Monday, November 17, 2008

More Green Technology in Burkina

In The Economist article I mentioned last time, it was noted that in cooking done over a fire, 80% of the energy provided by the wood or dung is typically wasted. And then there is the issue of the pollution caused by all that smoke. The solution, according to the article, is to develop a carefully designed stove to enclose the fire, direct the heat into the pot, and dramatically reduce both fuel consumption and the problems caused by pollution. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Especially in a country like Burkina, where meals are traditionally cooked over wood fires in a big pot placed on three stones. Women often have to trek for hours to find firewood and haul it home. Most of the heat provided by that wood is lost to the surrounding air. And every older village woman in Burkina wheezes from years of inhaling acrid wood smoke while slaving for hours over a hot fire every day.

A professor of mechanical engineering at Colorado State University, along with his students, has developed stoves that cut fuel consumption by half and particulate emission by 75%. The design has been commercialized by an NGO that hopes to sell them first in China and India, and then worldwide. I wish them luck! I hope they did their cultural research because what makes good sense to us may not be so acceptable to those who are the target of our efforts, and for reasons that have nothing to do with reduced costs and increased efficiency. These may be the criteria that we deem most important, but it’s a view not necessarily shared by potential recipients for whom other criteria, usually cultural ones, are the determining factors.

Our Kusassi co-worker, Pastor Emmanuel, told us about an effort several years ago in his region to improve cooking fire efficiency. An organization developed a simple mud stove from local materials that nicely enclosed the normally open fire, directed the heat to a hole in the top for the pot (thereby significantly reducing wood consumption), and directed the smoke up a chimney away from the cook. From a western perspective, you’d think women would jump at such an improvement that not only saved them time & energy spent hauling so much firewood, but also prevented them from burning their lungs out with smoke. Not so.

To begin with, the women didn’t like the new stoves. They didn’t cook meals the same way the open fire did. Besides, this wasn’t the way their mothers had done it and taught them to do it. But the clincher was the reaction of the men. They said that the food cooked on such stoves didn’t taste the same anymore. What made the difference? No more wood smoke flavour from the swirling fumes produced by an open fire! That did it. The women went back to their open fires.

Anybody else got any bright ideas?

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