Solar Cookers as a Means for Reducing Deforestation in Nepal

by Anita Manandhar

Centre for Rural Technology (CRT) Nepal

General background

Much more fossil fuels are being used today in the world. Some people are concerned about its extensive use as once it will be used to the extreme, there will be a total havoc. However, in developing countries, the senario is a bit different. Energy for cooking food are mostly dependent upon forest resources. Also in Nepal, 96% of population depend upon bio-mass energy for domestic purposes to which 76% is provided by fuelwood alone. Nepal being a mountainous country without any other conventional sources is facing serious problem of deforestation. Population has increased to 18.5 million and continued to increase at the rate of 2.08% annually, creating more pressure on forest for energy requirement making deforestation more intense.

The forest cover in Nepal is estimated to be about 37 percentage of the total land area. The decrease in forest land is estimated to be equivalent to 100,000 hectares per year. Since each person approximately uses 1 cubic metre or 640 kg of fuelwood per year and since 90% of the population live in rural areas using fuelwood as main source of cooking energy, fuelwood demand has increased to about 16.2 million cubic metre while Nepal's forest growth is less than 8 million cubic metre per year.

To combat with this deforestation problem, government, various NGOs and private agencies are planning and introducing different kinds of activities for reforestation, afforestation and fuelwood saving programmes. Reforestation in Nepal is believed to be less than 15,000 hectares per year as against the reforestation target of 35,000 hectares per year in the 7th Five Year Plan (1985-1990).

Promotion of solar cooking as an alternative supplementary cooking option

With the above context in view, it has been realised that there is strong need of some alternative energy sources side by side with the reforestation and afforestation activities. Solar cooking is one of the alternative technology which help reduce the pressure on forest for cooking energy requirements. Everyone knows that sunlight gives heat but only a few are utilising it for cooking food in Nepal. Many people do not easily believe that solar energy can cook food but when seen with their own eyes, they become interested and not only cook food but also promote this pollution free environment friendly option for cooking as well as for saving energy. Solar cooking has following advantages for the benefit of developing countries like Nepal.

The advantages of Solar Cooking

1. Solar cooking is basically an environment friendly technology as it uses solar energy which is not used up as any other conventional energy.
2. Solar energy is free of cost as is freely available to all.
3. It does not emit smoke and hence pollution free.
4. It helps in pasteurising water to make it safe for drinking.

The promotion of Solar cookers in Nepal is still in infant stage and the advantages from this is yet to be quantified. But with the available experience, use of solar cookers definitely reduces fuelwood consumption. Considering the number of sunshine days, solar cookers can be used for at least 6 months a year when the days are sunny. Pasteurising water and cooking any one item in the solar cooker will reduce the fuelwood consumption substantially.

Considering that out of 3 cooking of meal in a day, only 1 cooking is done for about 6 months a year with the help of solar cookers, each family in Nepal will be saving about 16% of fuelwood or about 500 kg of fuelwood per year per family. This saving can be considered as a significant contribution in reducing deforestation and also meeting household energy, improved health, sanitation with further benefits towards retaining valuable nutrition in the food consumption at family level.

Recognising that solar cooking could reduce pressure on forest and improve family health and hygine, His Majesty's Government of Nepal has planned to promote 5000 solar cookers during the 8th Five Year Plan (1992-1997).

CRT in the promotion and dissemination of solar cooking

The Centre for Rural Technology (CRT), is established in 1989 by a group of concerned people to assist institution and individuals involved in the promotion of appropriate technologies suited to rural conditions in Nepal. The Centre's major thrust, since its establishment, has been in energy related technologies such as Improved Cooking Stove ICS, Improved Water Mills, Bio-gas Plants, Toilets and Solar Cookers. CRT adopts a participatory technology development approach whereby the users, entrepreneurs and promoters work together and share ideas, experiences and views regarding the technology in concern.

In line with the government plan as well as considering the urgent need of reducing the deforestation in Nepal, the Centre (CRT) has been taking different inititatives to promote and disseminate the solar cooking in conjuction with other fuelwood saving devices such as Improved Cooking Stove technology in Nepal.

Different types of solar cookers are made and used in different countries. However, in Nepal, mostly following four types are being used, such as:

* Cardboard box type
* Wooden box type
* Bamboo Basket box type
* Parabolic type

Since last few years, CRT has been undertaking different activities on Solar Cooking. They are:

* Testing of variety of solar cookers made from different materials available in the country such as cardboard, wooden box, bamboo basket, metal sheets for parabolic, etc.
* Holding number of public demonstration to create awareness among the urban and rural people.
* Recruitment of school and college graduates and volunteers as solar cooker promoters and provide a platform for interested individuals to fabricate and test different models of solar cookers.
* Provide training to solar cooker promoters and monitor the effects and impacts.
* Publication of solar cooking promotional materials and training manuals.
* Organise a series of solar cooking technology discussion sessions, seminar/workshop/exhibitions for policy level people.
* Fabrication of solar cookers from different kinds of materials found locally.
* Linking promoters and entreprenuers with interested groups and users and help meet the demand of materials for cookers.

CRT has already conducted about 20 solar cooking training, orientation and demonstration participated by over 300 promoters and community workers working with the local communities. More than 150 solar cookers have been promoted and distributed with constant follow-up and supervision. The public demonstration and awareness campaign on solar cooking technology has created a strong interest among the general people. In the urban areas, the high cost of energy and rising prices of electricity force people to find alternative sources of energy. Those who have the opportunity of understanding the working of solar cooking and its advantages, they wanted to adopt a more permanent one though a little costly, that is of wooden type. In the rural areas, most of the people feel it is miraculous to see food being cooked simply putting in the sun for some time, but hesitate to spend the amount for one.

Major issues and constraints in the promotion of solar cooking technology

Inspite of the simplicity in the technology and long term cost effectiveness in the investment on solar cookers, the adoption of these by rural and urban masses has been slower than expected. There are certain socio-cultural sensitivities and factors which directly or indirectly effect in the acceptance and promotion of solar cookers. They are mainly:

* The physical condition of Nepal with hills and mountains with poor infrastructure makes inaccessible for solar cooker promotion.
* The settlement in the hill and mountains are scattered and are agglomerated. The houses also lack of the open space outside making it unpractical to cook food outside.
* Changes in cooking and eating habit is encountered which people are not ready to do.
* Superstition of cooking in the open where "evil eye" can fall while cooking, makes people difficult to accept solar cookers.
* Because of the food habits including taking early morning meal, solar cookers can be useful only for cooking afternoon snacks and evening meals.
* Extensive use of solar cookers is restricted as the cookers are yet costly for most of the rural people and could not be used throughout the year such as during monsoon season, cloudy days and winter.
* Families have to adjust to different food habits such as taking solar cooked food, boiled food and adjust to its taste from taking fried food,etc.

Suggested course of action for enhancing solar cooking technology

* Simple type of Solar cookers which can be locally fabricated should be promoted.
* Local cadre of women promoters need to be trained and engaged to promote solar cookers along with orientation on the use.
* Solar cooking concept be integrated with the existing cooking devices and kitchen management.
* Subsidy upto 50% be provided in the initial years and included in the bank loan packages.
* Basic research on cooking various types of local foods has to be carried out and provide the information to the promoters and users.
* Organizations which are directly involved in the promotion of solar cookers have to be strengthened for monitoring and follow up activities.

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