Peter Rinker


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  • Clay pot cooler in Burkina Faso

    January 29th, 2015

    This is a guest blog by Peter Rinker, who works for Geman NGO Movement e.V.

    It began with an internship during my studies with the German NGO Movement e.V. in April 2009. Together with the young Burkinabés Faical and Hamed Ouédraogo I started to test the potential of clay pot coolers in Burkina Faso. Up until then, we had just heard some stories about the successful dissemination of pot-in-pot refrigerators in Northern Nigeria by Mohammed Bah Abba. Even our first tests with quite improvised clay pot cooler prototypes showed that there is a really big cooling potential, thanks to the hot and dry air in Ouahigouya in Northern Burkina Faso. So it became our main goal to work on the dissemination of clay pot coolers in Burkina Faso. During the following months, we researched for adequate designs and collaborated with female pottery makers to produce the desired clay pots. In the final phase of the three month internship we made efforts to spread the popularity of the clay pot cooler among the local population through presentations with women groups, a lottery at a vegetable market and the creation of flyers and construction manuals.

    Two vendors of vegetables with a clay pot cooler at the market in Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso

    Two vendors of vegetables with a clay pot cooler at the market in Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso

    In 2012, Lisa Buehrer studied and evaluated the impact of our efforts of 2009. She discovered that some people who got a clay pot cooler for free in 2009 were still using it. Others used it till it broke due to playing kids or fallen tree branches. But in general people were very satisfied with the cooling function, the prolonged life of fruit and vegetables and the flexibility they gained, due to the possibility to cool and store their food. Regarding the target group, Lisa Buehrer discovered that all users can benefit from using clay pot coolers. The highest potential benefit however, was for women selling vegetables in the city of Ouahigouya (the results would probably be different in a rural area, where self-sufficient farmers profited highly from the technique, as the example of Abba in Nigeria showed. But due to the very limited resources of Movement e.V., the zone of direct intervention is focused on the city of Ouahigouya and the surrounding villages). The female vegetable sellers normally buy vegetables at a village or a big market in the city and sell the produce again for a slightly higher price in front of their houses in the different parts of the cities. The prolonged lifetime of produce stored in the clay pot cooler made them profit from multiple effects. The method of storage means their goods are of a better quality for longer, which limits the degree to which they have to sell their goods for a diminished price. Thus, they have more flexibility in buying and selling the goods, which enables them to follow other activities, while securing their income through less food losses. Besides the elaboration of the target group Lisa Buehrer continued also the promotional work at local markets and headquarters of NGOs to increase the level of awareness of clay pot coolers.

    All the work of Movement e.V. so far showed that the clay pot cooler works very well in the hot and dry conditions of Burkina Faso and that there are millions of people who could potentially benefit from it. The problem we identified after these two three month internships (which is very short and on a very low financial level in comparison to other development projects) was, that there was nearly no independent dissemination of clay pot coolers after our departure. Obviously there were different causes, which had prevented such an independent development. During my studies of sustainable development, I came across the concept of social entrepreneurship, namely understood to be made up of business-driven solutions for social or ecological problems. This concept seemed to be highly promising because it comes with several positive aspects. Firstly, the incentive for local people contributing to the project in a poor country like Burkina Faso would be higher if they can increase their small and irregular income. Secondly, a self-sustaining business model would be the best condition for a project that can become independent from external support in the long run. Thirdly, if this social business model works in Ouahigouya, there would be potential for replication in other regions and contexts, which would serve our overarching goal of bringing clay pot coolers to millions of beneficiaries around the world.

    As I was still very convinced of the major benefit of clay pot coolers and the promising model of a social business in mind, I decided to work for Movement e.V. a second time as a voluntary project manager after finishing my studies. Implementing and testing the idea of a social business model for the clay pot cooler in Burkina Faso became the mission of this project stay. We worked a lot on the production side. Around twenty people were trained in producing the customised pots for clay pot coolers. While we thought in the beginning, that it would be an option to produce clay pots in the city, we had to dismiss this option after our first clay pot cooler workshop. It became clear that pottery, given the very hard work it is, is generally not profitable enough to be attractive for people of a bigger city like Ouahigouya. Pottery seems to be one of the worst paid metiers in Burkina Faso. It is a dry season activity of woman in rural areas, who start it after the big harvest at the beginning of the dry season.

    Therefore, we decided to leave the production to groups of female potters of the surrounding villages. This comes with more efforts for logistics but has positive side-effects on the situation of these women and their families.

    In the city of Ouahigouya we formed a team of four young and intelligent guys, aged between 20 and 30, who had no formal jobs. They earn a bit here and there and support their families with their income. The clay pot cooler project gives them the opportunity to be trained in the various skills needed to be a self-employed entrepreneur. Selling clay pot coolers is not their main job but it adds something to their revenues. Another aspect is the positive reputation in the local community due to their engagement in the clay pot cooler initiative.

    We elaborated quite a flexible social business model. Every team member is paid according to the amount of time and work he contributed to selling the clay pot coolers. This makes allowance for unforeseen circumstances in the availability to work on the project. The team orders clay pots for the clay pot cooler from the women groups in the villages. After the delivery of the clay pots to the city there is still some work to do. The outer clay pots receive a logo and phone number, to increase the popularity and the French name of the clay pot cooler: ‘Canari Frigo’. Additionally, they have to apply a layer of cement to the small clay pot and sieve sand (all details on the construction and use of the clay pot coolers can be found in this technical brief: see link at the bottom). Following these steps, the clay pot and the sand can be brought to customers and be installed directly around their houses. It is important that the installation comes with brief and clear explanations about how to use the clay pot cooler. You can have the best technology but you will only enjoy the full potential benefit, if you are using it in the right way. This is one reason, why we still prefer to do the installation ourselves at the customer’s homes and not to sell the customised clay pots at the market.  However, selling on markets could work well in the future, when clay pot coolers are more established and everybody knows how to use them.

    Fresh vegetables stored in a clay pot cooler

    Fresh vegetables stored in a clay pot cooler

    This social business model is still an experiment, but we think it goes in the right direction.

    The main challenge at the moment is to drum up enough demand for clay pot coolers. While the demand was quite good during my last project stay it slowed down afterwards. The reason is probably that we were present at many events and occasions during my stay, as it was my main job to work full-time on this clay pot cooler project. The calculation of the price of a clay pot cooler was made very tightly and did not include a share for promotional work to keep a payable price for a big share of the population. We obviously underestimated the need for additional marketing, promotion or subsidies for such a new product. That is why we sent Joris Depouillon from Belgium to Burkina Faso in April 2014, to regroup the local team and elaborate a strategy and measures with them to increase the demand for the clay pot coolers.

    In autumn 2014, Michael Bührer, the founder and president of Movement e.V., is in Burkina Faso to work on various projects conducted by Movement e.V., as well as on capacity building for the newly founded local partner NGO, Movement BF. Regarding the clay pot cooler project, it became clear that this social business-based approach still needs support; financial support for subsidising the sold clay pots and institutional partners to strengthen the promotional work. Several measures can contribute to a higher popularity of clay pot coolers. When more and more people get to know this innovative technology and its benefits a turning point can be reached, where clay pot coolers become a standard product on markets and promotional work can be reduced almost entirely.

    Besides all the efforts to disseminate clay pot coolers in Burkina Faso, we try to spread our detailed knowledge on clay pot coolers through the publication of multilingual construction manuals via different channels like Wikipedia, social media and various networks. We are willing to share our knowledge and experience with all interested persons or organisations to inspire them to build or spread the use of clay pot coolers and prevent that everyone has to reinvent the wheel themselves.

    Please let us know when you are starting some kind of clay pot cooler project. This allows us to get an idea about the impact of our efforts for know-how transfer.

    Click on the links to read the Technical Briefs – English and French.

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