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Solar Cooking and the UN Millenium Development Goals

March 4, 2013

Adapted from SCWN by Lorin Symington

United Nations Millennium Development GoalsImage

Solar cooking contributes to reaching all eight of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Participation of women is vital to achieving the MDGs, yet it is difficult or impossible for many poor, rural women and girls because of time-consuming fuel-gathering and cooking. “The time women and girls and spend on routine tasks can be reduced dramatically …(with) efficient sources of energy – especially new forms of fuel for cooking and heating.”[1]

See for details about one of the most cost effective solar cookers.

Widespread access to low-cost, high-power solar cookers to pasteurize water and cook food with free sunshine is a proven ‘quick win’ as defined in the UN Secretary-General’s Report: Relatively inexpensive, high impact initiatives with the potential to generate major short-term gains and save millions of lives.

Low-tech, high-power solar cookers, permit value adding to products, combat indoor air pollution, reduce the burden placed on families by the high costs of cooking fuel, protect areas at risk of deforestation and enhance sanitation while lessening needless burdens for women and girls. Institution-sized solar cookers for refugee camps, hospitals, orphanages and schools are also cost effective.[2]

In new areas modest funding for 3-5 years 1) creates public awareness, 2) provides initial consumer education and follow-up, 3) starts up local production, and 4) trains local women to start small businesses.

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Many families living on less than one dollar a day spend 1/3 of it for cooking fuel. This cost often means less food to eat and rarely includes pasteurizing water or warming wash water. Solar cookers typically reduce fuel needs by at least 1/3 [3][4][5] and, depending on the price of cooking fuel, can pay for themselves in as little as two months of fuel savings.[6] Additionally, having a source of cheap, clean solar thermal energy enables producers to preserve seasonal harvests by dehydrating crops, thereby improving nutrition the rest of the year. Improved maternal health and the ability to pasteurize water reduce the incidence of disease, the opportunity and treatment cost of which is an important factor in global poverty.


Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

In many developing countries, girls start helping collect wood at a young age. Wood is now scarce for two billion people[7], and about half live in sun-rich areas. Long journeys to gather small brush, crop residues and dung for cooking fuel take time from school attendance and studies. Solar cookers need only sunlight, freeing boys and girls to spend more time in school.

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

Primarily women and girls spend hours gathering fuel, cooking food, tending fires, and suffer extra health hazards due to indoor air pollution and smoke. Solar cookers require no fuel-gathering and produce no smoke or soot, freeing time to pursue education, increase food quality and production and generate additional income. The European Commission and solar cooker experts estimate that 165 to 200 million households could benefit from solar cookers.[8][9]

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

Waterborne and smoke-related diseases are the primary killers of children.[10] When fuel is scarce and expensive, it is hard to heed public health messages about boiling water. Every solar-cooked meal is smoke-free and solar cookers easily pasteurize water and milk.

Goal 5: Improve maternal health

Smoke from cooking fires is the major killer of young women in developing countries and is linked to low-birth weight and infant mortality.[11] Fuel-gathering in some areas expose women to violent assaults. Solar cooking is clean and smoke-free, and benefits the health of all family members.

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Gathering firewood, working to buy firewood and caring for a sick family member and orphans takes time away from livelihood activities. Diarrhea due to unclean water is responsible for 1.8 million deaths every year [12] and free solar powered water pasteurization protects whole families. Every year, Indoor Air Pollution  (IAP) kills 1.5 million people, primarily women and children. [13] Reducing the amount of resources spent fighting diarrhea and complications from IAP equates to a greater ability to combat AIDS/HIV, malaria, etc.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

One-third of humanity has only wood, charcoal or poor substitutes to cook daily meals. When wood becomes scarce, cooking is done by burning dung and crop residues, which should be returned to the soil. A small solar cooker saves about one ton of wood per year[14] thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1.8 tons per year. [15] Deforestation and desertification are exacerbated by unsustainable use of wood and charcoal as cooking fuels. While burning wood is carbon neutral, decreasing the amount of wood used, thereby increasing forest cover, amounts to sequestering carbon.


Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development

Creating widespread access to solar cookers involves mutually beneficial participation of government, commercial and humanitarian sectors, and complements broader local, national and international activities toward all of the MDGs.


[1] UN Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender Equality 2005, Taking action: achieving gender equality and empowering women, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), 2005 [2] Scheffler, W. & Sutter, C., Evaluation of solar community kitchens in Gujarat, Proceedings of the Third international conference on solar cookers use and technology, Coimbatore, India, 1997 [3] Palmer, R., Kota, M. & Wenzel, M. The DME/GTZ solar cooking field test in South Africa: a study in end-user acceptance and pilot commercial dissemination. Proceedings of the International Conference on Solar Cooking 7-29 November 2000 (pp. 41-49). Kimberley, South Africa: Department of Minerals and Energ, 2000 [4] Konde, A., Aisha Solar Cooking Project Evaluation, Solar Cookers International, 2002 [5] Center for Independent research and Energy for Sustainable Development Africa, Evaluation of the Solar Cooker Project in Kakuma refugee camp 2003. Unpublished, Solar Cookers International archives, 2003 [6] Solar Cookers International Sunny Solutions Project in Nyakach, Kenya, 2005 [7] Varese Declaration, World Solar Cooking and Food Processing Conference, UNESCO, 1999; also, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), State of the world’s forests. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997 [8] Ossenbrink, H., Opening remarks by European Commission Head of Renewable Energies Unit, Proceedings of World solar cooking and food processing conference, Varese Italy, UNESCO, 1999 [9] Grupp, M., The untapped market for solar cookers, Solar Box Journal, 1994 [10] World Health Organization [11] ibid. [12] UNICEF and WHO report: Diarrhoea: Why Children are Still Dying and what can be done [13] WHO report: Fuel for Life: Household Energy and  Health[14] Many solar cooker projects, including Heibi, China; South Africa Mines & Minerals [15] Thorne, S. & S. Raubenheimer, Evaluation of a potential in attracting finance through Clean Development Mechnisms – Solar cookers and carbon mitigation possibilities, Energy transformations, South Africa, 2003

Adapted from

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