Exploring the magic behind the nonelectric slow cooker, the Wonder-bag

Nile Post News

Nile Post News

, Business

AGGREY NYONDWA

When war or any other emergency breaks out, people scatter. In most cases you have a minute or less to pick something to run with.

Sometime there isn’t any time at all. But if there was, the best options would be a cloth and definitely something to eat. Most people run hungry.

Those that run with something cannot keep it hot and safe for long. The food will get cold and spoilt at times.

From a more luxurious perspective still, we often go out to camp, to the beach, on road trips or any other adventurous expeditions, we need a warm tasty and fresh meal at the end of the day. How do we ensure this?

The Wonder-bag is your answer!

A South African invention by poverty activist Sarah Collins, the Wonder-bag was introduced in 2008 when millions of South Africans were suffering with abnormal frequent load shedding and power outages.

In April 2008, disturbed by these power inconsistencies, Sarah Collins put her mind to extreme creativity. She recalls the night she came up with the idea, in a recent interview with the Business Insider.

“In April 2008 I woke up at 2am in the morning and remembered my grandmother taking a pot of porridge off the stove and into some cushions to retain the heat… It all came back to me and I realized this was technology that could change the world,” she said.

The Wonder-bag is a heavily insulated bag that keeps food cooking at a low, but safe temperature for up to 12 hrs. It uses the principle of heat retention to cook the food slowly.

All one needs to do is cook whatever they are preparing for a few minutes about 5-25 minutes depending on the kind of food, and when it boils to a certain temperature, you shift it to the Wonder-bag, properly covered and wait for a certain time.

A woman uses a wonder bag

Without any additional energy or fire, food will be ready for serving. The founder reinvents ‘technology’ used in the Second World War by the Haybox cooker.

The Wonder-bag is made of an inner layer of insulation containing recycled polystyrene with a polyester cotton blend textile on the outside.

It has drawstrings that help to tighten the top when covering. It is often produced in wonderful African fabric and craft colours.

For the last ten years the Wonder-bag has been on the market, it has been praised by the United Nations and other climate change institutions as a great innovation to preserve the environment.

The famous cooking bag reduces carbon dioxide emissions by half a ton every year (metro.co.uk).
Just at the beginning of this month, Times Magazine listed the Wonder-bag among the top 50 ‘genius products’ in the world.

After a decade of existence, there are over 1.5 million Wonder-bags across the world today.

In Uganda and East Africa:

In East Africa, the Wonder-bag was first introduced in Rwanda in 2012 and the first Natural Balances factory outside South Africa was built.

Since then refugee camps in Rwanda have greatly relied on the Wonder-bag to cook and preserve food.
In Uganda it took the Wonder-bag 10 years to get here.

Thanks to Uganda Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross, in partnership with the Norwegian Red Cross who introduced this cooking bag in refugee settlements in Northern Uganda.

They started with a pilot study in April where they trained and sensitized locals in Bidibidi and Imvepi settlements on how to use a Wonder-bag and its wide benefits.

In July, open demons were held in which people participated in cooking competitions using the bag. Over 500 people participated and 200 bags were given out by Red Cross.

“We have traversed the two settlements of Imvepi and Bidibidi and held 15 cooking competitions which also acted as demos for the Wonder-bag. The results were commendable. Villages were amazed by the ‘miraculous’ bag which they referred to as the ‘wonderful bag’. We tried all sorts of local foods including beans, meat, greens, posho, eggs, and fish. All the dishes came out perfect! The mases are still in awe” said Simon Anyanzo, Household Energy Pilot Coordinator at URCS.

According to the results from the demos in West Nile, beans need 20 minutes pre-cooking time and about 2-3 hrs in the bag to be ready.

Beef needs 15 minutes pre-cooking and 2hrs in the Wonder-bag. Greens and fish need 15 minutes on fire and just an hour in the Wonder-bag. Women in communities have greatly relied on the bag while away in their gardens

“I am so happy for this intervention, I am a member of a community farming group. Nowadays the Wonder-bag has been of great help since we carry our cooking food to the farm land. We have different farm groups in this settlement so I would not hesitate to strongly recommend them to use this technology!” said Agnes Wani, a beneficiary in BidiBidi settlement.

In refugee settlements, the Wonder-bag also proved very handy with persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups with special needs like the elderly. Evelyn Ajok is a PWD in Ombechi village in Imvepi and her praise for the cooking bag was just overwhelming.

Meat being prepared in a wonder bag

“At first I thought that this was something for Muzungu’s (Whiteman’s) food only. Where was I going to get rice and meat and the fresh beans? I was wrong to believe like I had, this bag has changed my problems, I can now cook anything I want without fear of burning,” she said.

According to Mr. Anyanzo, this is something the Red Cross is looking at to see how best the bags could be availed to all the PSNs in refugee settlements.

He also adds that apart from being a great force in preserving the environment, the cooking bag also serves a vital protection purpose given the increased cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) among refugee communities.

The use of the Wonder-bag will reduce the need to fetch more firewood thereby reducing the exposure of women to rape and sexual abuse.

“The bag saves three times the firewood that would be used on conventional stoves. This means women will be going three times less to fetch firewood in a week and this greatly reduces their exposure to any sort of gender based violence” he said

Natural Balances, the company behind the Wonder-bag through their CEO Sarah Collins have partnered with the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) to promote the use of Wonder-bags in refugee communities across the world, but also in any other emergency situations like disasters.

This is already happening in Rwanda and in the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. In Uganda, the official launch of the Wonder-bag to the public will depend on the findings of the pilot which just concluded.

Advantages (Why should Uganda adopt the Wonder-bag technology):

It saves at least 30% of the total fuel costs associated with cooking using Kerosene, gas, charcoal or firewood.

Reduces deforestation by three times

Reduces exposure to Sexual and Gender based violence especially in rural areas where women fetch firewood

Reduces smoke (Carbon dioxide emissions) by half a ton every year

Preserves 100% food nutrients since there is no evaporation

70% less water required since the bag Keeps all moisture in the food

There is zero chances of burning food

Reduces chances of disease outbreaks like cholera brought about by eating cold food

Cost and where to get the Wonder-bag:

Despite the worldwide spread market of this cooking bag, with over 1.5 million across the globe, in Uganda the product is never heard of.

The Red Cross is in preparation based on the success of the pilot to avail the cooking bag to a larger population in Uganda especially the vulnerable communities.

A small plant has already been set up and about 150 Wonder-bags have already been produced locally and are kept by the Red Cross. For now Ugandans can only buy this cocking tool from Rwanda where it has been for Six years. The Wonder-bag can also be purchased online from South Africa, UK or the United States from https://thewonderbagshop.com/.

A single Wonder-bag costs between $14 and $60 which is about Shs 51,000- Shs 220,000 depending on the size and material.

In Uganda, for the pilot, there are about 350 Wonder-bags with the Red Cross in West Nile for demonstrations.

 

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