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South-South technology transfer in Bolivia: A solution for local health, forests, and our global climate

Bolivian women pause during a training session on the use and maintenance of solar stoves in Barrio Misericordia on the outskirts of Sucre.Bolivian women pause during a training session on the use and maintenance of solar stoves in Barrio Misericordia on the outskirts of Sucre.

When I showed up at the headquarters of the solar stove foundation Centro de Desarrollo en Energia Solar, or CEDESOL, in Cochabamba, Bolivia, there was no smoke or electric power in sight, just the smell of sizzling chicken and potatoes for our lunch in the open courtyard. A few feet away I found the source of the smell—simple-looking, brightly painted wooden boxes, lined with mirrors.

The way that many people cook their food in the developing world—over open fires, often in enclosed spaces—comes with many social and environmental costs. World Health Organization studies have shown that respiratory problems resulting from smoke inhalation indoors are the leading cause of death for children under five. These inefficient fires are created with wood from local forests, causing deforestation and subsequent erosion and desertification. One only needs to look to the barren hillsides of Haiti, where people cook largely with charcoal from local forests, to understand this impact. Soot, or “black carbon,” is also one of the most polluting forms of carbon, having a global warming potential far higher than CO2. In the end, it is these same communities putting black carbon into the atmosphere that will bear the brunt of climate change impacts.

Luckily, the stoves like the ones CEDESOL produces in Bolivia offer a single solution to deal with these three major problems confronting rural communities around the world. These cooking devices rely only on power from the sun and are built entirely with materials indigenous to Bolivia. It is the kind of solution that embodies many of the elements necessary to really get to work solving climate change—local, small-scale, incorporating indigenous knowledge and materials, and with simple, easy-to-use technology.

One of the hottest terms at the international climate negotiations is technology transfer, which typically requires funding for the transfer of high-tech (and high-cost) new solutions from the Global North to the Global South. What is special, and very important, about the work CEDESOL is doing is that the technology of clean-burning, solar stoves has been transferred from the Global South to the Global South. Every part of the stoves CEDESOL manufactures is indigenous to Bolivia. Alpaca wool insulates the cooking surface, local pinewood forms the frame, the aluminum reflectors are recycled newspaper printing plates, and the glass cover that lets in and keeps in the sun’s heat is manufactured in-country. Financed by international donors and microfinance organizations, CEDESOL is creating a network of employment to produce the materials necessary to create the stoves. CEDESOL is able to provide the stoves to rural families who would not otherwise have the capital to change their cooking options. It also takes the time to train families and communities to use and service the stoves.

As CEDESOL’s director says, “If we don’t stand up and spread these low-tech solutions, we’re just as bad as the world’s worst polluters.”

For more information and to donate a stove and change someone’s life in Bolivia, please visit www.cedesol.org.

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