New Era (Windhoek)

18 May 2007

Namibia: Solar Baking Oven Would Save Wood, Environment and Electricity

Windhoek — Solar baking ovens are on the cards especially for small rural areas where commercial baking is not viable.

Although other solar technologies such as solar cookers have been developed and have been on the market since 1998, the same cannot be said about using the sun's heat for baking. Namibia is one of the countries with a great supply of potential solar energy because it has 12 months of sun.

Harald Schutt of Amusha Consultancy, who initiated the Solar Stove Project based at Valombola Vocational Training college, is currently working on a solar baking oven to enable communities in small settlements to engage in bread-baking as a means of generating income for their households.

He said the project would be viable for areas with a population of less than 1000 people where there are no commercial baking ovens because electricity is costly.

"It would make good economic sense for rural people," he told New Era on Monday.

Although the prototype is already developed, it needs to be optimized to know how best it will be used before it can be developed and put on the market. The problem until now has been to raise funds to optimize the prototype.

To finalize the project would require N$50000 to enable him to buy material.

"I have been to the banks and to some non-governmental organizations, but I have had a bad experience," he said, adding: "On my own, I don't have the means to build the prototype and do the necessary tests in order to optimize the function before we can produce them in series."

The prototype that has been developed at present will bake four loaves of bread and will cost between N$1200 and N$1500 each.

In many rural areas where there is no electricity and where power is expensive, bread is baked in tins placed in a heated hole. The bread is normally baked in round tins covered with a piece of corrugated iron sheet on which another fire is made.

"This method uses a lot of wood for little bread, and often a portion of it is burnt while some is not fully baked," said Schutt. The solar baking oven will change this. Solar stoves can be used as a successful example of a device that is already working.

So far, between 500 and 600 solar cookers have been sold mainly to institutions such as kindergartens and schools, according to Sabina Ishumba who is currently working on the Solar Stove Project.

With the distance which people used to travel in search of firewood increasing by the year, Ishumba said solar stoves were making more economic sense to use. A bundle of firewood at open markets usually costs between N$10 and N$20. And this is normally used up in less than a day.

The problem faced by the project, however, is to get a secure source of funding for the project, which is not profit-making. While material such as wood and others is sourced locally, others including foil and moulds are bought from neighbouring South Africa.

Usually, rural areas use lots of wood as well as charcoal for cooking, which contributes to deforestation, albeit to a lesser extent. According to the 2001 Population and Housing Census, three of five households rely on wood and charcoal for cooking, lighting and heating.

The proportion is higher for rural areas where nine out of 10 households rely on wood compared to one in five in urban areas. In Kavango, Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Omusati regions, 60 percent of households rely heavily on wood and charcoal, while 61.6 percent of 346455 households countrywide rely on wood and charcoal. Only 0.2 percent were found to use solar technologies.

The Director of Forestry in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Joseph Hailwa, reiterated that usage of wood was a mater of concern especially on the part of businesses selling fuel wood.

Although collection of fuel wood for household causes isolated damage to the environment, people nowadays walk more than 10km to find firewood, and they also clash with commercial farmers for cutting their protected wood resources.

"There are a number of complaints we have received in this regard," said Hailwa, adding that the department has also in the past arrested people for collecting a lot of firewood without permits.

A person collecting firewood in large amounts - like a bakkie full - needs a permit. The biggest demand for fuel wood is in the northern communal areas as well as areas that are highly populated. In these areas there is a shortage of fuel wood.

The director said if Namibia is to reduce its use of fuel wood, households should use alternatives, which include solar technologies, paraffin, gas and bushblocks.

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