What if a product were available to poor Nicaraguans that saved them work and money, greatly improved their health, reduced deforestation and carbon emissions and paid for itself in less than two months?
What if the same product improved children’s safety and made women’s lives less difficult? And what if it were made exclusively with common local materials and provided jobs by employing 100 percent Nicaraguan labor?
Too good to be true? My wife Nancy and I don’t think so; and the results so far seem to justify our enthusiasm for the Cocina de Apoyo.
Working with a local artisans near Granada, a “design committee” made up of poor women in La Comarca de la Laguna de Apoyo, a laboratory in Oregon and ceramics specialists from several countries, we have developed and perfected a simple stove that burns 50-70 percent less wood, produces far less smoke and provides a cleaner and more comfortable cooking environment than the common “pot on three rocks” system used by most poor Nicaraguans.
There are already about 150 stoves in daily use, some for more than a year, and they are holding up well. There is really no reason the cocinas shouldn’t last for years, saving their owners money and work and improving their lives.
With help from a few friends, we have funded the development directly so the project has zero overhead cost. And we are working with microcredit organizations to make loans available to groups of women who want to purchase the stoves for their own use or for resale.
The production and distribution costs of the Cocina de Apoyo add up to less than $16. Its deceptively simple design consists of two concentric cylinders made from a specially formulated local clay and turned on a foot- powered pottery wheel. The two cylinders are separated by an insulating layer of a locally-occurring volcanic rock called “talpuja” (a material also used extensively for road construction in Nicaragua).
The stove’s design is a variation of the increasingly common “rocket stove” being introduced into many countries in the developing world. What makes the Cocina de Apoyo special is that, once production ramps up, we think it can be produced and distributed without “charity.” There is a growing worldwide consensus that only such self-sustaining projects can really make a lasting difference in the areas of climate change and health.
The Cocina de Apoyo seems to be the proverbial gift that keeps on giving, the rare venture with lots of upsides and no downsides. A typical Nicaraguan family of six uses about 3,600 Cordobas-worth of wood in a year for cooking. At that rate, this new stove will save them at least 1,800 Cordobas each year, probably for many years; not to mention their improved health and safety and the improved health of the planet. The project is clearly our labor of love.
For readers interested in helping, why not give cocinas as Christmas gifts to your employees this year? You can order one or more by calling (505) 89 91 05 43 or email email@example.com.
Or you can make a US tax-deductible donation through the NICA Foundation at http://www.nicafund.org/donate/donate1 (Specify “Davis Stove Project Fund” in the drop-down menu).
You could help setup another factory in some other part of Nicaragua. Or how about helping to set up a Nicaraguan friend as a distributor? We will provide your friend with a free stove, sales materials, and a “loaner stove” that she/he can loan to prospective customers to let them try the Cocina de Apoyo for themselves.
As my wife says, “It’s sometimes hard to get people to try something new, even if we think it’s a no brainer. But once people have tried these stoves, they won’t give them back to us!”
Brian and Nancy Davis are retired administrators from Portland Community College in the State of Oregon where they still live half the year. They spend the other half of each year in their home near Granada, on the rim of the Laguna de Apoyo. Brian is an engineer and Nancy an industrial training specialist. They are committed to using their retirement years to contribute to the reduction of poverty and global climate change based on the general philosophy of “helping people help themselves”. Nancy and Brian have six children and nine grandchildren.