A women’s cooperative has built the first-ever clean energy restaurant in Nicaragua. Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa constructed “La Casita Solar” to promote renewable energy and support the development of their model solar community. Their “solar center” is showcasing renewable energy while serving as a source of income for the community.
- 21 people (19 women and 2 men) in the cooperative
- “La Casita Solar” created 50 jobs
- 12,000 inhabitants of Totogalpa indirectly benefitted
- The restaurant offers solar-cooked foods and solar-dried fruits and coffee, and is photovoltaic-powered
Civil war and an economic crisis have contributed to making Nicaragua among the poorest countries in Latin America. People working the countryside lack educational and work opportunities, as well as access to electrical grids and other basic infrastructure.
Nationwide in Nicaragua, only a little more than half of the population has access to any kind of electricity, and less than 1 per cent of that comes from solar. Women in rural areas, which are largely indigenous, are even more marginalized.
The women’s solar cooperative, with support from various partners, collectively built their “Centro Solar” along the Pan-American Highway just outside of Sabana Grande in Nicaragua. The “Casita Solar” restaurant offers solar-cooked foods and solar-dried fruits and coffee, and is photovoltaic-powered. Food there is cooked with a combination of solar cookers, biogas from the latrine, efficient cook stoves, and a cook stove utilizing charcoal that the women produce themselves out of cornstalk waste.
The restaurant, which has been up and running since February 2012, features a bicycle-powered blender to make fruit smoothies, and organic produce grown at the restaurant. Women at the center also sell solar products there, such as handmade solar ovens.
Helping the planet
Emission of carbon dioxide is avoided by improved agriculture and use of solar energy. Since less wood is being harvested for cooking, more forest is left standing, and can act as a carbon sink. Fields are better managed through use of organic fertilizers, natural pest control, and seasonal organic vegetable-growing. Agricultural and industrial waste is being recycled into renewable energy, reducing pollution and use of virgin resources. Better land use and improved resource management has improved soil and water quality, and enhanced conservation.
In addition to offering jobs at the restaurant and center, many more community members are indirectly benefiting from the project. For example, food suppliers and local craftspeople have also seen their businesses grow as a result. Since the restaurant is largely run by indigenous women, it’s helping promote and preserve their culture, through diffusion of traditional recipes. The initiative has specifically empowered women, who were traditionally passive and shy, into outgoing, positive community leaders.
The solar technology used in Totogalpa is simple and affordable, which makes it easy to be widely adopted in various communities. The women’s cooperative has already been able to spread their solar energy culture – for example by winning a solar cooker competition in the neighboring city of Estelí, which ended up buying a number of solar cookers from the women.
The women have hosted workshops and are teaching others not only how to make solar cookers from basic materials like scrap cardboard and aluminum foil, but also manufacture and sell solar box cookers out of more durable materials like metal and wood.
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