This firewood shortage is not likely to improve spontaneously. The consequences include a growing burden on family budgets, more time spent for the collection of wood and partly irreversible damage to the local environment. These effects will continue to hit the rural and semi-urban poor, particularly women, the hardest.
In this situation, viable alternatives to replace or complement woodfuel use will become more and more essential. A logical solution is the use of the sun where it shines brightest and where it is needed most. Solar cookers can do just that, and solar cooking has the potential to become one of the most important contributions to a solution of the firewood problem.
The World Solar Cooking and Food Processing Conference in Varese / Italy addressed this goal. Over 300 experts from 64 countries, including 6 ministers, producers and representatives of international agencies, which is the largest of its kind worldwide, took part in this conference.
We, the participants of this conference, realise that if solar cooking is to fulfill its promise, a number of conditions have to be met:
Cookers must be user friendly, efficient, durable as well as affordable. To date, no cooker on the market satisfies all of these requirements. Technical development, in the South as in the North, must be orientated to and defined by the needs of users and the market requirements.
Dissemination, financing and user support must comply with the standards set by other economic and development activities.
The political framework must be conducive to sustainable success, favouring the most promising technologies without crippling healthy competition.
Solar cooking can make a significant impact to relieve the heavy workload of women.
Solar cookers should be treated as commercial products. Assistance to those who cannot pay should be provided independent of market forces.
Wherever possible, locally available materials, expertise and labour should be used. Barriers for importing key inputs should be removed.
The promotion of solar cookers is a key element for success. Significant assistance should be given a for a defined period of time.
We therefore call for a combined effort of:
Cooker developers, to identify and further develop the most promising solar cooker concepts.
Manufacturers, particularly in the field of household appliances, to arrive at adapted, cost-efficient high-quality cookers for mass-production.
Private sector companies, in the fields of commercial distribution and financing, to get these products out to the user and to provide user support.
NGOs, in order to ensure non-commercial distribution modes for the most needy.
National Governments, to create a favourable political and fiscal environment and to provide initial financial support where necessary.
International Organisations, to help spread these efforts towards all interested countries.
We propose the use of an existing organisation to become a global solar cooker resource centre where information can be shared and mutual assistance provided, be it on the scientific, technical, commercial or user side.
Clearly, a combined North-South and South-South effort is needed in order to improve the energy supply situation of a large portion of humanity without rapid depletion of (natural and financial) resources and without deterioration of the environment.
We believe that solar cooking can contribute to this goal. We urge all concerned to join hands in an effort which is modest in cost and which can better the lives of a large part of mankind.