Down south on the beach in Induruwa, a pot full of vegetables and chicken is being boiled without firewood or gas. This spectacle is amazing at first glance, but the cook, a restaurant owner, makes inquirers start thinking what wonders one can do with the rays of the sun. The cooking pot is placed on an iron rack which is built into a structure which takes the shape of a dish antenna. The cook, Nelson Wimalasooriya, tells onlookers that he is cooking his meal using sunlight, despite the time being five in the evening.
“This is an environment-friendly way of cooking. Gas or firewood is not needed. One can reduce the number of trips one does to find firewood in the forest. If we can promote this gadget among poor folks, who roam the forests in search of firewood, it can make the person who cooks in the house available for other tasks. Going in search of firewood is dangerous at times because people fall victim to snake bites,” says Wimalasooriya who bought this solar cooker, a product of Germany. As for Wimalasooriya, he was helped in this venture of purchasing this solar cooker by his German friend Gerd Paul. “I bought one and got one free. The cost of one solar cooker is about Rs.120,000,” he says.
Wimalasooriya wants the solar cooker to become a popular cooking tool in Sri Lanka. He claims that he is the first Sri Lankan to own a solar cooker and wishes to spread the word around, so that a sponsor or even the Sri Lankan Government will start producing this kitchen wonder and take it to the masses. “This is my little goal and if I am successful in making this popular here, I can say I have done something for my country,” says Wimalasooriya who has worked in Germany for 15 years.
The solar cooker was invented by German doctor Dieter Seifert and has been used worldwide since 1998. This cooker has been used to alleviate poverty and offer a solution to the firewood crisis. The cooker has been promoted and been extensively used in countries which have sun rich areas. Cooking with the help of the sun unleashes the potential of solar cooking and improves social and economic environmental conditions. The solar cooker has been well received because half of the world relies on firewood for cooking. Other alternatives used for cooking like charcoal, wood and other biomass for daily cooking lead to respiratory diseases, economic hardships and environmental degradation due to carbon emission.
Scientific studies have unearthed that the solar cooker uses just 1/3 of the energy needed for cooking when bringing water to boiling point.
Wimalasooriya says that purchasing a solar cooker is beyond the budget of the poor man. “It’s good if a philanthropist can come forward to promote this cooking tool. We can do a program to promote it. Someone has to sponsor this program. The sponsor can be even the government, or we can simply produce it here (Sri Lanka).There are enough resources for that in Sri Lanka,” explains Wimalasooriya who uses his fingers to wipe the stainless steel blades which form the structure of the cooker.
It is important to rid the blades of dirt and dust to enhance its functioning. “The stainless steel potion of the structure absorbs the heat which is transferred to the corners of the structure before heat is generated. The steel portion must be kept clean at all times,” he says promising us that the boiled vegetables and chicken will be ready for serving in a few minutes.
Asked whether he’ll face obstacles in promoting this gadget in Sri Lanka, he responds by saying, “I worked with Germans for a long time and one of the most valuable lessons I learnt from them is not to give up, no matter what,” he reflects.
Wimalasooriya sports a contended smile as he looks at the beach front adjoining his restaurant, Awanhala Beach Restaurant. Some of the sun beds are occupied by tourists who await the food they’ve ordered. “The sea, beach and the sun. What more do I need,” he says.
(Pix by Ravi Nagahawatte)