by Julius Barigaba
Taken from http://allafrica.com

The $180 ultra sun cooker could be the biggest let-off yet that governments and environmentalists have been seeking to arrest the trend of diminishing forests.

US-based Ugandan businessman Ronald Mutebi has set up a manufacturing plant that will make and distribute the solar ovens across East Africa from next month. Initial pilots in four rural districts showed that the gadget has the potential for business as well as conservation.

Uganda's dependence on forest resources for the domestic energy needs of most families continues to deplete the forest cover, a problem other East African countries are also battling with.

Only about five per cent of Uganda is connected to the national power grid, but there are scanty figures of how many of these use electricity for cooking.

A Ministry of Energy report on sustainable biomas energy production and utilisation in household and industry in Uganda, however, indicates that "fuel wood, charcoal, and crop residues (biomass energy) account for more than 90 per cent of the energy used in Uganda making it the most important energy resource in the country's economy."

The situation in Tanzania is no better where out of its population of 42 million people only six per cent use gas and electricity for cooking, thus exerting a lot of pressure on forest resources.

FAO's data on depletion of forest cover in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania over the past two decades tells the story better.

FAO says 15.2 per cent (2,988,000 hectares) of the country's total land mass of 19,710,000 hectares is forested but between 1990 and 2010 the country lost an average 88,150 hectares or 1.86 per cent per annum. In total, 1,763,000 hectares have been depleted.

Can the sun cooker reduce this trend? In practical terms, it should. It consumes solar, a free resource that is abundant in much of Africa. For commercial use, a large single unit that can bake up to 600 loaves of bread per day costs $12,000.

A domestic unit will go for $180, according to Mr Mutebi. This, in absolute terms, means that a family of six, can now save 1.5 million tonnes of wood by substituting their domestic cooking with the sun cooker, studies show.

The sun oven has a 15-20-year lifespan and heats up to 183° C.

Introduced in Haiti in the late 1980s and early 1990, the first units of the solar cooker remained functional only to be destroyed in last year's devastating earthquake.

Besides cooking, the sun oven also dries foods for preservation. Experts say it dries foods much faster than the sun even when the oven chamber is closed.

Several institutions have shown interest in the sun cooker. These include Luzira women's prison, Gaba convent, Kisiizi, Kiryandongo, Gulu and Iganga hospitals.

Institutions from Southern Sudan have also placed orders ahead of the commercial launch of the product, officials told The EastAfrican.

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