Solar Cooking
Last edited: 8 May 2020      
Food versus charcoal

In a Nairobi, Kenya market each pile of food items costs the same as the pile of charcoal in the center of the circle. By using the Integrated Cooking Method, people can buy more food and require less fuel.

Fuelwood in the form of wood or charcoal remains the primary energy source for over two billion people worldwide. In some areas not even these fuels are available so dry grass or cow dung are burned instead. Charcoal is often favored by cooks, since its heat stays rather constant and the fire doesn't have to be tended as much. It is favored by producers, since it is easier to transport than wood. However, it takes 10 kg of wood though to make 1 kg of charcoal. Household air pollution from cooking fires kills more people each year than AIDS or malaria[1].

Global dimming[]

Main article: Global dimming
Pollution over east China

A permanent cloud of soot particles from cooking fires hovers over Asia.

Global dimming as a result of the atmospheric brown clouds (ABCs) of black carbon and other particulates that circle the globe (aka aerosols) is having a profound effect on climate change, global warming, plants, migration patterns, and food production worldwide. Unlike CO2, the brown clouds would clear quickly if we stopped sending smoke up in the first place.

An example: Nigeria[]

Main article: Nigeria

Most of sub-Saharan Africa is buried either in the forest or stands as an island. Nigeria happens to be the major petroleum refining and exporting country - supplying its products to some greater number of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) countries. Unfortunately, inasmuch as the fuel is readily available, the price remains prohibitive and less accessible to the average family. Ironically, Nigeria itself imports refined petroleum products for its domestic consumption from overseas. The result is endless dependence on fossil fuel for our domestic needs - hence the flagrant exploitation of the forests.

Aware of this tendency, governments had embarked on tree planting campaigns at various levels; but little result has been achieved by these efforts for lack of alternative energy. Cost of electricity is beyond the reach of many urban dwellers, let alone the rural dwelling majority, hence people prefer to do most of their cooking with charcoal or firewood. In the riverine communities where fishing is the major occupation, preservation is not possible except by drying the fish over firewood or charcoal. The level of carbon infused into the fishes during this drying process constitutes a major source of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. High percentage of much needed protein is lost through this process of preservation.

The photographs show pile of firewood for sale and some trucks off-loading charcoal while buyers queue up to take delivery.


Forest exploitation


Trucks off-loading charcoal

Collecting Fuelwood in Guatemala

Collecting fuelwood in Guatemala

Nepal wood carrying - McArdle 2008

Carrying fuelwood in Nepal

Charcoal production

Charcoal is created by burning wood in an oxygen-starved environment

Fuelwood consumption around the world[]

Wood-charcoal-production-in-africa ce48

Fuelwood as a percentage of energy consumption in Asia [2]

Percentage of households using solid fuel 2006
Fuelwood-charcoal consumption in Africa, 2-20-13

Fuelwood and charcoal use per capita in Africa[3]

Quotes about the world fuelwood situation[]

  • "Worldwide, more than three billion people cook with wood, dung, coal and other solid fuels on open fires or traditional stoves." [1]
  • "Wood energy is the dominant source of energy for over two billion people, particularly in households in developing countries. Biofuels, especially fuelwood and charcoal, currently provide more than 14 percent of the world's total primary energy." [2]
  • "2.5 billion people - 40 per cent of the world’s population are still cooking and heating their homes with basic energy sources, such as charcoal, wood, biomass and dung." [3]
  • "For cooking, heating and other energy needs, over 2.5 billion people in developing countries depend on fuelwood or, when that is unaffordable, on crop residues and animal dung." [4]

Audio and video[]

  • Get Beyond Firewood, A video produced by the Women's Refugee Commission is a poignant reminder that the need to get past using firewood as a cooking fuel is great, and immediate. Limited forested areas are being depleted, and the smoke from cooking fires is causing respiratory illness. Also, sadly, women living in distressed areas are putting their lives on the line, facing possibly being assaulted when they leave their homes in search for fuel, to simply be able to cook for their families. However, solar cooking has begun to be an important part of the solution. Investigate work being done in African Refugee camps. More information on the Womens Refugee Commission.


Articles in the media[]

See also[]

External links[]

  • September 2011: Around three billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and leaky stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal. Nearly two million people die prematurely from illness attributable to indoor air pollution from household solid fuel use. Read more...Indoor air pollution and health - World Health Organization
  • is a tremendous resource for people who want to learn more about wood smoke. It is the home page for Clean Air Revival, Inc.