Wednesday, December 01, 2010

the solar-oven fallacy

The solar oven is a simple idea that has actually been around for a few hundred years. It is sometimes touted as a panacea for problems ranging from women's rights to global warming... On the surface, the idea seems like a good one: Use the sun to cook food. Free heat. No wood chopping or carrying. And yet, the solar cooker has, ironically, not set the developing world on fire.

"Solar ovens are not that complicated," said Paul Polak, author of Out of Poverty..."What is complicated is learning the cultural patterns of people in Africa with food and how they might interact with that technology."

Some of the problems with solar ovens: They take several hours to cook food; they don't function in the rainy season; wind can knock them over; they simply won't work for people who are up before dawn or need to cook after dark. So while it may seem like a good idea to someone sitting in an office in Washington, D.C., or Brussels, to a woman in a wattle house in Zambia, the benefits might be less clear.

"You've got to design for the market," Polak said, "not because you're a tinkerer who is fascinated with a technical problem."

"There are just too many prescriptive approaches to what is needed," said Emeka Okafor, a Nigerian entrepreneur based in New York City. "That is one of the biggest flaws of development. You have people running around with prescriptions for what they think works, because they have a simplistic understanding of what the problem is.

Frank Bures. Can you Hear us Now?


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