The blazing sun and harsh conditions in the semi-arid Pokot makes farming almost impossible. Many of the villagers depend on relief rations from the Government and livestock rearing for their survival. Water sources have dried up and farming along the riverbanks is no longer sustainable.
Cattle rustling, the high rate of school dropouts, malnutrition and early marriages have for many years been part of the people’s lifestyle. It is for that reason that women in Pokot Central District decided to brainstorm and see how they could make use of the blazing sun. They had for many years preserved food and dried vegetables for storage using the scorching sun’s heat. But never had they thought that they could use the sun to make some income until they ventured in the production of solar cookers.
They grappled with the idea, bought material with the little money they could raise and begun making a few solar cookers in 2003. They then organised themselves into the Wei Wei Women Group and started using old carton boxes and aluminium foils to make cookers for domestic use.
Today, they sensitise the villagers on how to use the cookers by holding demonstrations during market days in the vast district. The cookers, made from used carton boxes covered with aluminium foil, are curved into hexagonal shapes.
“The scorching sun and the harsh climatic conditions in the region have made the cookers ideal for the area. The cooker is known as ‘Cook It’,” explains group Treasurer Julia Pukat.
Sell thousands of cookers
From the humble beginning when the women made a handful of cookers for members at a small fee, they now sell thousands of the cookers. Pukat explains that 'Cook It' [sic, CooKit] design enables the user to curve them in a hexagon shape to facilitate the placing of the cooking pan in the middle.
The biggest problem encountered by the women is the sourcing of aluminium foil and the cartons. “We buy cartons and the foil from supermarkets in Kitale and Eldoret, but the good sales we make cover the cost,” says Pukat.
“The shape of the cooker enables the sun rays to be directly deflected on the cooking pan. However, the user has to keep turning the cooker in the direction of the sun’s rays,” she adds.
Pukat explains that the cooking pan and its lid are painted black to enable them retain heat as the foil in the boxes reflect the scorching sunrays to the cooking pan. She says that in an effort to ensure the food is cooked within a short period, the pan containing the food is wrapped in a polythene bag before being placed on 'Cook It'. "The polythene bag used must be checked to ensure it is not torn. After the pan with its lid is placed in the polythene bag, it is tied with a thread," she told The Standard in an interview in Sigor market. To facilitate effective cooking, three tiny wooden pieces of wood are placed on the base of the cooker. These are the ones that prop the pan in the right position.
Pukat further explains that clean water is scarce in the region, but the solar cookers enable them purify drinking water. This had led to a reduction in waterborne diseases. "We have a gadget [See Water Pasteurization Indicator] we use to measure the impurity level in the water. If it lies horizontally in the water after boiling then it is safe for drinking," she explains. [sic - If he wax has melted and fallen to the bottom of the tube, the water is safe to drink.] Pukat displayed a small cylindrical glass-like gadget with some fluid inside and a long string.
She says the cookers are hygienic and they are used in the drying of vegetables and fruits to facilitate storage. "Our area is arid and there is no meaningful agriculture but we normally have mangoes, paw paws and vegetables harvested from the Wei Wei irrigation scheme. We dry and store our harvest for future use," she says.
Pukat adds that since its inception in 2003, the group had attracted more than 500 members, from a paltry 10 who started the organisation.
A beneficiary of the project, Josephine Wakini explains that the cooker had revolutionised her cooking at her Lomut home. She says the scorching sun had come in handy. "I used to trek for long distances in search of firewood, but the situation now is different. I have less to worry about. The cooking process is simple, hygienic, with less preparation time," she says.
The women have been raising awareness on the benefits of the solar cookers and sell them at Sh1,200 a piece. Wakini explains that she has stopped worrying about her lungs due to smoke from firewood. She also pays less attention to the cooking process. The process, she says, is simple. One mixes her ingredients with, for example, beef or vegetables and some water before putting it in the cooker. The solar cookers can prepare a wide variety of foodstuff and the time taken depends on the type of food. For instance, it takes one hour to fry meat, cook rice and groundnuts. Wakini says a mixture of maize and beans commonly known as githeri takes two hours, but the mixture has to be soaked overnight. She adds that the preparation of ugali takes at least one and a half hours and explains that the process is easy and convenient.
The organisation's Chairlady, Agnes Lokitare, explains that Solar Cooking International [sic, Solar Cookers International] officials trained them further on how to make the cookers. "An Italian organisation also played a key role in facilitating us to make the solar cookers. We are now able to effectively harness sunrays for our benefit," she says.
The group has been able to reach out to more than 1,000 women in Ortum, Chepariria and Sigor and they are in the process of moving to Turkana District. "God gave us the sun for free and we are happy that now we can also see the positive side of its scorching heat. Initially we used to blame the sun for all our woes," explains Lokitare.
The solar cookers are not only a blessing for the local people, but also play a key role in environment conservation. "The issue of firewood is becoming an aspect of the past. The workload in our homes has reduced. One can leave the food cooking as she carries out other chores without any fear of the food burning," she explains. The kit includes a cooking pan, lid, the cooker, the gadget for measuring water impurity, polythene bag and three tiny pieces of wood for positioning the pan.
The women have, however, faced many challenges in their struggle. Lack of transport to traverse markets in the vast district and extreme weather conditions are some of the factors that hamper their efforts. But they are determined to make use of the blazing sun for the betterment of their lives, their families and that of the community.
[This text was borrowed from http://www.eastandard.net/InsidePage.php?id=1143990877&cid=&.]
Wei Wei Rural Development Program
P.O Box 30 Wei Wei, Sigor
Tel: +254 054 31616