If new technologies fail to tick and trickle to rural masses, then try old ones. Biliyati Mitchi and his wife Gefa have done it. In just an hour, they are able to cook beans, rice, sweet potatoes, among others.
This couple lives in Mitchi Village in Traditional Authority (TA) Njolomole in Ntcheu District. Their house is on the foot of an almost bare hill. The place is generally quiet, except for a maize mill running on diesel.
That is a big pointer that the area has no electricity. Bituminised roads still remain building castles in the air. No wonder, there are no cookers in the peopleâ€™s homes in the Ngoni-dominated villages.
“You are welcome to our house, you may sit on the veranda right here,” said Mitchi as he pointed at a freshly plastered veranda on a small kitchen made from wood and mud.
Smoke came out of the kitchen and just outside, there was a bundle of firewood placed next to what looked like a wicker basket strangely stuffed with dry leaves and covered by what looked like a small cloth tied with garbage inside.
Little did I know that, it was what Barbara Ntapara, a worker at Training Support for Partners (TSP) was talking about on our way from Lilongwe to Ntcheu to appreciate what communities are doing.
“You are going to see a traditional food warmer.” She said.
“It is a simple technology and a great innovation that has proved helpful to the rural masses. The technology depends on five percent use of firewood for cooking meals,” she said.
The couple has used the traditional cooker for months now. They say it is a good, cheaper and quicker way of preparing food. Though it is called food warmer, it can also loosely be called a cooker.
Mitchi gave the illustration of the thing.
“We use dry banana leaves, dengu (wicker basket) and a piece of wrapper cloth (chitenje). The leaves are stashed into the dengu.
A pot with the food is then placed on the centre of the leaves inside the dengu. Then, some leaves are bundled into the chitenje (wrapper), which acts like a lid, ” Mitchi spoke as she disassembled it to demonstrate how it is built.
As if he were talking to a doubting Thomas, Mitchi fished out the pot, which had boiling beans that glittered in cooking oil. As she lifted its lid, steam puffed out and a slobbering smell of cooking beans run for the available nostrils.
“Look! It is happening. The beans are really cooked. This is wonderful,” explained someone from inside a group of curious onlookers.
What, at first glance, looked like a mere dengu filled with banana leaves was actually a simple village-based technology that mimicked, the highly developed flask or food warmer technology. Another resident of this village, Kettie Saulosi, a woman behind training the couple on the new technology said the system is fast being adopted in the area.
As an expert in this simple technology, Saulosi said: “Before cooking the beans, the pot bearing the beans is first placed on fire like it is normally done in ordinary cooking. It is left to cook for 30 minutes. The pot is then placed into the food warmer. Within 45 minutes, the beans are fully cooked,” she explained. Apart from beans, the warmer can also cook rice, which is first placed on fire for five minutes before putting into the warmer for 20 minutes to cook.
Mitchi made the warmer together with her husband. The man said, the family learnt the skill after undergoing training in the same by TSP, an organisation which is working with people in the area.
Many people in the village now regard her in high esteem for bringing them a method, which has proved to cut short cooking time from about four hours that beans take to just around one hour.
“This is a timely answer to us in the village, which largely depends on firewood for energy to cook foods.
Again, the method is a clean way of cooking as it does not choke us with smoke,” said Mitchi as her husband listened on.
The husband also took part in making the food warmer, which any dutiful and loving husband is supposed to consider.
“Instead of the flask cover, we have a lichero as a lid, and instead of the foam-like thing in a food warmer, our traditional one uses the banana leaves. Basically, the technology is the same. The people of T/A Njolomole in Ntcheu are advancing in life using locall materials.
“The traditional food warmer is affordable,” said Saulosi a Standard Eight school-leaver with four children.
Group Village Head Khomba is happy that her subjects have found relief in their newly discovered method of cooking. She therefore encourages them to always be in the vanguard in adopting new and old but useful technologies.
Behind this food warmer technology is an organisation called TSP, whose Ntcheu office has Hastings Chamatwa as project coordinator. TSP is mainly interested in working together with the villagers in finding alternative ways that can be used to lessen negative effects of climate change.
“A typical example is the food warmer. With this, food can be cooked in shorter period. In doing so, we are helping to reduce overdependence on firewood as has been the tradition. If people use the method, there will be reduced cutting down of trees. Trees are an important component in supporting the formation of rainfall,” said Chamwatwa.
Upon hearing about the food warmer, executive director for National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST), Dr. Henderson Chimoyo admitted it is an interesting initiative.
“As NCST, we have technology transfer division, which looks after such issues. We should go and find out about this technology and see if at all there is need for patenting. The commission encourages people to come up with such technologies. We are going to catalogue them,” said Dr. Chimoyo.