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26 September 2006


Solar Cooking with the Butterfly Parabolic Solar Cooker in Somalia

by Jim Lindsay


Solar Cooking with the Butterfly Parabolic Solar Cooker in Somalia


In Somalia, Sun Fire Cooking has experimented with the three basic types of solar cookers available, that is, panel, box and parabolic. Over a period of several years, Fatima Jibrell, co-founder of Sun Fire Cooking, imported several models of panel and box solar cookers from the United States, Europe and Africa.  Fatima also had various homemade designs constructed. None of the panel or box designs were found to be acceptable by Somali users.  Somalis wanted a solar cooker that cooks as fast as charcoal.  Sun Fire Cooking found that Somalis were interested only in using the parabolic type of solar cooker because its cooking speed is comparable to charcoal. The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children ( in their report Beyond Firewood, (March 2006), reached a similar conclusion. 



Of the parabolic type solar cookers, Sun Fire Cooking has experimented with two designs - first the more widely known bowl style made up of reflective aluminum strips and the second the "butterfly" style consisting of two parabolic plates of cast iron covered with reflective tape.  In a recent timed cooking test using 1 liter of water at 32 degrees Celsius, the "butterfly" parabolic solar cooker boiled the liter of water in 7 minutes while the bowl style parabolic cooker took 42 minutes.  Both solar cookers had been left outside in an open courtyard in Bosaso, Somalia for over six years. 


The reflective square area of the butterfly parabolic solar cooker is 1.5 square meters. The heat output is rated at 800 watts. To work efficiently, the butterfly design solar cooker should be adjusted approximately every 30 minutes to track the sun.  This only takes a few seconds using a convenient screw mechanism.  The butterfly solar cooker's weight of 50 kilos is an advantage because it provides stability in strong winds which are common in Somalia for many months during the year.  The butterfly solar cooker has two cast iron wheels which means it can be moved easily.  The design life of the butterfly solar cooker is 20 years. If there is any loss of reflectivity, the reflective tape can be replaced. 


The only limitation on the use of the butterfly solar cooker, aside from rainy and overcast days, is where housing is so crowded that there is not sufficient room for the solar cooker to receive direct sun light during the day.  Most village and rural housing in east Africa does have sufficient space for the butterfly solar cooker to operate efficiently.  Many houses have a walled compound.  The weight and size of the solar cooker means that it cannot be easily stolen. The cooker could be chained up overnight.  So far in the experience of Sun Fire Cooking in Somalia theft has not proved to be an issue. 


Since 1993, Fatima Jibrell and Jim Lindsay, the co-founders of Sun Fire Cooking ( searched for an effective solar cooker that people would use.

Their purpose was to find a practical alternative to the use of charcoal and wood for daily household cooking because of the devastating consequences of deforestation in the fragile, semi-arid Somali environment.


In 1996 while traveling in Tibet, Jim stayed at a hotel where they used a solar cooker to  boil water for his tea. After none of the readily available designs of solar cookers were found to be acceptable to the Somali users, Jim decided to try to find the manufacturer of the solar cooker he saw in use in Tibet.  In 1999 Jim tracked down the manufacturer of the butterfly solar cooker. The manufacturer turned out to be Sang Li, a company located north of Shanghai, China, that had never exported solar cookers before Jim's contact. Jim visited the factory himself.  Then Jim sent one butterfly solar cooker to Somalia for evaluation.  The following year he arranged for the export of fourteen more butterfly solar cookers.


The butterfly design solar cooker proved popular with Somalis. In 2004, Jim and Fatima started Sun Fire Cooking to distribute the butterfly design solar cooker in east Africa as an alternative to using charcoal or wood for household cooking. Sun Fire Cooking is the sole distributor of the butterfly design solar cooker in east Africa.  Sun Fire Cooking is currently working with Somali community groups and welcomes additional partners, either community groups or businesses interested in the distribution of solar cookers in east Africa. 


Contact Fatima Jibrell or Jim Lindsay at for more information.  


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