Now We’re Cooking

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From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, people around the world are turning to the sun as a viable source of energy. Most practical in climates near the equator, solar ovens offer an alternative for those who depend daily on firewood and charcoal to cook their food. The devices, ranging from simple to complex, are meant to slow deforestation and the slew of problems that come with it—such as biodiversity loss, global warming, desertification, landslides, and floods. In addition, solar ovens offer a safe alternative for women who may walk for miles in search of wood in depleted forests or refugee camps and a healthier alternative for families who inhale smoke from wood-burning ovens. Currently, indoor air pollution kills almost 2 million women and children around the world each year.

On the island of Madagascar, deforestation has been widespread. Where lush, green forests once sustained a diversity of endemic species, today the land is used to graze cattle or lays barren. Ninety percent of Madagascar’s original forests have been lost, mostly to use as firewood. When the human population grew from four to 20 million after 1960, the demand for firewood climbed beyond sustainable levels.

A Swiss organization called ADES (Association for the Development of Solar Energy) introduced solar cookers to Madagascar. Since 2001, ADES has produced and sold solar cookers on the island to help ease the burden on the environment. With around 300 sunny days per year, conditions in Madagascar are perfect for solar cooking. However, the acceptance of any new technology can take time. Some challenges that the organization is currently facing are described below.

  • Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. Even though the basic box cooker is sold at less than it costs to produce it, it is still too expensive for most.
  • People are comfortable with and used to cooking with firewood and charcoal.
  • Food that is not cooked over flames doesn’t taste the same, and the cooker can’t be used to prepare ranovola, a burnt rice tea that is served with most meals.
  • Cooking with the box solar cooker, which generates temperatures up to 150°C, takes much longer than cooking with traditional ovens


1. Work with a small group to brainstorm solutions to each of the problems listed above

2. Using the following links or others, research solar cooker designs:

Select an alternative solar cooker design to introduce to the people of Madagascar, or describe your own design, using elements of existing plans. Explain your choice.

3. Draw a concept map showing how technology advancement, economy, environment, and social issues are related in this case study.

More to Explore
Solar Cookers International
Solar Cooker’s World Network Madagascar Site
ADES Website
Solar Cooker Newsletter