November 25, 2012

The Lazola 3 Solar Box Cooker

One of the major goals of our organization is to create environmental awareness among the population and to provide appropriate technologies and education so people can take action.

Besides the promotion of tree planting and the use of fuel-efficient stoves along with heat-retention devices, we want to introduce solar cookers – particularly in sun-rich areas where people experience fuel shortages and rising prices of firewood, charcoal and gas.
We have decided to promote solar box cookers because this type of cooker is appropriate to the types of food and the cooking methods used in many parts of Kenya. The Lazola 3 in particular shows good performance and can last for many years as it is made of galvanized metal. It can be manufactured with a minimum of machines and hand tools which are available in the country. Most of the required materials can be purchased locally.

Mugo´s daughter Gakii was among the first to test the Lazola. She does Home Economics at her school and took the chance to apply what she had learned while she was on home leave. She cooked ugali (stiff maize porridge), maize and beans, rice and vegetables and baked bread and muffins. Gakii and the Lazola cooker passed all tests with flying colours and everybody who tasted the food was delighted.

Gakii prepares maize and beans ...

... and puts them in the Lazola.
The Githeri is ready.

The Lazola is cooking while the women are resting.

The solar cooked food is ready ...

... and everybody enjoys it.

The next person to test the cooker was Ivonne, one of our board members. After she had practiced for some time, she took the Lazola 3 to the Ganga Exhibition, an important agricultural show in Maara district which was held on September 28th. She was accompanied by Micheni and Jane, the chairlady of the Gaketha group. The Lazola cooker received a lot of attention and positive feedback from exhibition visitors.

Ivonne explains how the solar cooker works as the County Commissioner, the District Agricultural Officer and the Assistant Minister of Agriculture in the government of Kenya are listening attentively.
Tasty solar food!

Micheni talks about medicinal herbs.

The next opportunity to promote solar cooking was at the Meru South Exhibition on October 11th. This time our board member Christine joined the others. The exhibition was even bigger than the one at Ganga and had government officials from Nairobi visiting.

Ivonne and Christine

This time they came with full gear.

school children - curious and eager to learn

solar muffins and tea

visiting officials


November 17, 2012

My Kenya visit June 26th – July 31st, 2012


Birthday Celebration of the Mount Kenya Integrated Community Development Organization (MKICDO)


On my arrival in Gaketha I was welcomed by the members of the Gaketha group. Singing and dancing they escorted me to Mugo´s home. 

Representatives of other self-help groups and guests of honor had come to celebrate with us the birthday of our newly founded Mount Kenya Integrated Community Development Organization (MKICDO). Trees were planted in Mugo´s compound and speeches given. 

Anna Gatea of anamed plants a Moringa tree

the chairman of the Kaweru group in Kanyakine

Then the guests were taken around to see the various projects of the Gaketha group. Mugo had given part of his land for a pilot project: a demonstration shamba for good farming practice. They had dug terraces and planted different varieties of beans, sorghum, cassava and Irish and sweet potatoes. Now they told their guests about the experiences they had made.

tomatoes with napier grass planted along the contour lines

the tree nursery

The guests were also taken to the newly built dispensary that will soon begin operating.
The Gaketha group has sold 1000 tree seedlings from their tree nursery and planted them in the dispensary compound.

the dispensary

The day ended with a birthday cake and a meal shared by everybody.


Activities of the Gaketha Laura Energy Saving Group


The group had been active in their tree nursery and in the pilot shamba. Some of the seeds  and cuttings they had planted in the shamba had been brought from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in Embu. The group wanted to find out which variety would grow best at the altitude of 1600 metres in Gaketha. Several varieties of sorghum had also been tried out.  

a two-season sorghum variety that brings good yields

In the tree nursery the group had begun to grow indigenous trees. Mr. Njue, their experienced instructor, had collected them from the near-by Mount Kenya forest. We always encourage people to plant indigenous trees and not just those that grow fast and bring quick profit. Many people have been talked into growing Eucalyptus trees as the electricity companies need poles for the wires. But they are often not aware of the negative effects these trees have on the soil and the ground water resources.
Once a month, the Gaketha group meets to do table banking. All members pay regular contributions and are entitled to borrow money from the joint account. At the following meeting the person pays back the amount plus a small interest. After the table banking the group does the so-called merry-go-round. Each member contributes an agreed amount of money and the total is handed over to one person. 

All contributions are recorded in a book.

The chairlady of the Gaketha group addresses the members.

Group has so far bought 35 dairy goats for its members and still wants to get more. With the donation money I brought they are planning to buy a high-quality male goat to serve their females. They also want to register with the goat breeders association.

dairy goats at a member´s home

The group members also pay regular contributions to buy water tanks for all of them. During my stay it was another member´s turn. It was already the fourth tank they had bought and I was invited to celebrate the occasion with them. 

good food...

...and a happy song

Visits to Self-Help Groups

Each board member of the Mount Kenya ICD Organization is in charge of a different region where they monitor and support the activities of several self-help groups. During my stay we visited some of the groups to see their projects.

Some groups were started by people with disadvantages: HIV-positive persons, AIDS orphans as well as their caretakers, widows and physically and mentally handicapped persons. 
In Igwajao we met the WENDO COMMUNITY EDUCATORS SELF-HELP GROUP which had been initiated by Mugo´s sister-in-law Ivonne, a retired nurse and a board member of our organization.  It is a group of 26 community AIDS educators who take care of 20 HIV-positive people, among them 10 orphans and disadvantaged children. The group helps the sick in many ways and creates public awareness of HIV/AIDS in the community. I was impressed how openly HIV-affected persons confessed their illness. Some years ago there was still a tendency to suppress the problem and hide from the public.

the Wendo group members receive donated food

In nearby Kiarugu we visited the KAIRUTHI / MAARA SELF-HELP GROUP. The women had built a kiosk in the village.  Half of it was rented out; in the other half they have a shop where they sell everyday goods. At the chairlady´s home I was introduced to cereal banking: the women store the beans each of them has harvested collectively in one member´s home. Later, the beans can be sold at a profit or used for personal consumption. This is also done with maize and other grains. The women keep records of how much has been contributed and taken out.

the women in front of their kiosk

preparing maize for storage: a lesson in cereal banking

In Mitheru, not far from Mugo´s place, the THAGANIA GROUP started a value-adding project. They had been encouraged by the Ministry of Agriculture to grow soybeans and process them into soymilk, flour, cakes and snacks. The day we visited, groups from the ministry, the university in Nairobi and the non-governmental organization Farm Concern International had come to evaluate the project and give recommendations. The major problem the group was facing was the lack of modern processing facilities and knowhow. On our visits to self-help groups we often found that they had been encouraged to start a certain project and that they had been given initial funding. Once their activities had taken off they found themselves left alone with their everyday-challenges. One of the major aims of our organization is to assist such groups through education, information and networking   and by linking them with experts who can provide further training.

grinding soyabeans on a stone

soya products

Another group that has started a value addition project is the KAWERU GROUP in Kanyakine. It is the group of Reverend Nkanya, one of the board members of our organization. They live in a banana-growing area and face stiff competition in marketing their harvest. Bananas that are of sub-standard size don´t fetch a good price. The group wants to find new marketing opportunities by drying surplus bananas, making banana flour and a variety of banana snacks. On the day of our visit they had also invited members of other groups in the area. The whole afternoon they gave an impressive demonstration of their new skills and made the visitors sample banana chips, porridge made with banana flour, deep-fried banana pieces that had been dipped in dough and other tasty foods. The group still faces some challenges. They need to buy better equipment and find ways to market their produce. But they have made a good start.

frying banana chips

After the practical part, Mugo displayed different types of fuel-efficient stoves and a solar CooKit and Micheni talked about natural medicine. Such events are always a good platform to pass on information, to exchange experiences and ideas and to encourage other self-help groups to start their own income-generating projects.

different stove designs

In addition to the self-help projects I have described, we visited many other groups. Christine, the secretary of the MKICDO board, has started a group at Kabugua which takes care of people affected by AIDS. They regularly meet at a clinic where they have laid out a sample kitchen garden. They teach healthy nutrition and cook fresh vegetables on a fuel-efficient stove.

container gardening

 The IRIGA DISABLED VISION SELF-HELP GROUP has a poultry keeping project and a fish pond. Near their tree nursery there is still a small indigenous forest. We urged them to protect this valuable natural reserve and grow more indigenous trees in their nursery.

tree nursery with indigenous forest in the background

A group of orphans has started a youth group which has planted trees and built a fish pond. The money they make with their activities enables other orphans to take computer courses or go for further training activities.

at the fish pond

The MITHERU BARAKA DISABLED GROUP keeps high-quality dairy goats and rabbits and grows the feed for the animals in their nursery. The government provided initial funding and sent experts for training.

One of Mugo´s teacher colleagues organized a group of young school leavers. She allowed them to use part of her land where they now grow vegetables and trees and keep chickens. This way they get a chance to acquire practical skills before they go for further education.

A visit to the Appropriate Technology Development Centre (A.T.D.C.)in Siakago

We had been told that the A.T.D.C. had solar dryers on display. Dryers are of great interest to groups that want to preserve surplus fruits and vegetables. So Christine, Micheni and I drove to Siakago to learn more.
We were given a tour of the centre and saw a simple box dryer, a cabinet dryer and a big greenhouse tent dryer. In the tent they dried cassava which had been chopped in a manually operated machine designed and manufactured at the centre.
We returned home with some good ideas for future projects.

inside a tent dryer

a cassava grater - designed at the A.T.D.C.


Murugi Youth Training Centre


On a Friday, some of our board members and I drove to the Murugi Youth Training Centre in Kianjagi near Chogoria. We met with the new manager and members of the board of directors who are in charge of the centre.
The purpose of our visit was the introduction of our new organization and the demonstration of the Lazola 3 solar box cooker which I had brought from Germany.

presentation of the Lazola 3

Our idea is to open a workshop at the centre and train 3 or 4 skilled persons on the manufacture of the Lazola 3. The initial training would be done by a German craftsman. The trainees will then continue to manufacture box cookers for sale and train others who are interested in acquiring the skills.

The Murugi Youth Training Centre is a suitable institution for this project. New workshops are under construction and the general infrastructure is good. They are already teaching various courses – among others Home Economics. Teaching the basics of solar cooking could easily be integrated into their existing syllabus. 

the new training centre - view from the road

at the back

I explained our integrated approach of the joint use of a solar cooker, a fuel wood-saving stove and a heat-retention basket cooker. Our ideas were appreciated by the board members and the manager and they agreed to support the Lazola 3 project.


Minugu Primary School 

Minugu Primary School is located in Muthenge, about 2 km from Mugo´s home. 

outside the classrooms
teaching home economics

The head teacher and other staff members have become enthusiastic supporters of our environmental activities. They have fuel-efficient stoves in their homes, use basket cookers and tell others about them. 
During my stay, an energy-saving stove was donated to the school and installed in the school kitchen. The big launching ceremony was attended by the students and by parents and members of the community. Teachers and guests of honor gave strong messages about the importance of protecting the environment.

the new stove

the ceremony

The school has also established a weekly environment day. On Wednesday afternoons, the students take care of their vegetable gardens and the trees they have planted all over the school compound. They got 1000 tree seedlings from the tree nursery of the Gaketha group. This year, the school was rewarded a trophy for their outstanding efforts to protect the environment.


students taking care of their trees in the school compound
the trophy in the head teacher´s office


Environmental Concerns


 excessive cutting of trees

an old Mango tree was cut down - the logs will be taken to the tea factory which uses huge amounts of fire wood

this Mango tree is being chopped alive - for fire wood


soil erosion


without proper terraces the soil is carried down the slopes and gullies are formed


river encroachment


some farmers plant their crops closer to the river than allowed