SOLAR OVEN EXPOSITION, KAEDI, MAURITANIA
AUGUST 10, 2004
This project was a coordination of efforts between RPCV Shelagh Bocoum, Solar Household Energy, Inc (SHE), Mr. Abdoulaye Touré and Peace Corps Mauritania staff, particularly Assistant Peace Corps Director Mohamedou Aw and Trainer/RPCV Racey Bingham.
Ms. Bocoum (PCV 2000-2003) has been interested in the virtues of solar cooking in Mauritania since serving as a volunteer in Kiffa. Shelagh made numerous experimental solar cookers, and tested them seeing first hand the efficiency of this clean energy technique.
Mr. Touré has 17 years of extension experience in Solar Cooking. He has trained people all over West Africa, and has traveled around to South Africa and the United States for trainings in this domain. He had done one training in Kaedi, Mauritania in 1991 for local women. Unfortunately, we were not able to find these women to participate in this training.
Agriculture APCD Mohamedou Aw and RPCV Racey Bingham were both aware of the necessity of this training for the new trainees and acted as the on-site coordinators for the workshop.
Upon returning to the states, Ms. Bocoum discovered that SHE was currently employing local trainers and RPCVs to do Solar Cooking projects in Senegal and Mali, and was interested in expanding these trainings into neighboring Mauritania. This interest corresponded with the 2004 Peace Corps Mauritania’s Pre-Service training, during which new volunteers are trained in language, culture and technical aspects of life and work in Mauritania. RPCV Racey Bingham was traveling from the US to Mauritania to act as Lead Trainer for the new group of Small Enterprise Development volunteers, and at Shelagh’s request, she agreed to organize an informal workshop for the trainees at the training center in Kaedi, Mauritania. In order to facilitate this, SHE sent Ms. Bingham one reflective panel to use for demonstration purposes. This panel is part of the solar cooking kit, which SHE promotes around West Africa.
June – July 2004
Upon Ms. Bingham’s arrival in Kaedi, she worked with the training director to find an appropriate time to hold the workshop. The workshop would target all trainees (42) from the five sectors (Agroforestry, Health, Education (English), Gender and Development, Small Enterprise Development and Environmental Education.), therefore the timing needed to be convenient for all programs. Unfortunately, this meant that the demonstration would be going on simultaneously with other training activities.
Ms. Bingham concurrently coordinated a date with Mr. Touré in which he would be available to travel from Dakar, Senegal to Kaedi.
SHE agreed to compensate Mr. Touré for his transportation to and from Nouakchott, and Peace Corps Mauritania pledged an additional 15,000UM (approx. $54) honorarium. Peace Corps also agreed to provide food, lodging and transportation in Nouakchott and Kaedi. In addition to Mr. Touré’s compensation, Peace Corps also paid 11,000UM (approximately $40) for the materials needed for stove construction and to pay the local carpenter’s labor fee.
Week of August 2, 2004
In the week preceding the workshop, Ms. Bingham spoke several times with Mr. Touré to discuss the materials he needed that were not available in Kaedi. The only materials not available locally were the glass panes required for the “stand-alone” box cooker stove that Mr. Touré was going to construct in addition to demonstrating the SHE HotPot promotional model. APCD Mohamedou Aw purchased these panes in Nouakchott and transported them to the training center.
August 8-11, 2004
Mr. Touré arrived in Nouakchott on August 8th, and traveled to Kaedi on August 9th, at which point he met with Ms. Bingham to develop a final schedule of the workshop day. Together they finalized the list of materials, which were purchased in the market with Peace Corps funds.
The workshop day was organized as follows:
This exposition comes at a very pertinent time in Mauritania for a two key reasons. First, due to the natural climate of Mauritania and droughts that occurred in the 70s and 80s, the tree cover is severely degraded. Obtaining fuel requires substantial time and financial investments; city dwellers must purchase charcoal or wood and those in rural areas are forced to walk long distances to gather timber. Furthermore, the commodity prices in Mauritania have been steadily growing and budgets are incredibly tight.
Second, there is significant support from the government and NGOs for solar energy projects. As Mr. Touré noticed, this is evident along the road from Nouakchott. Numerous cell phone towers are powered by solar panels, and in many of the villages, wealthier families power their TVs, refrigerators and electricity from solar panels. Solar cooking techniques are being refined on site by a number of international organizations and more trainings are planned for the future.
A number of structural changes should be made so that volunteers and staff can reap the maximum benefit from this workshop:
The following were the positive aspects of this workshop:
The success of this training will manifest itself in the next few years, as trainees, volunteers and Peace Corps staff who have learned the process and importance of solar ovens begin renewable energy projects in their sites around Mauritania. More immediate results may be seen in amount of discussion around this topic. The Mauritanians that were present for the exposition were much more receptive to the idea of such a “strange” cooking system than anticipated. They expressed an interest in introducing solar cooking as an alternative fuel source for their families. The mostly male staff stated that although they themselves are not the cooks in the family, they are paying for the wood or charcoal, and the solar option will decrease or even eliminate the family’s fuel expense. Many are also aware of the alarming degree of land degradation that has happened since their youth.
It is important to remember the caveat that Touré gave during his presentation: he has worked to promote solar ovens for 17 years in West Africa, and it is just recently that he has seen a significant increase in the number of people using solar ovens daily. He worked in Burkina Faso for seven years before he saw significant changes. As he emphasized, cooking methods are traditions passed down from mother to daughter and are not simply a culinary product, but a cultural statement. In order to cook with a solar oven, cooking styles need to be adapted to the “one pot” method, which takes a significant amount of time to change.
Overall, this was a valuable experience for trainees and Mauritanians alike. The two stoves that were distributed following the exposition will be used for demonstration purposes. The solar box cooker, due to its relatively large frame and fragile glass panels, will remain in at the Peace Corps office in Nouakchott. It will be used for a weekly demonstration benefited by staff, volunteers traveling through, and visitors. The HotPot kit is easily transportable, and volunteers in the nine regions will be able to request it for a trial/demonstration period. These models will increase Mauritanian’s exposure to solar cooking. It could take a long time to modify traditional cooking habits, but as the Mauritanian saying goes: drop-by-drop the valley is filled. Eventually, consistent efforts will amount to a significant transformation.
Materials Distributed to Trainees and Peace Corps Staff