One third of humanity, over 2.4 billion people, depends on wood or charcoal to prepare food, and the worldwide supply of wood is rapidly decreasing. Where forests are being destroyed faster than they can be replenished, women and children must travel great distances to find wood. As they venture further from home to find cooking fuel, the collection of wood takes on a perilous dimension, leaving women and children vulnerable to rape, beatings, and murder. The perpetual toil of gathering wood for cooking denies poor rural women the chance to obtain employment that could raise their family’s income, improve their standard of living, and enhance their nutritional and health status.
In addition to these dangers, cooking over fires poses great health risks. The burning of wood, dung, and agricultural residues creates a poisonous mix of chemicals that bypass the body’s defenses and more than double the risk of respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Other diseases linked to smoke inhalation include asthma, lung cancer, tuberculosis, cataracts, low birth weight, and nervous and muscular fatigue. Rural women and children in the world’s poorest countries are those most at risk. Thick acrid smoke rising from stoves and fires is associated with three deaths per MINUTE or 1.6 million deaths per year in developing countries. Solar ovens eradicate these risks. SOS’s Tree Chatter is able to drastically change and even save the lives of women and children in Honduras and other developing nations.
Each donated solar oven is valued at $10,500 USD, a startup investment unattainable by nearly all Hondurans. To receive an oven, Tree Chatter requires each group of women to pay $75 USD as a registration fee. This stimulates the women to action and cooperation, plus gives them a strong sense of ownership for the business. If the women are unable to pay the registration fee, Tree Chatter encourages them to seek financial assistance from local sources. Generally, this is successful, but in rare instances when women show great potential but cannot pay the fee, Tree Chatter may provide a scholarship – a silent option of which the women have no prior knowledge. Upon obtaining their solar oven, the women are trained in the use and routine maintenance of the oven, general small business skills, and environmental conservation.
Solar oven operators learn the value of investing in people, the value of business skills, and the value of protecting the environment. It is no surprise, then, that these women voluntarily give of their time to plant and care for fruit bearing tree seedlings, which, over time, will produce nutritious food and further enterprise opportunities in addition to improving the environment.
Currently, in many developing countries bread must be delivered to rural areas from larger cities. This delivery increases the cost of the bread. Due to the distance of the bread makers from rural villages, there are days when bread is not delivered and the bread is typically not fresh. The Tree Chatter bakeries are located in the market area they serve; this reduces the delivery expense and allows fresher baked goods to be provided to the consumer. The closer location of the bakeries to the markets served, and the use of the sun as the primary fuel source, allows baked goods to be sold to the consumer for 25% less than the current prices. The bakeries will be able to be located in areas that will have a need for baked goods without posing a serious threat to any established bakery operations. The jobs that will be created will help the local economy of the villages in which each bakery is located by keeping more money in the local area. These benefits to individuals, their families, communities, and the environment are only a small portion of the accomplishments of Tree Chatter.
The combination of slash and burn farming, the demands of massive population growth, and the inefficient conversion of wood to charcoal for energy have outstripped the world’s forest’s ability to regenerate. Deforestation, a grave and growing concern for the world, is resulting in desertification and deterioration of the global climate. In Honduras, the devastating effects of deforestation were witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch with wide spread flooding and mudslides that claimed thousands of lives.
In the majority of developing countries, cooking makes up the greatest proportion of household energy use, with two billion people depending upon wood and charcoal for food preparation. Wood consumption for cooking uses about one half ton per person per year, or one billion tons annually. The combustion of wood fires releases greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere, with potentially serious costs to the global economy and environment. This air and land abuse is not inclined to decrease unless rural residents are encouraged with alternative methods of food preparation.
While the immediate benefits of SOS’s Tree Chatter are felt in individuals and communities, it is the long-term effects that provide the greatest gain to families, societies, nations, and the world. Tree Chatter offers solutions to the growing problems of deforestation, global warming, hunger, and unemployment. By providing business and environmental education and opportunities, Tree Chatter empowers women to improve the quality of life for themselves, their children, and their children’s children. Each tree planted by environmentally knowledgeable third-world businesswomen as well as each tree allowed to remain growing as a result of solar methods of food preparation will benefit future generations. Tree Chatter addresses economics and environmentalism and has the potential to change the future of countries abundant in the sustainable natural resource of solar energy.