooking in Uganda 2012
- August 2010: The Partnership for Clean Indoor Air, Issue #24, which along with reviewing other groups involved in air quality, profiles the efforts and results of the Solar Connect Association for 2009. Some highlights included their introduction of a hybrid solar cooker and efficient wood stove combination appliance. Potential customers liked the idea of a stove that could also be used on rainy days or at night. 1,070 households purchased both solar cookers and improved stoves in 2009. SCA currently has one production facility in Mbarara District, and are trying to increase its capacity to serve the whole of Uganda. A follow-up study, tracking use of the cookers after an extended period, found that CooKits remain in use for about a year, while parabolic solar cookers from China are used for about four years. Solar box cookers work for many years, and the high efficiency wood-burning stoves need service in a year or two. It continues to be a challenge to market in various countries where local subsidies available in one country, and not in another, are often just enough to be able to have an appliance affordable to consumers.
- December 2009: In UGANDA Solar Connect Association [SCA] initiate and implement success full solar cooking projects under leadership of Mr. Kawesa Mukasa, director of the SCA. He works together with his secretary in Kampala and his project team in Mbarara, in the south of Uganada. Solar Cooking Netherlands gives know-how support and financial support. The project in Mbarara [since 2007] aims to reach a cost-effective and preferably profitable operating account by the end of 2011 at the latest. To succeed it is vital to arrive at a cost-effective Resource and Production Centre in Mbarara where all Integrated Solar Cooking products are made under own control or contracted out or bought on the local market. In this manner the local economy benefits as well. In 2008 more then 4000 CooKits are sold at 3800 families. This means 20,000 people consume solar-cooked food [at a average of 6 persons per household] and a yearly saving of roughly 9000 tons of firewood. Clara Thomas, chairman of SCN, introduced a direct selling method, by whom in the villages groups of women are invited to information, demonstrations, cooking lessons, eat together, pasteurize water with a WAPI. This seems very successful. To enhance durability of the Cookits, the cardboard side of is coated, the borders are reinforced with adhesive tape and the sun reflecting aluminium sheets can now be glued perfectly smoothly with new techniques. In the Kampala region another project is in preparation. The meaning is to start this project as "for profit".
- November 2008: Solar Cookers International’s (SCI) recent collaboration with Uganda’s Solar Connect Association (SCA) was inspired by 13-year-old Max Ozimek, an 8th grader from Ohio, USA. Last year, Max researched solar cookers for a science fair project, and learned how the simple devices can make a huge difference for people that lack cooking fuel. Max volunteers at a hospice, where he befriended Father Alexander Inke, a priest from Obia, Uganda. While listening to Father Inke’s stories of life in Obia, Max was reminded of the African communities he had learned of while researching solar cookers and SCI’s projects abroad. Max thought solar cookers could help the women of Obia, many of whom must walk several miles to gather cooking fuel and household water. Max felt the need to help the small village of Obia, so he and his mother, Mary Lou, began raising funds and contacted SCI about how to proceed. Per SCI’s suggestion, Max and Mary Lou contacted SCA, which has promoted solar cookers in Uganda since the mid-1990s. SCA agreed to provide a five-day integrated cooking training for 22 women that Father Inke identified as community leaders capable of teaching others. Kawesa Mukasa and Olivia Kanyesigye instructed the group (and dozens of onlookers) how to build and use solar cookers and how to cook effectively with the least amount of fuel possible by supplementing solar cookers with fuel-efficient stoves and Heat-retention cooking retained-heat devices]] when the sun isn’t shining. Longtime SCI friend and supporter Mark Cotham volunteered his time to assist with this effort, and also provided a much-needed vehicle to be used for further trainings in Uganda. Max and SCI staff tested five local water sources in Obia. Participants were shocked to find that most of their water sources were contaminated with Escherichia coli and unsafe to drink. SCI taught them how to cheaply and effectively pasteurize the water with a solar cooker and a Water Pasteurization Indicator (WAPI). Some of the new solar cooks had already initiated small trainings in their regions just weeks after the workshop. Max is working to ensure these efforts continue by raising funds to purchase materials for extended trainings in Nebbi district, and keeping in close contact with SCI and SCA for follow-up visits over the next few years. SCI and SCA plan to team up again on an integrated cooking and safe water workshop in 2009.
- August 2008: Max Ozimek, a 13 year old boy from the Cleveland area, won a science project on solar cooking last year. Doing some volunteer work at a local hospice he met Father Alexander Inke. Father Inke grew up in the village of Obia in the Nebbi District of Uganda, near the Congo border. Max learned about the hardships in Obia and deduced that solar cooking could help Obia in many ways. Rather than let her son’s dream languish, Max’s mom, Mary Lou, set about with extreme determination and the assistance of Solar Cookers International’s (SCI) Karyn Ellis, SCI’s Director of International Program Development, to make an Integrated Cooking training project happen in Obia. I was a volunteer assistant on my first trip to Uganda and what a privilege to be involved. The training course in Obia occurred from June 10th through June 15th. The course was primarily taught by Solar Connect Association (SCA) of Uganda with Kawesa Mukasa and Olivia Kanyesigye teaching solar cooking principles, CooKit construction, Solar Water Pasteurization, Fuel-Efficient Stoves and Hay Basket use. Aid Africa representatives from nearby Gulu assisted in demonstrating a 6 Brick Rocket Stove made from adobe bricks and local materials. The CooKits, Hay Baskets and Rocket Stoves make Integrated Cooking possible, using the least amount of fuel and labor possible no matter the weather. Water Testing with SCI’s Portable Microbiology Laboratory (PML) was conducted by Miss Ellis as well; results of E-Coli presence in 5 local water sources was portrayed and the participants were taught to treat contaminated water with a CooKit. The 36 class participants were selected by Father Inke based on background, diversity, locale and leadership skills, and showed justifiable pride as the village and Chief watched them graduate from the training workshop on June 15th. The potential difference this project can make in the lives the people of Obia and surrounding environments can hardly be overstated. It is projected that class participants will teach others in surrounding villages how to construct and use CooKits, Hay Baskets and Fuel-Efficient Stoves to cook food and pasteurize water, as well as save the precious wood of their diminishing forests. Ways that Uganda’s SCA can build on its successful training and further Integrated Cooking in the area are being actively investigated. All this, because a mother believed in a son’s dream to help a priest’s far away village.
- July 2007: In email correspondence, Kawesa Mukasa reports, "We are now busy with Clara Thomas of Solar Cooking Netherlands on a cooker promotion project in four villages. So far this year we have sold 680 CooKits. We have also engaged on a lady to make for us hay baskets which we sell. These assist the CooKit when the clouds suddenly appear." Clara Thomas gave us materials to make 100 WAPIs. We have used those materials to make 89 good WAPIS. Problem is we are still failing to get the type of soya paste suitable on the local market. Could anybody out there avail us this material? We are willing to pay for it please. We plan to make 4000 WAPIS in year 2008 so that every cookkit user in the 4 villages gets a WAPI as well as a hay basket.
- April 2007: In the last six months of 2006, the Solar Connect Association (SCA) distributed 300 solar CooKits in rural areas of western Uganda, including the villages of Kikokwa and Ruharo, as well as in the Orukiga refugee settlement. With support from its new partner the KoZon Foundation, the SCA plans to disseminate an additional 2000 solar cookers in the western areas by the end of 2007. The SCA has worked with Project Environmentale de Virunga in the eastern Congo, near the habitat of the mountain gorillas, and with the Association Burundais pour la Protection des Oiseaux in Bunjumbura-Burundi. Both of these neighboring organizations reportedly need sources for low-cost aluminum foil and other materials.