Wonderbag: cooking designed to help overcome energy challenges faced across the African continent

Cooking with a Difference  

Across much of Africa many households struggle to access the energy services they require in order to prepare and cook the meals they need to survive on a daily basis. Challenges exist at all levels of the supply chain beginning with access to suitable energy sources (such as paraffin/kerosene or charcoal), the affordability of these energy sources and the availability of suitable cooking devices in which families can prepare and cook their meals in. However, one product that is helping households and families to overcome these challenges, provide edible and nutritious food for themselves, reduce their energy costs and help contribute to a cleaner environment is the Wonderbag. According to its website the Wonderbag is “a simple but revolutionary non-electric heat-retention cooker …. [that can] cook food that has been brought to the boil by conventional methods for up to 12 hours without the use of additional fuel.”   

The Wonderbag is ingenious in that it does not require any electricity connection, fire or stove top in order to work effectively and it can be safely used at any time of the day or night. The bag saves energy by keeping food warm (or cold) using repurposed foam wrapped in between the two cotton layers of the bag. This is effective for retaining all the nice flavours and spices put into the meal, for ensuring that the moisture is retained and for making sure that the food never burns or goes off. The bag can be used for both heating and cooling purposes, it is excellent for the environment because it does not produce any poisonous carbon emissions while being used and it can result in multiple other benefits for anyone who uses it. Other important benefits of the bag are outlined in the table below.

Benefit Description
Tasty and Delicious Food Using the Wonderbag can makes meat tender, vegetables firm and allows all flavours in the food to develop.
Good Looking Wonderbags are designed and made in attractive fabrics (often incorporating traditional African designs) that are easy to wash, wipe, clean and re-use.
Convenient to Use Families can eat when they are ready knowing that the Wonderbag will keep their food fresh, hot (or cold) and wont be spoiled.
Insulator The Wonderbag can be used to keep food both hot and cold depending on the user’s need.
Portability The Wonderbag can be used to transport food and other products between home and work and/or other destinations.
Versatility As well as for slow cooking the Wonderbag can be used as a yoghurt maker, rice cooker and bread ‘prover’.
Change Maker For every household that uses a Wonderbag they are likely to have more disposable income for education, better health and more food and to have more time with their families.
Environmental The Wonderbag is good for the environment (for example, less trees need to be cut down, less charcoal needs to be burnt and less carbon dioxide fumes need to be inhaled while cooking).

What is particularly noteworthy is the fact that the Wonderbag is a South African product designed to help overcome major access to energy challenges faced across South Africa and the African continent.

Having grown up in Apartheid South Africa and being surrounded by inequality and poverty, Sarah Collins, the designer and founder of the Wonderbag determined to do something positive about it. To date over 1 million Wonderbags have been sold and distributed across Africa and in 2013 Wonderbag expanded to the United States and India, more recently also to refugee camps in the Middle East and will soon launch in India. Furthermore, in an effort to tackle poverty and the challenges related to it further, Collins has also founded the Coalition of Action in an attempt to work towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and united businesses, global leaders, philanthropists and charities, NGOs and communities around the world together. Some of the large scale international organisations to have already entered the Coalition of Action include Dell, Pfizer and Unilever. 

While many existing sustainable development initiatives – particularly around the challenge of access to energy – are already having positive effects new and innovative ideas, products and distribution channels will also be required. The Wonderbag is one such example of such a product. Only established in 2008 the Wonderbag is already achieving excellent results. What is also of high importance is that it has the potential to benefit many other low-income families and households across South Africa, Africa and the globe for many years to come.  

Written by Ken Fullerton