Solar Cooking
Last edited: 14 January 2016      

Natural vegetation in Africa

Fuelwood as a percentage of energy consumption in Africa

To see topics by country in Africa, go to Category:Africa.


The gigantic African continent hosts the world's largest number of countries, some of which are large, others very small. The continent stretches from around 36 degrees north of the equator for over 5,000 miles to, at its southern tip, almost 35 degrees south. The continent is historically critical in human history, as on this continent, records of our earliest ancestors are found, dating back millions of years. Between one and two million years ago, those ancestors, early humans, began to disperse to all other areas of the world.

Africa is second only to Asia in size, and has historically high rates of population growth. Its population of nearly 800 million makes it the second continent in terms of population, though considerably less densely occupied than Asia. Africa is roughly two-thirds rural, although steady movement from countryside to city changes that figure regularly. Large areas in the interior are less populated than coastal areas; the Sahara alone covers almost one fourth of the continent. Other smaller desert zones exist also, along with dense forests, savannah plains of grass, enormous riverine systems, and mountains. Geographical variety is matched by an amazing diversity of ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups. The continent has considerable wealth in natural resources of gold, diamonds, precious minerals, but has been hampered in its economic development by problems of governance, fragmentation by language and nationality, many catastrophes, some natural (droughts, floods) and others man-made (poverty, disease, wars, famine).

Size and diversity mean that the continent also has rich and colorful histories. Those of northern countries are tied intimately to the Mediterranean Sea and the history of Roman and Greek conquests. Africa had great indigenous kingdoms as well, in Great Zimbabwe, Uganda, the Niger Delta, and Benin. From around the seventh century, substantial contact with the Arab world began through trade.

In the colonial era, various European states established colonies and came to rule much of the continent, searching for riches to extract. One tragic outcome was establishment of the inhuman trade in slaves that flourished for two centuries. At roughly the same time, others were introducing European religions to Africans - few seem to have noted the incongruity of those two "exports" to the African continent from Europe.

With European encroaching from virtually all sides, the continent was mapped and ultimately cut into colonies from afar by the close of the 19th century. Limited consideration was given to cultural or ethnic traditional boundaries in the dividing process. Half a century later, in mid-century, the process of gaining independence from the colonial powers began in a rush, following the Second World War, with its dawning recognition of the inherent human rights of all human beings.

The second half of the last century has been largely the history of newly independent nations, struggling to establish themselves and to survive in the fast changing global society. Africa continues to face that challenge in the young 21st century.

Against that brief background, a look at the history of solar cooking on this huge continent is provided, country-by-country. For the reader's convenience, the information is presented by nation, in alphabetical order. Considering the continent from a regional perspective may ultimately prove to be more useful for purposes of future planning, however. A later section of this study will look at groupings of nations, considering existing political and cultural ties, as a possible means of moving forward in the promotion of solar cooking on this and other continents.

Suitability for solar cooking by region[]

All Africa[]

Based on information currently located, there is nothing like an all-African effort to promote solar cooking. The closest indication of interest in the topic is found in the existence, within the former Organization of African Unity (now renamed the African Union) of a Scientific, Technical and Research Commission, with a sub-committee on New, Renewable, and Solar Technologies. Discussion on the possibility of a plan for Promoting the Role of Renewable Energy Amongst Governments in Africa has been reported. A plan was to be developed to accomplish this promotion, but inquiries made failed to reveal the current status of this initiative.

Similarly, the European Community has created a "framework programme" on the topics of energy, environment and sustainable development. The activity focuses on research, technological development and demonstration. It is the main instrument of European nations for cooperation with the world of science, economics, and politics.

Driving forces for this activity include climate change, the need to address potential, strong demand for clean and affordable energy, and the liberalization of energy markets associated with globalization of the economy. The organization's targets include: meeting the goals specified in the Kyoto objectives, doubling the share of energy produced by renewable energy, improving energy efficiency, and maintaining the security of energy supplies. Within those goals, some specific actions include: integration of new and renewable energy sources into current systems, cost-efficient abatement technologies to reduce energy usage, development and demonstration of new energy sources such as biomass, wind, and solar and fuel cell technologies. The amoitious goals are noteworthy, and global in their implications.

More directly relevant to Africa (as well as to Asia and the Caribbean) the European Commission (EC) has also created a unique framework of co-operation, known as the Lome Convention, between its members and the 71 ACP (African, Caribbean, and Pacific) countries,. The EC created a special instrument, the European Development Fund, to finance programs in the energy area. It was clear that enormous investments in infrastructure were required to meet the needs of the ACP countries. Speaking at the world meetings in Varese, Italy, a representative of the EC demonstrated good understanding of the problems faced by householders, and collectively by nations, and called for efforts of many sorts, including solar cooking, to facilitate a shift to renewable energy sources (Varese, p. 39).

One non-governmental organization, Trans-World Radio(TWR), serves an all- Africa audience by means of short-and medium-wave radio transmission. The content of the radio programs has multiple purposes; some is straight news, some is evangelism, some is educational for varying age groups and audiences. The organization might best be called a missionary one, conducted largely electronically across the continent and in fact, world, but one with strong social programming. Its programs are delivered in over 100 languages, 27 of them African. It has 30 offices around the world, 7 in Africa.

In addition to the broadcasts, the Kenya office of Trans-World Radio has had a program to promote solar cookers in East Africa for over a decade. Supported by grant funding from various sources, the organization has had an active'program of making wooden box cookers and training household cooks in their use. In the first 3 years, over 360 cookers were made and sold. TWR principally worked, in their on-site program, in the areas around Nairobi, but also had reached out to persons from other countries who were living in Kenyan refugee camps. In addition, TWR promoted solar cookjng on its radio programs, in the division on social development, and reached in this manner persons from across the continent, although the only specific help provided was written instructions on how to make and use a solar cooker.

Through a series of staff changes, the TWR program continues. Boxes are constructed in a course at a Nairobi Village Polytechnic, and sold at cost to potential customers, or in some cases, to a group of customers who pool resources to "buy a cooker to share. (TWR has been particularly active in Kakuma Refugee Camp. Other projects known are more or less limited to one nation. Until early 2012, one exception, noted below, was the creation of the Solar Cookers International East Africa Office in Nairobi, Kenya, intended to provide consultant services and technical assistance on solar cooking to the entire East African Region. (See Rwanda, Somalia, and Tanzania). Though the SCI East Africa Office has been officially closed, Solar Cookers International remains active in Kenya through partnerships with community-based organizations.

The continent can be divided into somewhat natural groupings based on history, geography, culture, and so on. A small number of areas is used for Africa, where there is somewhat less diversity in terms of geography since most of Africa is one large land mass.

Four major areas are used to divide that landmass, while a fifth consists of the islands off shore from the continent

Northern Africa[]

(Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Gambia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Tunisia, Western Sahara)

This grouping of nations and areas covers the northern coast of the continent in a thick crescent swerving from the point where Africa and Asia meet at the Sinai Peninsula to more than halfway down Africa's western bulge. Seven of the countries are large, helping to make this sub-grouping of nations cover perhaps two-thirds of the area of the bulge that tops the continent. The five smaller nations lie along the Atlantic and Mediterranean seacoasts. The latitudes enclosing these nations run from 9 degrees north to about 35 degrees. Much of the area is very dry - Sahelian - and warm for most of the year.

More precipitation falls in the coastal areas and in the southern parts of this sub-area of Africa. For the most part, the nations in this region are not densely populated, other than along the seacoasts. Few very large cities, except Cairo, are found here. The bulk of all populations are rural agriculturalists, and some nomads. In general, it can be said that this entire grouping of nations is well suited for solar cooking, in major parts of the individual nations and areas. All climates are temperate to hot, insolation is high in the entire region.

Of the nations, Chad, Egypt, Mali, Morocco, Niger, and Senegal, or half of the nations, have had solar programming, for the most part, small introductory projects. This part of Africa, largely French speaking along with many local languages, is potentially one of the most promising markets found anywhere. While in many nations, the population has only a small income; the relatively low cost cookers will be very suitable to the climate. The programs that have been tried (and done well for the most part) have been very successful, based on current knowledge.

In this grouping of nations, serious political constraints, present currently, might make a major market promotion program difficult. Western Sahara is not a nation. A former colony of Spain (then called Spanish Sahara) it has been administered by Morocco since 1979. An internal independence group, the Polisario, has been in conflict with Morocco for much of that period. A UN team brought about a tentative agreement between the parties in the early 1990s, but no final agreement has ever been reached.

Libya, on the other hand, is a large Islamic nation, with substantial petroleum resources. Until recently, (Fall, 2003), the nation had been the subject of economic sanctions on the part of a number of European nations and the United States, around the bombing of a civilian American airplane over Scotland. Finally, an agreement has been reached about guilt and reparations, with most European nations removing the sanctions and resuming normal relationships with Libya. The USA has yet to conclude its sanctions, which continue to block investment in and travel to Libya.

All of the nations in this grouping are principally Muslim, though some also host local religions and smaller Christian communities. Given proximity to Western Asia, where the Israel-Palestine problem remains a source on conflict with international ramifications, the area will need sensitive approaches if promotion is to be undertaken by non-Muslim nationals.

Algeria = 1; Chad = 1; Egypt = 1; Gambia = 1; Libya = 2 (political issues); Mali = 1; Mauritania = 1; Morocco = 1; Niger = 1; Senegal = 1; Tunisia = 1; Western Sahara = 2 (political issues, logistical problems)

Eastern Africa[]

(Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda)

This is a broader grouping of nations than that usually considered as East Africa. The territory included covers a large proportion of the central part of the continent, under and to the east of the crescent of nations identified above. This area has mostly large nations, with Burundi, Eritrea, Rwanda, and Uganda the exceptions. The equator passes through the center of this area, making it truly "equatorial", ranging from 14 degrees South to 22 North of zero latitude.

Quite obviously, climatically, much of the terrain here is suitable, although the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda (all countries lying along the Great Lakes of Africa which are in the Rift Valley floor) bhave heavier rainfall. Somalia, parts of Kenya and Ethiopia, most of the Sudan on the other hand, are areas of low rainfall. In the entire region temperatures are always moderate, with relatively little change by season of the year.

The populations of countries in this region are more densely distributed on the land than in Northern Africa. The area's people are predominantly rural (excepting Djibouti), with only one or two good-sized cities per nation. The agricultural population is denser than Northern Africa, as well, with very high populations per square kilometer, many up to and some over 500 persons per square kilometer. Small-scale agriculture is very small indeed here.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the only country with substantial forest reserves - much of its interior is heavily forested; averaged over its entire land mass, 60% remains forested, with only a moderate loss registered officially (-0.4). Burundi and Rwanda, by contrast, are forested at 3.7% and 12.3%, respectively, and registered substantial rates of decline (-9.0% and -3.9% annually). The remaining countries are midway between those two extremes. Uganda, for example, has 21.0% of its land area forested, and a loss of-2% yearly. Gathered wood, or charcoal made from it, is far and away the major cooking fuel in use in the rural areas of this region, indicating serious need for alternatives as populations rise and forest shrink.

Other countries of the region are dryer and in the northernmost sectors, near Sahelian dryness. Considering all of these factors, it can safely be assumed that much of East Africa is well suited for the promotion of solar cooking. Indeed one of the large projects in Africa is found in northern Kenya, another in Ethiopia, both in refugee camps.

Projects, from small to large, are found in 7 of the 12 countries in this region, further indicating a favorable climate, both physical and economic, for solar technologies. As is true everywhere, micro-climatic circumstances may mean that solar cooking is not optimal in all parts of all countries.

Burundi = 1; Central African Republic = 1; Democratic Republic of the Congo = 2; Djibouti = 3 (largely a city state, Djibouti has a minimal rural population); Eritrea = 1; Ethiopia = 1; Kenya = 1; Rwanda = 1; Somalia = 2 (lack of governance currently); Sudan = 2 (ongoing civil conflict in much of the southern half of the nation); Tanzania = 1; Uganda = 1.

West-Central Africa[]

(Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d'lvoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo)

This area is very different from the above regions. It is made up mostly of a number of small states, with only Nigeria among the large nations of Africa. This regional location is on the underside of the African bulge, curving around the Gulf of Guinea where Cameroon, Gabon and Democratic Republic of the Congo meet the states of Eastern Africa. The bottom tip of Congo, the southernmost tip of the region is at 5 degrees south of the equator; the top, northern Burkina Faso, is 15 degrees north. All are therefore located in an area well suited, climatically speaking, for solar cooking. However, as with many coastal regions - all these nations with the exception of Burkina Faso (which is a bit more like the Sahelian region) have a relatively high rainfall and substantial humidity at least for portions of the year. Colonial histories of this area are different from the first regions discussed as well.

A larger number of the nations here, though not all, were colonized by the French, hence, the colonial experiences were dissimilar in many ways. Religious diversity is more marked here, with Islam present in many nations but not often the majority belief. Indigenous beliefs and Christianity (particularly Roman Catholicism) are common in all the nations.

In recent years, civil wars have disrupted a number of the nations in this region, Liberia, parts of Nigeria, Sierra Leone, as examples. Particularly brutal behavior on the part of rebel armies has brought outcries of horror but not always systematic assistance in solving the problems. While all the nations are independent entities, the remnants of colonialism are not entirely erased, as is true in many parts of the world. And, all too often, events in Africa are not publicized as widely as those in Europe or Asia, for reasons perhaps of distance, or racism, as asserted by some.

Despite its recent problems the area could be a potential place for solar cooking promotion. The cheapest cooking device, the cardboard CooKit, might not hold up well enough in the humidity and rains of this area. Altered or different technologies could be required, but if accomplished, the small nations of West Central Africa would make a viable market for demonstration and commercial sale of solar cookers, since the combined population is considerable, given its high density.

Benin = 1; Burkina Faso = 1; Cameroon = 1; Congo = 1; Cote d'lvoire = 1; Equatorial Guinea = 1; Gabon = 1; Ghana = 1; Guinea = 1; Guinea-Bissau = 1; Liberia = 2 (civil strife); Nigeria = 1; Sierra Leone = 2; Togo = 1.

Southern Africa[]

(Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe)

The often-called Southern cone of Africa consists of 11 nations, including the big island of Madagascar, lying offshore from Mozambique. All countries on the mainland are average to large in size, with the exception of Lesotho and Swaziland both of which are tiny, and enclosed by South Africa. The area all lies within latitudes from 35 to 5 degrees south of the equator, hence in good to excellent solar cooking range. Temperatures are moderate throughout the year, for the most part, with seasonal average temperature variation between January (the warmer season) and July (the colder) of only 20-25 degrees. Solar cooking could be done in most of the region for most of the year. Much of Namibia and half of South Africa are very dry, while other areas have moderate to heavy rainfall in the coastal and some inland area, and on the islands.

Historical circumstances have created more extensive infrastructure and industrial development in South Africa than in other parts of the region, or for that matter, the continent. That nation enjoys a higher average GDP per capita, but continues to have great disparities in income between different populations within the country as it moves forward in a post apartheid era. Other nations of the region are also struggling hard to catch up. A few are progressing nicely: Botswana and Namibia have recorded GDPs of $16,600 and $5,200 per capita, for example, with export income from mining of diamonds and various metals. Others remain with GDPs under $ 1,000 per capita per annum.

Considerable variation is seen in the forest situations in the countries of Southern Africa. A number of the countries have close to no forests, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa each have under 10% of forested land. Others have substantial proportions of forests: in Angola, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, roughly half of the land is forested. The others nations are in between, none in situations of extreme deforestation. Without exception however, all are losing forest cover at a substantial rate annually, as populations rise and more land is needed, and as rising populations will always need to cook their food, predominantly using wood or charcoal.

In 2003, all the nations excepting Zimbabwe are relatively stable economically and politically, if poor. The populations of most countries practice Christianity or a form of indigenous religion; Islam is rare in the region, found everywhere, but in smaller proportions than in, for example, Eastern or Northern African nations. All but Botswana and South Africa are more than half rural, some up to 80%. rural. Only South Africa has large cities.

With the end of apartheid in the 1990s and cessation of hostilities in Angola and Mozambique, most of this part of the region is stable. Only Zimbabwe, a country expected to make good progress at the time of its independence because of its advanced infrastructure, has been beset by political unrest for a number of years, with no end in sight.

Seven of the eleven countries have had some type of solar cooking activity, plus one with a plan developed by the government with, however, no solid information on implementation. Only three countries therefore have had no exposure to solar cooking concepts. That is not surprising, given the good potential for use of the technology offered by the climatic situation in the region. An area with excellent potential accompanied by substantial knowledge and experience with the technology, even in small projects, has exceptionally promising market and project potential.

Angola = 1; Botswana = 1; Lesotho = 1; Madagascar = 1; Malawi = 1; Mozambique = 1; Namibia = 1; South Africa = 1; Swaziland = 1; Zambia = 1; Zimbabwe = 2 (civil strife).

See also Solar Cookers and Social Classes in Southern Africa

Islands of Africa[]

(Comoros, Mauritius, Reunion, Seychelles, St. Helena)

Three of the islands are in the Atlantic Ocean. The island of St. Helena is far to the west of Namibia; Cape Verde is not as far from the continent, offshore to the west of Senegal, and São Tomé and Príncipe lies near the coast of Gabon. The remaining four other islands or clusters of islands are in the Indian Ocean, east of the continent: the Comoros between Madagascar and the mainland, the Seychelles to the north of Madagascar, and the others, Reunion and Mauritius beyond. All the African insular states are located are located within a band from 20 degrees north to 20 degrees south of the equator, hence climatically suited but most likely, as withother islands, quite damp.

People on the islands make their livings from agriculture, fishing, tourism and related activities, such marketing of local crafts. A mix of religions is found on all islands, which have differing colonial histories and patterns of migration to and from the island.

All are very small, and most have little industrial development. None is large enough to be alone a site for most types of commercial venture, given their small populations. 7,000 persons live on St. Helena, for example, the smallest of all. Others have populations ranging from 85,000 on the Seychelles to the big crowd of 1,213,000 on Mauritius. Taken as a total, the populations would be under 3 million people.

However, the climate is equable, the sun shines a lot, and all would appear to favorable for solar cooking, with the caveat about dampness and humidity associated with sea island living. Clearly major logistical and transport problems would be involved in solar cooking promotion in this area, as well as a likely need for testing of equipment in terrain where little solar cooking has been done, a problem similar to that suggested for the islands of Asia (see later section in this chapter).

Cape Verde = 1; Comoros = 1; Mauritius = 1; Reunion = 1; Sao Tome and Principe = 1; Seychelles = 1; St. Helena = 1 (all rated 1, but there clearly are logistical difficulties in of serving these island populations).

It should be noted that there are yet additional islands in waters surrounding the Africa continent, i.e. the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and Mayotte. They are however dependencies of Portugal, Spain, or France and as such not included as "nations or areas. Organizations and entrepreneurs intending to promote products that make life better for human beings and their communities need not, of course, be concerned about legal status, but rather about the persons who live there.

For Africa, only one nation can be excluded, and even that is questionable, Djibouti, deemed not totally appropriate, as it is largely an urban city-state, with only a minimal rural hinterland. However, at least some small efforts are made in the nation indicating that solar cooking must be feasible. All the states are located in geographical terrain that is suitable for solar cooking. A few are noted as perhaps not appropriate at the moment, because of civil or political strife which would make any active market research or product promotion difficult, probably dangerous, and unlikely to be very successful. Those factors will change over time, of course.

However the overwhelming number of African countries are suitable on both geographic and social indices, 10 nations in North Africa, 8 in East Africa, 14 in West Central Africa (many of which are fairly small), 10 in Southern Africa, and all 7 insular African areas.

[Information for this section was taken originally from State of the Art of Solar Cooking by Dr. Barbara Knudson]