A Bold Step Toward Efficient Energy

 In Culture

Nicaragua is one of many countries in the world where biomass (biological material such as plants, grass, wood and waste) is the main source of energy but has been inadequately utilized. Worlds apart, two non-profit organizations are determined to take a bold step to change this. Proleña, located in Nicaragua, and Trees, Water, and People (TWP) in Fort Collins, Colorado are working together toward the creation of a Nicaraguan National Center for Biomass Energy & Climate Change.

The Center will be an educational resource where communities can learn about managing forests, renewable energy, cleantech, and clean-burning cook stoves. The Center will be located in La Paz Centro, a small town 36 miles away from Managua, Nicaragua’s capital. The team at Gettliffe Architecture is excited to be collaborating with these organizations in designing the center’s master plan (shown here).

In Nicaragua at the time, my assignment was to conduct a site visit and take some site measurements in preparation for the design. When I contacted Proleña’s general manager MarIying Buitrago, she told me that an informational presentation was scheduled in La Paz around the same time and invited me to tag along. Excited to learn more about Proleña, I quickly accepted.

When we arrived at the site the terrain was flooded with almost a foot of water from a downpour the night before. I couldn’t see the ground’s topography or any other outstanding site feature. We gave up on taking measurements then and moved on to the presentation.

The audience was mostly women who supported their families as “tortilleras”- tortillamakers – crafting flawless tortillas by hand. These women can spend eight hours or more per day exposed to open fire smoke. Exposure to smoke from cooking is the fifth worst risk factor for disease in developing countries, and causes almost two million premature deaths per year. In addition, tens of millions more fall sick with illnesses that could readily be prevented with increased adoption of clean and efficient cooking solutions.

Proleña and TWP have together developed a number of improved wood-burning cook stoves that reduce exposure to the harmful smoke, and require less wood fuel, reducing the user’s expenses as well. Thanks to the two nonprofits and their donors, the tortilleras are able to acquire these stoves at a very low price.

After the presentation, the La Paz Institute of Tourism director gave me a lesson on the town’s historical background and current day infrastructure improvements. He was excited about the new center and the boost it could be for La Paz Centro.
Minutes before it started pouring again, we jumped back in the truck to head back to Managua. But first, one more crucial stop, for some “quesillo” – mozzarella type string cheese wrapped in a warm tortilla – a popular Nicaraguan snack that originated in La Paz.

For more information on Proleña and TWP’s efforts visit their websites: www.prolenaecofogon.org and www.treeswaterpeople.org.

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