SCIDEV.NET CONFERENCE SERVICE PRODUCTION
This blog article has been produced for Eye on Earth Summit 2011 by SciDev.Net Conference Service, which maintains all editorial independence.
Wonderbag — a simple, old-fashioned cooking solution — was well-placed among the many hi-tech, futuristic exhibitors at the Eye on Earth Summit in Abu Dhabi (12-15 December) this week.
Wonderbags are bulbous cloth bags designed to retain heat for slow, off-stove cooking. By shifting away from traditional fossil fuel consumption, Wonderbags seek to improve livelihoods, reduce carbon emissions, and alleviate the financial and health burdens on poor communities. Over 150,000 of them were distributed across South Africa in 2011, saving an estimated 50,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.
Just this week, Microsoft and the company Wonderbag launched ‘FoodWatch’ to track the bag’s distribution, and its environmental and health impacts using Microsoft’s mapping technology and cloud services.
One map overlays the World Bank’s data feed on global malnourishment against the distribution of each Wonderbag. “We will be able to see the timelapse over years of what Wonderbag’s impact has been,” said Kate Krukiel, the UN’s Global Technology Strategist at Microsoft. “There may not be any impact, but being able to easily overlay multiple data points, we can see the impact and correlations between Wonderbags and whatever food element we are looking at in the developing world.”
Claudio Toth, senior director of communications at Microsoft, told SciDev.Net, that the company met the Wonderbag initiative at COP17 in Durban.
“We went to the townships and saw on the ground that people love this, it is really changing how they are eating and cooking.”
“Women can now go out and do other things, they traditionally have been in the kitchen,” said Toth.
Krukiel added: “They couldn’t leave the house because the stove was on, but now they can start the stove before they go to bed for things like dried beans or cava that have a very long cooking time, put it in the Wonderbag, and in the morning you’ve got food pretty much for the day.”
The bags also help to feed children before they go to school, “because a lot of times the cooking took so long they wouldn’t have had time,” said Krukiel.
If this was not enough, Wonderbags also provide new entrepreneurial opportunities, allowing women to save time on cooking and selling food.
“I was sceptical at first, but then I cooked cauliflower in my bag and it tasted very good. It wasn’t overcooked,” says Ludo de Bock, a senior director at Microsoft.
Wonderbag has even caught the eye of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), who have invited the company and Microsoft to attend the governing council meeting — the world gathering of environmental ministers — at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi in February next year.
“We want to showcase the way that high-tech and low-tech can, in combination, provide inspiring examples of sustainable development,” said Nick Nuttall, UNEP’s spokesperson.
Wonderbag has been chosen as part of the first UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project in South Africa.
Wonderbag has ambitious plans: in the next five years it aims to be used in 5 million South African homes helping 21 million people eat better and saving around US$1.35 billion in fuel and 8 million tonnes of carbon.
There’s only one way to find out whether this will actually be achieved — follow FoodWatch.