Social and Environmental Issues
Nearly three billion people in the developing world cook their meals using wood, crop waste, dung and coal. Although toxic smoke from open pit cooking fires is one of the leading environmental causes of death and disease, it has long been neglected by governments and private aid organizations. In addition, recent studies have confirmed that open pit cooking fires are a major contributor to climate change, generating millions of tonnes of CO2 each year.
The World Health Organization estimates that indoor air pollution caused by open pit cooking ranks fourth as a health risk factor in developing countries. According to U.N. statistics, nearly three billion people in the world cook meals on open fire pits, and an estimated 1.9 million, mostly women and children, die from smoke inhalation every year.
Bolivia has the highest infant mortality rate in South America, 67 deaths per 1,000, and the World Health Organization estimates that globally 7-10% of infant deaths are attributable to the inhalation of indoor smoke. (The 24-hour particulate matter density from open cooking fires in rural Latin America averages between 300 – 3,000 ug/m3. By comparison, the U.S. EPA standard is 50 µg/m3 and the E.U. standard is 40µg/m3.)
Bolivia remains one of the poorest countries in South America. According to UNICEF, 59% of Bolivia’s population lives in conditions of poverty, and 24.4% live in conditions of extreme poverty. But this poverty is not felt equally, and the rate among Bolivia's rural population is as high as 82%. Bolivian families li ving in extreme poverty must spend approximately 1/3 of their household income purchasing cooking fuel: LPG gas, wood and biomass.
Nearly one million families in Bolivia use wood as a cooking fuel in rural and urban Bolivia, with biomass accounting for approximately 90% of household energy use in rural areas. Families, most often women and children, spend hours each week searching for cooking fuel. Because forests are being depleted, every year it becomes more difficult and takes more time to find wood. (According to the FAO, between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia lost an average of 270,000 hectares of forest per year.)
This unsustainable level of biomass harvesting depletes forests, which in turn interrupts the water cycle, reduces soil fertility, decreases biodiversity, and contributes to global warming.
Addressing the Issues
CEDESOL provides an alternative to cooking sources that pollute, degrade the natural environment and cause damage to health. Through the use of solar cookers, the problems associated with open pit fires are eliminated; no fuel is required and no pollution is produced. Since solar energy is free, solar cookers pay for themselves in the long term as the need to collect or buy fuelwood and LPG gas is substantially reduced, and although the costs of purchasing a cooker are high for its intended users, subsidies and microfinance opportunities make them a viable technology for Bolivia's rural poor.
In addition to the financial gain from solar cooking, as a result of lower temperatures, food retains more nutrients and supervision is not required when cooking. More time and money can be reallocated to work, education, medical expenses, social/cultural development and pleasure.
Solar cookers do not offer a complete alternative to conventional cooking methods, as there is clearly not always sufficient sunlight available. For this reason, CEDESOL also promotes efficient biomass stoves, such as the Rocket Stove produced by Sobre La Roca, which consumes 70% less fuel than standard methods. These can be used in conjunction with solar cookers using the principles of heat retention: it is possible to start cooking meals using rocket stoves and finish to cook them with solar cookers, even if there is no sun.
Learn more about the workings of ecological cookers.