Friday, November 14, 2008

Green Technology in Burkina

In a September issue of The Economist magazine, I came across an article about how the green revolution is not only a growing trend in the western or industrialized world, but is also making inroads in the developing world. New technology is being developed to help people in poorer countries both minimize energy usage and maximize the efficient usage of energy that is available, not so much for the reasons of conservation and environmental concern that we have in the west, but because they are cheaper and sometimes safer alternatives for people who are really struggling to make ends meet.

LED lights are one example. These little bulbs use a fraction of the power required by conventional flashlight bulbs, enabling users to stretch their battery power much farther than usual. Considering the pathetic quality of the cheap batteries available here in Burkina, this is a definite advantage!

They’re also brighter and safer than the traditional kerosene lamps used in the village. I can still see the awful injuries one woman received when she attempted to refill a kerosene lamp. It was nighttime and the flame was going low, so she began pouring more fuel into the lamp’s reservoir, leaving the lamp burning so that she could see what she was doing. Suddenly, the flame jumped from the wick to the pouring fuel. Out of surprise and fear, the woman jerked back, spilling kerosene all over her dress and legs. The flame followed…

LED technology seems to be catching on here in Burkina. We’re beginning to see more and more of them. Other technologies, however, have not been so successful. For instance, a number of years ago, a relief and development organization decided that since Burkina has an abundance of sunlight, solar cookers would be a much cheaper and more efficient way for village women to cook their meals. That makes sense, doesn’t it? What woman wouldn’t be willing to give up hauling firewood and spending hours over a hot, smoky fire when she could simply put the ingredients in a pot, place it in the solar cooker, and do other productive work while the meal cooks itself?

Alas, the organization had not done its cultural research. The simple fact of the matter is that the main meal was cooked at night after dark (it gets dark at 6 p.m. here). By their way of thinking, what woman would spend precious daylight hours cooking a meal when she could be out working in the fields? Cooking, with the help of light from the fire, could be done at night. Fieldwork couldn’t. The solar cookers were a bust.

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