An energy revolution has hit East Africa in the form of Prince Sadruddin's improved "jiko" cooking pot for villagers. The hope is that the jiko pot will halt the heavy inroads now being made into Africa's limited forests.
In kenya, for example, 20 million tons of timber are burned annually, mostly in the form of charcoal, for cooking alone. It takes 12 tons of timber to make one ton of charcoal. Can this staggering figure be cut down?
Prince Sadruddin, brother of the Aga Khan, has been thinking about the problem for more than a year in his Bellerive Foundation for Primary and Renewable Energies in Switzerland.
He and his experts have come up with a more fuel-economical type of jiko -- a round, tin cooking stove, of which tens of thousands are used in African villages.
It was recently demonstrated in Nairobi before the minister of energy, Dr. Munyua Waiyaki, by the prince himself, and by his top technician, Prof. Waclaw Micuta.
There are no commercial ties in the manufacture of the stove, which any village tinsmith can make very cheaply. There is no copyright, no patents; it is just a few pieces of scrap metal welded together. This cook-pot is expected to cut down the use of charcoal by one-third.
The most popular way of cooking in the villages in on an open-air wood fire, which has a thermal efficiency of 5 percent. Most of the heat disappears into the air.
The traditional jiko has the cook-pot on top of the stove with the wood or charcoal put in at the bottom. It wastes about 90 percent of the heat, which escapes round the pot.
The Sadruddin jiko, in which the pot fits snugly at the top, wastes no more than 75 percent of the heat, and uses one-third of the charcoal required by the traditional stove.
A spokesman for Prince Sadruddin said: "This jiko could be one of the most beautiful things to come out of Africa."
The prince, who used to be UN high commissioner for refugees, told me:
"We had many other thoughts when developing the jiko, apart from saving previous fuel. One person we thought of was the African village woman who spends most of her day hunting firewood, and them has to carry it all home on her back, an agonizing task that makes her old before her time. Our new jiko will lessen her task."
The new jiko is being sponsored by the Kenya government and by the Kenya National Council of Science and Technology. Plans are available for any manufacturer who wishes to make it.
The vital fact behind its development is that Africa's forests are being depleted faster than they can be replenished. There is concern here that parts of Kenya could become a desolate woodless area comparable to the Sahel region of West Africa.