Updated: 8 May 2016
How are solar ovens received in developing countries? Different people respond differently. Most often, news of the idea that cooking can be done with free sunlight is met with a great deal of both interest and skepticism in developing countries where there are widespread, felt problems with traditional cooking fuels. While some people complain about the smoke from traditional cooking fires, the more common concerns are shortages, rising prices and increased time spent searching for wood.
Commonly, when a group of people in fuel-short areas witness their first solar cooking demonstration and taste their first solar cooked food, the skepticism is replaced by high enthusiasm. After the initial enthusiasm wears of, differences from person to person again become more noticeable. Some people will avidly pursue solar cooking, some won't care, and many will be interested but will need more encouragement before taking action toward becoming a solar cook.
When solar cookers are introduced briefly with little follow-up, little adoption of solar cooking results. However, when a long term program of awareness creation, skills-teaching, follow-up, and trouble-shooting is put into place, adoption of solar cooking does take place. As with most innovations, adoption does not happen all at once. In any community, some people are more interested in being innovators than others, some actively resist change, and most people are somewhere in the middle.
For example, Solar Cookers International managed a project in a refugee camp in Ethiopia where training, follow-up, encouragement and trouble-shooting were provided for a few years, 94% of the families adopted solar cooking to some extent, including 22% who used their solar cookers almost every sunny day.
The solar cooking age is still in its infancy. In no country yet is there a majority of people who know how to solar cook. Instead, as a result of efforts by various individuals and small groups, there are pockets of solar cooks scattered in many places around the world. See: Most significant solar cooking projects
The benefits of solar cooking
In these pockets where solar cooking is taking hold, solar cooking is received gratefully. Solar cooking users in developing countries have named many benefits that they have personally experienced. Here are some commonly heard sentiments from solar cooks around the world.
- Solar cookers save the labor of collecting sticks and branches for firewood. Because this work is so hard and often done in dangerous places, besides saving time women also reduce their exposure to injuries, snake bites, and attacks on their persons by others.
- Solar cookers save money for families who buy firewood, charcoal, kerosene, etc. Evidence from various projects by different organizations in many parts of the world indicates that when solar cooks become confident, regular users, they average a reduction in cooking fuel costs of about 30 to 40 percent. Users say they spend the savings on items like shoes for the children, fees to enroll their children in school, more food for the family, and medicine. Less frequent reports are also heard of people putting their fuel savings into buying goats, rabbits or other items that can help them boost their incomes and standards of living.
- Solar cookers reduce exposure to smoke. In many developing countries, the sound of coughing is constant, owing to regular exposure to the smoke from indoor cooking fires. Smoke from cooking fires is said to kill approximately 1.6 million people per year, and acute respiratory infections are a leading cause of disease and death in the developing world. See Household air pollution.
- Solar cookers are safer than cooking fires. Cooks--and their small children--suffer many fewer burns when they use a solar cooker instead of an open fire. Where homes are densely packed together, cooking fires getting out of control and spreading from home to home is a known problem--one that solar cooking ameliorates. Many women have praised solar cooking because they can start food solar cooking in the morning and go about their business, knowing their children will come home from school for lunch and be able to serve themselves a hot meal safely from the solar cooker.
- Better food. While there are many cases of people preferring traditionally cooked food to solar cooked food, the opposite statements are more commonly made. Some say they like the food better because it doesn't have ash and soot from the cooking fire in it. Many like the way meats, poultry and fish dishes are cooked to be very tender in low-tech, low-temperature solar cookers. One striking comment made was that elderly people without teeth are able to eat meat that is solar cooked because it is so tender. In most cases, flavors of foods are more pronounced with low-temperature solar cookers, because the flavor has not been cooked out of the food or driven off by large releases of steam.
- Solar cooking is clean. People who cook on the traditional three-stone fire are used to the fact that it is almost impossible to avoid burning some of the food and having it stick to the pot. With the low-tech, low-temperature solar cooker types, food doesn't burn. The result is more food available to eat, and almost no work needed to scrub the pots afterwards. Also, with solar, there is no soot build-up on the outside of the pot to be scrubbed off. And the cooks simply appreciate not having to get all sooty just to cook a meal.
- Solar cooking saves lives. While only a minority of solar cooking programs emphasize the fact that the cookers can be used to pasteurize drinking water, those programs that do emphasize this point find that people are very appreciative. Drinking water that carries disease-causing germs leads to the death of some 3 million children a year. Just as milk can be pasteurized without boiling by heating it to a temperature that kills all the germs, water can be pasteurized as well at temperatures slightly less than those used with milk. Families that have adopted solar water pasteurization do report healthier children and fewer cases of diarrhea.
- Solar cookers can bake. While higher-tech, higher cost solar cookers can cook anything, low-cost, low-temperature cookers are not suitable for deep frying, stir frying or for the bottom crust of pies. But these solar cookers do bring an attractive benefit to those used to cooking on open fires--the ability to bake. Small rolls and loaves of bread are popular treats where baking is rare. In some cases, solar cooks have started tiny businesses selling rolls or birthday cakes that they make in their solar cookers. See Solar restaurants and bakeries.
Those are the most commonly cited benefits among users in general. Sometimes, solar cooking communities invent new uses for the free source of heat. Solar cookers have been used to boil rice straw in a paper-making process, to extract beeswax, in fabric dying, to dry small quantities of fruit, and to kill insect larvae in supplies of food staples before storage. See Non-cooking uses.