Foreign Direct Investment and Off-Grid Solar Cookers

Foreign Direct Investment and Off-Grid Solar Cookers

One of the best ways to get involved with foreign direct investment is by supporting the growth of off-grid solar cookers. How do these two concepts go together? It sounds like mad libs of socially conscious sustainability.

Not quite. First, let's define what foreign direct investment is. Then, we'll talk about how off-grid social cookers can be an incredible means of getting involved. 

What Is Foreign Direct Investment?

According to Investopedia, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is an investment made by a firm or individual in one country into business interests located in another country. FDI usually takes place when an investor establishes foreign business operations or acquires foreign business assets in a foreign company. However, FDIs are distinguished from portfolio investments in which an investor merely purchases equities of foreign-based companies.

FDIs are usually done by investment firms, but they can also take place on the personal scale. 

Why Solar Cookers Can Do Wonders For Foreign Direct Investment

Most of the world uses solid fuel for cooking. And it's one of the worst ways you could cook. 

According to the UN and the World Bank, half of humanity, approximately 3 billion people, are still relying on solid fuels for cooking and heating. Of that, about 2.5 billion people depend on traditional biomass fuels (wood, charcoal, agricultural waste, and animal dung), while about 400 million people use coal as their primary cooking and heating fuel.

The majority of the world's population relying on solid fuels lives in areas lacking the public health infrastructure to deal with the massive amount of damage caused to their health. This includes Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and some countries in Central America and in East Asia and the Pacific.  The death toll is staggering. The World Health Organization(WHO) has identified that up to 4.3 million premature deaths are caused by pollutants from wood and kerosene cookstoves,   more than one-quarter of them in India alone. Exposure is particularly high among women and young children, who spend the most time near the inefficient cooking hearth. Approximately 17 percent of annual premature lung cancer deaths in adults are attributable to exposure to carcinogens from household air pollution caused by cooking with solid fuels like wood, charcoal or coal.

The WHO has concluded that cooking from fire is the greatest health risk in the world after high blood pressure, tobacco and alcohol, with more people dying from the incremental, ongoing inhalation of smoke from fires they ignite in their own homes than from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined. In 23 countries, 10 percent of deaths are due to just two environmental risk factors: unsafe water, including poor sanitation and hygiene; and household air pollution due to solid fuel use for cooking.

We haven't even talked about respiratory diseases caused by solid fuels for cooking. The data show that household air pollution from such fires causes acute lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer. Women and children, in particular, are often exposed to excessive amounts of small particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, known as PM2.5, which are considered the most dangerous to human health. A study published by Smith and his colleagues this year that contributed to the WHO report shows that Indian women cooking in households reliant on solid fuel are exposed to a mean 24-hour PM2.5 concentration of 337 micrograms per cubic meter, more than ten times the WHO indoor air quality guidelines

Although many are beginning to utilize more efficient methods of cooking, the number of people using solid fuels is not declining due to the world's rapid rise in population, according to Kirk Smith. He is an environmental-health scientist at the University of California, Berkeley who has studied the health implications of such cooking stoves for 30 years. “This is not going away,” he said.

In the developed world, ovens are still one of the major users of gas and electricity in today’s homes. Approximately 5 percent of the total domestic energy use goes to cooking.

Why Solar Stoves Are Crucial for Foreign Direct Investment

Just by removing solid fuel from the equation, the situation can be improved dramatically. In the Iridimi Refugee Camp in Chad, the need to leave the camp to gather firewood was reduced by 86 percent through the introduction of tens of thousands of solar cookers (CooKit model). In a pilot study conducted in Guatemala, through the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves's Pilot Innovation Fund, GoSun's stove was found to save women a significant amount of time and money.

Many poverty-stricken families worldwide spend 25 percent or more of their income on cooking fuel. In contrast, sunlight ― solar cooker "fuel" ― is free and abundant. The money saved can be used for all matters of social investments in the form of food, education, and health care.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, more than two billion people depend on wood energy for cooking, particularly in households in developing countries. Private households’ cooking and heating with wood fuels represent one-third of the global renewable energy consumption.

Similar studies have shown that families, women, in particular, are having to spend more and more of their time going farther and farther away from the home to collect firewood in order to cook a meal. As forests degrade, families go further afield, spending approximately one day per week on wood collection. This has a serious opportunity cost, especially during busy agricultural periods. And, women and children who carry the wood are vulnerable to injuries from falls or from carrying too much weight.

In a UN-sponsored pilot study in which families in a developing region were given a solar cooker to prepare their meals, it was found that women on average saved two hours a day because time wasn't spent on collecting firewood; furthermore, they didn't have to tend to meals as the food was cooking. The stove improved women’s quality of life, allowing them to spend more time with family and earn additional money by activities such as farming or sewing.   At the end of the pilot study, women also had more money to spend because they no longer had to pay for firewood or gas.

Wood burning stoves produce carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulates, as well as other noxious gases. This wouldn't be a problem if they weren't used by half of humanity. According to the Global Alliance for clean cookstoves, nearly three billion people around the world burn coal or solid biomass (including wood, charcoal, agricultural waste, and animal dung) in open fires or inefficient stoves for daily cooking and heating. In addition to the health burden from smoke inhalation, burning solid fuels releases emissions of some of the most important contributors to global climate change: carbon dioxide, methane, and other ozone-producing gases such as carbon monoxide, as well as short-lived but very efficient sunlight-absorbing particles like black carbon and brown carbon. Unsustainable wood harvesting also contributes to deforestation, reducing carbon uptake by forests.

Residential solid fuel burning accounts for 25 percent of global black carbon emissions, about 84 percent of which is from households in developing countries. In South Asia for example, where more than half of black carbon particles come from cookstoves, black carbon also disrupts the monsoon and accelerates the melting of the Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers. As a result, water availability and food security are threatened by millions of people. These problems are compounded by crop damage from ozone produced in part by cookstove emissions and from surface dimming, as airborne black carbon intercepts sunlight.

We hope we made it clear that traditional cooking methods are terrible by any measurable metric: economics, social development, and environmental protection. 


GoSun and Foreign Direct Investment

GoSun was the first and only solar cookstove company to receive financial support from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership founded by  Hillary Clinton in 2010 to raise over $400 million for cleaner stoves and cooking fuels in the developing world. It was awarded a $75,000 grant for a participatory design process in Guatemala, where families tested a variety of designs that the GoSun team worked to maximize effectiveness.


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