A Bag for a Stove
This is the Wonderbag, created by South African entrepreneur Sarah Collins. The bag is a portable, non-electric, heat retentive slow cooker that helps you cook your food with minimal energy! It was created around 2008 and for good reason.
What's all the fuss about?
Cooking has presented a major challenge in a lot of African homes because the most common stoves used are based on firewood and then, kerosene. This is a challenge because felling trees for firewood is one of the biggest contributors to deforestation, and the resulting climate change, in Africa. What’s more, cooking with firewood and kerosene means there is a lot of smoke and air pollution...every single day. And women and children, who are primarily the chefs at home, are the worst off - it's said that up to 50% of premature deaths in households is caused by air pollution, primarily from biofuels like firewood. This situation is made worse by the paralysing power supply which is epileptic at best and non-existent at worst. As such, no one really depends on electricity for cooking, and gas, which is another option, is too expensive for many households.
Why does Wonderbag help?
This is why having a device that can be used to cook without electricity and without the side effects of harmful fumes from firewood and kerosene, is important. Also, it means less trees are felled for firewood, which helps conserve the environment and reduce contribution to climate change. What's more, it's easy on the pocket because it means you get to spend way less for the minimal energy you would now use to cook as all you have to do when you've got the Wonderbag is to boil your food on fire for only about 5 minutes (e.g. you can boil your rice normally for 5 minutes instead of about the conventional 40 minutes, and then leave your pot in the bag for the remainder of the time) and let the Wonderbag do the rest (for up to 12 hours actually). You can see the cooking times here. Invariably, you also use less water when cooking because you have less evaporation.
A simple but special product
I love that this product shows a profitable intersection between profit, people and the planet in that people are willing to buy it because it saves them money spent on energy for cooking (up to 30% savings according to the company), reduces harmful air pollution and reduces the need for felling of trees for biofuels! What's more, the company goes further to donate a Wonderbag for every one that is bought. It would be interesting to know how the bag is made though - what makes it have such good heating, and conditions of the factory in South Africa. But Wonderbag is has earned the ability to claim sustainability status, especially as parts of it is reported to be recyclable.
Wonderbag has seen a lot of success
Even the story of founder, Sarah Collins' entrepreneurial journey in bringing the Wonderbag to mass market has been quite inspiring and proves that a profitable business can stem from identifying and addressing social and environmental challenges. This journey is paying off - as at November last year, 1 million units of the Wonderbag had been sold on three continents, and Unilever has already ordered about 5 million of them! You can read her interview here.
An interesting dimension to the Wonderbag is that, on the whole, it increases the time spent on cooking, but reduces the amount of attention cooking needs. You can practically leave the bag unattended and go do other things. This allows for more multitasking and can let women be more productive, or have more leisure. I personally see this as a win in a gender perspective.
If you're interested in learning more you can check out a real-life review of the bag in this forum. Purchase of the bag is possible from both the website and from Amazon. And how about some fun recipes here.