Community Cooker (Jiko ya Jamii)

Exhibition: Cities | October 5, 2011 by

The majority of Kenya’s forty million inhabitants use wood and charcoal fires for cooking. These fires cause respiratory diseases, contribute to greenhouse gases, and denude local forests and scrub lands. One alternative is the Community Cooker (Jiko ya jamii in Swahili), a communal oven that uses trash as fuel for the Laini Saba community in Nairobi’s Kibera informal settlement.

In the mid-1990s, Nairobi-based architect Jim Archer was increasingly concerned about the amount of discarded refuse piling up in Kenya and many other developing countries. He designed the Community Cooker as a simple, inexpensive machine, easily built and repaired by local communities, with minimal operating expenses. It is described as “cash-free heat”: residents collect, transport, or sort the trash in exchange for time cooking or heating or distilling drinking water. Others pay five Kenyan shillings (about six cents)—less than the cost of kerosene or charcoal—to use the cooker.

Under the management of the community-based organization Ushirika wa Usafi (“corporation of cleanliness”), the trash is sorted onto racks, dried, and shoveled down a slide into the burn box. Recyclables are placed in bins to be sold and non-combustibles like rubber and glass are set aside. Biodegradable scraps that fall through become compost manure. A resident jua-kali (“informally trained”) engineer’s innovative oil and water combustion enables the oven’s high heat of 875° Celsius (1607˚ Fahrenheit)—hot enough to burn plastic, paper, garbage, and old rags without toxic fumes, or even melt metal for a possible smelting business. Each oven is large enough to bake ten loaves of bread, roast a goat, or fire clay pots. There are also eight submerged hotplates that people use to boil eggs for sale or cook meals for their families, and five stalls to take hot showers.

Architects: James Howard Archer and Mumo Musuva, Planning Systems Services. Technical support: Arup Cause, Chris Print, Noel Johnson. Laini Saba village, Kibera informal settlement, Nairobi, Kenya, 1993–present. Stone, iron sheets, wire mesh

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