Solar programmes have been underway in both countries for several years and solar ovens/cookers are becoming increasingly common. The devices have low running costs, are environmentally friendly and free women and children from the onerous task of collecting firewood.
Local companies such as ISOMET (founded in 1997 by a Burkinabe engineer) and bodies such as the Association of Women Engineers of Mali (AFIMA) are busy promoting the benefits of solar cooking. Devices can be large-scale systems and bakery ovens for whole communities or smaller designs – like the butterfly and parabola – for households. (You can see one of these ingenious solar cookers being used in a video of an SOS mother preparing food in Burkina Faso at http://www.our-africa.org/burkina-faso/home-cooking.)
Solar panels are also becoming more widespread and not just in rural communities. Irregular power supplies make solar energy attractive for schools and communities in towns and cities. In Mali, government subsidies mean the cost of installing solar panels and hardware can be as little as 520 dollars.
A number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are active in the region to help communities take advantage of solar power. One such NGO is Soleil et Développement, which has installed panels for women in southern Burkina Faso, allowing the community of Boulsa to mill grain for sale. Another NGO, Alliance 3000, distributes a parabolic solar cooker which is easy to assemble and rotate so the oven receives the most sunlight.
One woman who trains others in the use of solar cooking kits spoke to Alertnet. Anna Dembele was keen to stress how solar cookers save trees in Mali, where an estimated 500,000 hectares of forest are cleared for firewood and charcoal each year. As well as helping to protect the environment, Ms Dembele enthused how solar cooking has released her “from the long domestic task” – rice boils on her solar stove in just 15 minutes. And whereas she used to spend a dollar each day on charcoal or firewood, the costs of running the solar cooker are half that. Now organisations in both Mali and Burkina Faso hope they can find ways of subsidizing the cost of solar cookers, so that more communities can take advantage of these amazing devices.