Saturday, August 27, 2011

Some Days, I Really, Really Like The Human Race

Shiny government project in East Africa: come up with a better "mogogo" or bread-cooking stove (for tasty injera bread, a sort of chewy sourdough [teff flour] pancake used as plate, eating utensil and foodstuff. I've had it and recommend it.)

So they did the usual kind of thing, but a bit smarter: design new stove, find some volunteers to try 'em, refine 'em, and then start puttin' 'em in any place the village council could sell the idea (sounds like quite a few -- the traditional rural bread oven thereabout is inefficient and smoky). And then, of course, they ran a follow-up survey. It's at this point the general kewlness of people starts showing up:
(6) They first heard about the new stoves when a nearby house did a prototype. When she saw it, she tried to build herself and then the project came
(7) They got the mogogo because first of all there is no smoke, second, it is quite economical, and third, the quality of the injera is even better.
NOTE: Daughter build a stove in her house in her husband's village. She was able to get most of the parts on the market except the grate. For that, she made it out of cement with metal wire re-inforcing and random holes. She made the conical ash trap by using the conical mogogo lid upside-down as guide.
Gee, however you tell when a new notion is reachin' critical mass...? :)

The interviews include a pretty typical amount of complaints, and a deadpan account of a really cute bit when the interviewer happens upon a group of men, farmers having a visit, and asks them one too many questions about farming details. (The reaction of farmers to nosy questions from a guy with a clipboard may, in fact, be a human universal).

I suppose I should be frownin' pretty hard at the "government" nature of the project, particularly in that it happened in Eritrea, a poster-land for one-party totalitarianism with a complex history and plenty to be paranoid about. But y'know what? The evidence suggests the stove-improvement was some goofy college project that got in under the radar and the people running it had the wit to go talk with the intended end-users, then act on their suggestions; it appears to be improving people's lives and it sounds as if it may even be turning into a tiny cottage industry.

Eritreans lack a lot of things you and I take for granted, like widespread mains electricity and a free press, but at least their eyes aren't going to be too smoke-irritated to make use of either, if -- or, IMO, when -- they do reach out and grab 'em.
PS: Looks like everybody's got some kind of pancake in their local cuisine.


Anonymous said...

I am reminded of the novel "The Ugly American": don't parachute in and TELL people what they want / need; go live among 'em, see what they need, and show by example how something you can teach them to do / make will fill that need.

Even something as simple as a broom with a long handle.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

Awesome story, government sponsored project or not.

"Looks like everybody's got some kind of pancake in their local cuisine."

Kind of like Swedish Meatballs, I guess?

Ken said...

Maker revolution, maybe? (Even though it's at least in part a state project: government people are people too, some of 'em.)