EAST HANOVER, New Jersey — As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the Earth, progress made toward eliminating worldwide poverty has greatly declined due to the financial, health and personal catastrophes exacerbated by the virus. Before the pandemic, Uganda, a country in East Africa, enjoyed a decade of remarkable economic growth – a positive figure that foreshadowed continued increases in lifestyle benefits. Despite this promising outlook, the pandemic reversed this success, and currently, 38.02% of the population still lives in extreme poverty and suffers from food insecurity in Uganda.
Among the most vulnerable of this group are the refugees from neighboring countries who seek asylum in Uganda. Individuals from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) migrate to the interior of Uganda’s borders because of the country’s generous policy regarding refugee relocation. Uganda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jeje Odongo, speaks highly of his country’s refugee policy, mentioning that “refugees are given land to live on and farm; they are enabled to move freely, access social services such as education, start businesses and find employment.”
Nonetheless, this open-door policy, although a rewarding humanitarian benefit, limits the pool of resources available to all citizens, thereby exacerbating the plight of poverty. In rural areas, this further reduces the available water and food supplies, including natural, sustainable and clean sources, which raises issues of food scarcity and insufficient nutrition.
As resources continue to deplete, Pesitho, a Danish startup, is aiding Ugandans and refugees in receiving a nutritious and sustainable food supply.
Pesitho: A Helpful Hand
With a humanitarian idea in mind, four Danish engineers developed Pesitho as a way to supply the most vulnerable with cooking appliances that would ultimately provide a guaranteed source of food. Although the team has expanded from four partners since its initiation in 2017, Pesitho continues to service the needs of rural constituents in Uganda as well as refugees who seek basic necessities and amenities.
As Pesitho seeks to provide individuals with clean cooking supplies and appliances and limit the extent of food insecurity in Uganda, it also recognizes that women traditionally take on the burden of making and supplying meals for their families. Generally, women in rural and off-grid locations face exposure to toxic chemicals as they prepare food in unsanitary conditions. A lack of culinary warehouses and facilities leaves women to be the primary collectors of wood fuel, which increases the risk of physical assault, negative health consequences and domestic violence. In addition to the fact that unsanitary conditions for meal preparation can cause illness and death, the plight of women–the traditional homemakers–is a serious concern that Pesitho tackles with its innovative cookware.
Pesitho’s Greatest Impact: The ECOCA
To serve the purpose of providing clean food sources while also increasing safety for women who engage in this labor, Pesitho created the ECOCA. In short, the ECOCA is a small appliance that resembles a typical pot one may see in a food store or on a stove. Although its design is simple, the appliance ultimately functions as a combination of the tools usually used in a kitchen. Therefore, with the use of a single pot, families can make a multitude of meals and have the guarantee that their food will be safe from noxious chemicals. Additionally, the insulated feature of the pot allows food to stay warm hours after it has been completed, thus allowing families to eat more than once throughout the day. Since the ECOCA is small and portable, families, especially those in refugee camps, can cook anywhere, thereby limiting food insecurity in Uganda.
The ECOCA is not just an aid to the kitchen; in fact, this appliance is purely solar-powered, which provides electricity to homes in a sustainable manner. This benefit reduces exposure to chemicals, which ultimately provides clear, breathable air for children and adults. The pot sits atop an electric base, which is solar powered, that not only provides a generous amount of power to satisfy the appetites of large families but also allows individuals to charge equipment and power portable lamps. When the sun goes down, the lamps, provided by Pesitho, are turned on with a simple plug-in, thus allowing families to commence extracurricular activities, at-home work or leisurely fun.
Pesitho in Uganda
Pesitho took its revolutionary promises to the Bidibidi Refugee Settlement in Uganda. Partnering with Caritas Denmark and Caritas Uganda, Pesitho located 50 families and households in need of the ECOCA to decrease the conditions of food insecurity in Uganda.
Pesitho trained each individual on the specificities of the cookware in hopes that all could confidently use and employ the advantages of the ECOCA. Both the members of Pesitho and the Ugandans remained pleased by the ECOCA’s use of sustainable energy as well as its ability to provide a stable source of food.
As the program launched, families have experienced a multitude of benefits that have greatly improved their daily lifestyles. In terms of cooking, the ECOCA has not only improved the diet of its consumers but has also dramatically increased the flavor of cooked meals. Boiling over fire often produces a sour taste, but the ECOCA, with its simple settings, adds a tasty flavor.
This project has resulted in lowered monthly costs as well as a reduction in labor. Traditionally, families searched for firewood, an activity that would last between two to six hours, to heat their food. However, the ECOCA’s advanced technology reduces the need for the constant search for firewood and increases stable food sources in the home, ultimately making an impact toward eliminating food insecurity in Uganda.
Importantly, the lamps that Pesitho provides along with the ECCOA allow families to see in the night and complete tasks that go beyond the traditional hours of daytime.
Pesitho and No Poverty
Kerryn Probert, Research and Communications Officer for Pesitho, noted the importance of understanding the “…insight of people’s everyday lives and everyday cooking routines” to “…se[t]up payment schemes” that eliminate the large “lump sum” cost. Probert believes in the continuation and investment in research of cost-effective methods for solar cookware that greatly limit the trends of “…expensive cookstove[s]that might seem impossible as an upfront cost.”
As Probert expressed, the ECOCA has set the path for affordable solar cookware by providing families with an additional opportunity to earn an income. The USB ports that come with the ECOCA allow individuals to not only charge their phones but also essential items like razors, which could lead to the development of a small business right outside (or inside) the home. Families save money, which thus allows them the opportunity to grow crops in a sustainable fashion and further supplement their own food supply.
Significantly, Pesitho increases access for families to rightfully own economic assets and resources that they otherwise would not have the opportunity to afford.
Pesitho is a revolutionary startup organization that positively provides families and individuals with the independent ability to cook healthy meals, charge devices, receive light and practice sustainability with one small device – the ECCOA.
As Pesitho expands its base and collaborates with settlements, the plight of food insecurity in Uganda can perhaps decrease, which would therefore limit the extent to which poverty harms livelihoods.
– Maddy Grieco