DR Congo – Solar Cooking

Using Solar Energy To Provide a Safer, Economical Way of Cooking in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Members: Raymond Chen, Luis Mazul, Ellie Homen, and Gregg Yasuda

The Problem
Majority of the worlds population prepare their food and heat their homes with fire. This is typically achieved by burning coal, wood, crop residues and other biomass fuels. In developing countries the procurement and consumption of these fuels are part of a daily routine. In areas like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, women and children spend several hours of the day collecting wood for cooking that not only contributes to deforestation but respiratory problems caused by the excessive inhalation of smoke. Development of an oven that utilizes sunlight is the ideal solution for the people in developing countries. Solar ovens for crock-pot cooking have been somewhat adopted in Kenya; however, according to Solar Household Energy Inc. “Report Update,” only 20 – 40 percent of the Kenyan families who adopted some 2,500 solar ovens still use them. The main concern for adoption aside from a drastic change from the norm is the start up cost. Even in Kenya the cost of the stoves, ranging from $20-$40 is still too high for many house holds.

Solar Household Energy

The Objective
According to Alexander Petroff, introducing the project to the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo will not be easy. Based on his advice, the only way to proceed is without placing a financial commitment to them. Training programs and education will be essential to the success of the project and its overall permanence. As mentioned in the research in Indonesia, the locals will have to build it themselves, be trained to operate it, as well as fixing it. Emphasis on details is essential; not educating them on everything can be detrimental in the long term success of the project. Availability of spare parts as well as the difficulty of repair will also have to be thoroughly addressed. A lack of parts and difficult repairs will discourage use of the technology. Analysis of the locals’ susceptibility to marketing tactics will have to be researched. Will they be more likely to use the solar cooker if they think it is a luxury that most people do not have?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo
Population (2011 est.) – 71,712,867
GDP (2010) – $15.3 Billion
GDP (2010)/Person – $199
Cash Crops – Coffee, Rubber, Palm Oil, Cotton, Sugar, Tea.

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Figure 1: Democratic Republic of the Congo – Location of the Ruzizi Valley as indicated by the red marker – Primary Project of Working Villages


  • Hot & humid in the river basin
  • Cool & dry in the southern highlands
  • Rainfall – 42 inches/year
    • South of Equator: October to May
    • North of Equator: April to November
    • Along Equator: On and off all year

Working Villages
Working Villages was founded in 2005 on the principle that all people deserve access to meaningful employment and a high quality of life.
Initial observation of the Ruzizi Valley showed thousands of people suffering from malnutrition and treatable illness.

WVI provides these community opportunities in the form of:
– Startup capital
– Seeds and raw materials
– Job Training

“We look forward to many years of planting the seeds of a better world.”

Project Leaders:
Alexander Petroff – President
Graduated from Hampshire College in 2006 following the founding of Working Villages International in 2005.
Alex Petroff TED TALK – TEDxEast

Marc “Fiston” Malago – Project Manager
Joined Working Villages in 2007.
Holds a degree in Agronomy and formerly worked for the UN before joining WVI. He has experience in organic farming techniques as well as a knowledge of the people in the area because he is a native of the Ruzizi Valley.

Ruzizi Project:
The Ruzizi Valley is located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Any farther east and it would be Rwanda. This area is known as “the rice bowl of the Congo” before it was devastated by eight years of war from 1996-2004. The project started in 2006 by providing seeds to the locals who could not afford to buy them. Move forward to present day and the Ruzizi project has grown over 200 different varieties of crops.

Their goal by 2016 is to construct twenty 1000-person farms.

Words from the President
“Rural African Farmers though appearing enthusiastic for any project are some of the most conservative people on the globe, they operate so near the starvation line that any project that requires their resources is met with extreme skepticism, and as if it fails to pay off could result in death. Over the past 100 years they have adopted iron hoes and pangas and that is about it.

We are in the process of introducing oxen, history is on our side on this one and still it is a struggle, that has required hundreds of thousands of dollars of backing, persistence, us controlling the environment, and thus far it is not universal. On their own they have also taken up cooking with corn cobs, we tried a rice stove, and charcoal briquettes however they didn’t take.”

What has been done with solar cooking in the Ruzizi Valley in the past?

– “In our area nothing has been done in the past, as far as I know”

What is currently being done?

– “Nothing…”

What are the plans for the future?

– “Until someone comes up with a good and plausible idea nothing is planned for solar cooking.”

IDEA: Implementation of Solar HotPots

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Solar Hot Pot Cookery:
It is fueled uniquely by direct solar energy and by indirect solar energy from the reflector. The sun’s rays penetrate the tempered glass “greenhouse” bowl, strike the 5-liter black enameled steel pot and convert to heat. The heat is retained around the pot by the greenhouse, thus achieving cooking temperatures.

Addressing the Issue:

  • Figuring out a way to provide a cleaner, affordable, and sustainable alternative way of cooking.
  • Being able to demonstrate and teach a new type of cooking technology to the people of DR Congo.
  • Working with an organization that will help execute this proposal.

Past Implementation:
In Africa:
Senegal: 350 HotPots were distributed in 20 villages in the Kaolack region which lies along the border of Gambia.
Cameroon: 150 HotPots were distributed in three cities.
In a refugee camp, 48 women were trained to use the HotPot.
Other countries were Mali, Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Tanzania.

In Indonesia:
The main goal of implementing solar cooking is to reduce deforestation. Research conducted in Indonesia showed that 26% of the population lives in deforested areas. The locals there have low income and the process of collecting wood to burn is time consuming for them. Statistics from the study also showed that there are 14 million families who use wood as a fuel for fire, burning 10.6 billion kg of firewood per year. The alternative options for the Indonesians included kerosene, coal briquettes, bamboo and/or coconut; however, the first two options were shown to be too expensive and the latter two irritate eyes and lungs when burned.

Keys to success included introducing the project to the Indonesians without a financial commitment to them. Furthermore to help the longevity of the technology, a training program was developed to help the locals learn how to build the solar cooker as well as operate it. During the training, emphasis was placed on important details that would make the solar cooker more efficient. Helping the Indonesians understand this emphasis was important to the success of the project. Project leaders told the locals that if they stopped using the solar cooker, they should donate it to someone who would. A key aspect in the development of the solar cooker in Indonesia was to build it using local supplies as to make spare parts are readily available. Repair difficulties would discourage the use of the technology in the long run. The women who conducted the cooking enjoyed not collecting wood because they were able to use the solar cooker.

Funding for the project was provided by a combination of non-governmental organizations as well as some government investments. The low income of the locals implied that it is unlikely that they could afford the cost of the cooker without outside finding.

A hurdle that was not considered before was psychological. To the people of the Ladakhis, solar cooking is neither modern nor fashionable and as a result they do not use it. The only way to implement the technology was to open a restaurant that used solar cooking and make it seem luxurious. This approach together with subsidies has sold the largest number of solar cookers in the world.

Culture and solar cooking
A large concern moving forward is if the cooking styles available through the solar hot pot “jive” with the cultural cooking practices of the people in that area.

What if cooking with the hot pot will change the way people in a community cooks entirely?

Research by Ramon Coyle (2006) mentions that beliefs help spread solar cooking; people in Africa and elsewhere have commented that the sun’s power to cook food is more proof of the “benevolence” of deities. In his experience, only after people solar cook successfully and regularly for several seasons will it catch on completely. These are possibly isolated instances so more research on the effect of solar cooking is necessary.

Future Project Needs

  • Finding the necessary funding for the project.
  • Project Leaders within Working Villages Inc., to implement the technology.
  • Developing standard operating procedures and training programs for the people of the DR Congo.
  • An ongoing monitoring project to oversee the longevity of the solar cooker.

Project Takeaways

  • Cannot have the technology dictate how the people live.
  • Providing funding rarely solves poverty issues.
  • Being able to understand the way of life in order to properly fix the problem correctly and efficiently.

1. Solar Household Energy
2. Democratic Republic of the Congo
3. Working Villages International
4. TEDxEast – Alex Petroff