Cooking Demonstrations in North Darfur

Fuel Efficient Stove Demonstration

Mark and I held five cooking demonstrations at different camps in North Darfur using anywhere from three to five different stoves. We always included a three-stone fire (the traditional way most of the IDPs cook their meals), the mud stove that is currently being promoted by several NGOs working on “fuel efficient stove” (FES) programs (originally designed by Intermediate Technology Development Group – ITDG), and a metal stove developed in India (called the Tara). We sometimes included one or two modified mud stoves that Mark and I designed and made (with the help of the CHF FES trainers) to see if we could improve the efficiency of the ITDG model.

Before we began the demonstrations, we asked the participants (anywhere from 20 to 80 women and men) how much wood they used to cook a meal. Most answered: a karba (a bundle, consisting of 3 to 4 meter-long pieces of wood about 2 centimeters in diameter) or more. (On average, a karba weighs around 2 kilograms.) We also taught them how to light and maintain an efficient fire – using small pieces of wood, no more than 3 at a time, evenly spaced; burning only the tips. We then had the women who had volunteered to cook light their stoves at the same time.
Rather than conducting water boiling tests with the women (we did plenty of that on our own at the guest house), we had them cook their staple starch – assida – using the same pot, the same amount of water and flour, and gave them the same amount of wood (usually 600 grams). We bought millet in the market and had it milled because Darfuri prefer millet over any other kind of flour (usually sorgham, and now wheat that the World Food Program has introduced as part of their cereal rations).

Assida is prepared in several steps. First, the water is brought to near boiling – when small bubbles start to appear around the bottom of the pot – at which point you add a couple of handfuls of flour. Then, when the mixture comes to a roiling boil, you add the rest of the flour and stir and mix vigorously with a muswat – a meter-long stick with a quarter-moon shaped piece of wood attached at the end. The assida is ready after a few minutes of mixing and kneading with the muswat. You then smooth it out and scoop it out of the pot with a large piece of coconut shell and place it into a shallow metal serving bowl. The mullah (stew/gravy that is eaten with the assida) is then placed around the assida.

Making AssidaMaking MullahAssida and Mullah

We had a couple of women prepare the mullah separately so that most of the participants could watch the demonstration.

We timed each of the women when they finished cooking the assida, having told everyone earlier that is was a race, but not a race against time. It was a race to see who would use the least amount of wood. We measured the amount of wood each woman had left after she finished cooking, did some quick math, and announced the results of the amount of wood each woman had used. The results usually showed that the woman cooking with the most efficient stove used half the amount of wood used by the woman cooking on the three stone fire. And in general, all the women used much less wood than they normally would by maintaining efficient fires. (Mark and I policed the women to make sure they were not putting too many sticks into the fire, and we precut the wood so that they would be the right size.)

Then, we all ate.

Women Eating AssidaKid Eating Assida

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