Blog of Will Cleaver

SOL5 in the Amazon: solar drying nuts for Suruí Indigenous People

Posted Wednesday 19 December 2018 by Will Cleaver.

After building the SOL5 solar concentrator and dehydrator in Cacoal, I was ready to take and install them for the Suruí people that live 3 hours down a bumpy off-road track on the edge of the Amazon jungle.

Introducing the Suruí

To give a bit of context. The specific Suruí family I was heading to visit live in an aldea (village) that consists of two big houses, a family in each. They are all Suruí, the father of the village lives in one house with his family and one of his older sons and his family live in the other. They explained that when a couple get together they can make a new village in the forest for themselves and build a house there or if all parties agree they can build in a village they already live in. Very cool because they can chose to build a house anywhere on their indigenous territory for free.
This has been their territory since before first contact in 1968. Now they live on 600,000 acres of protected land and forest.

Village (aldea) on Linea 10 (Near Cacoal), Rondonia, Brazil. Two Suruí houses.

Solar dehydration is needed in the Amazon

Now that I had the SOL5 and dehydrator built the next step was getting them to the Suruí on the edge of the jungle and using them to dehydrate the babassu nut. As per my first post it currently takes them 4 days to dry the babassu on the ground under the sun. We are trying to raise the ambient temperature from around 30°C to between 50°C and 60°C in the dehydrator to speed up the drying process. Any more and the heat would start to cook the nut instead of dehydrate it.
To be specific, the part of the nut they dehydrate is the "mesocarpo", the flesh or pith of the nut. They use the dehydrated mesocarpo to make flour and bread. They sell both in local markets and eat some of the bread they make too.

"Mesocarpo", the flesh or pith of the babassu nut.

I got the SOL5 & dehydrator installed in the aldea. There are always unforeseen obstacles in the way and this time it was that the aldea was on the side of a hill and the SOL5 needs a flat area where it can be installed and rotate to follow the sun. Luckily it didn’t seem to be a problem as once the Suruí understood the situation they promptly started working a space and digging and moving earth from a high to low ground to create an area for installation. At the same time me and a couple other Suruí guys got to work preparing the SOL5 for installation. A day later we where up and running!

SOL5 & Dehydrator up and running in aldea on Linea 10 (Near Cacoal), Rondonia, Brazil.

Going into the Jungle

At this point the project had come together nicely. The only thing left was to get some babassu mesocarpo to dehydrate. When I asked about this they said they did not have any fresh babassu at the time. It’s the rainy season so they are not drying the babassu at the moment. They dry the babassu between April and October when there is much less rain. But they said we could go and get some fresh babassu to try out the dehydrator and this means a 12km trip into the jungle to get it; 11km by motorbike followed by a river crossing on a boat they have out there followed by a 1km walk to the babassu trees and fresh babassu nuts that have fallen to the jungle floor. I could feel the adrenaline pumping though me at the thought of going 12km deep into the jungle!
The plan was to go the next day. Witch we did but as it was rainy season there were many fallen trees along the trail and the river had risen flooding our path to where to boat was moored. So it was a much longer adventure that we expected but we got there in the end as you can see in the short clip at the end of the post.

Fresh babassu nuts in the Amazon jungle, Rondonia, Brazil.

Successful dehydration in rainy season!

The next day I had to leave. I was sad to leave them, the jungle and the solar concentrator. It was very nice getting to know the Suruí indigenous people and it was exciting and an adrenalin rush to go into the jungle! It’s also very exciting to see if what we have achieved and proved in East Africa could replicate in the Amazon context so I look forward to getting the first data collected, building more units and training more people so they can get more outcome from the solar concentrator to improve their livelihood.

It’s the rainy season out there at the moment so there was not one dry day during my stay but after I left, they got a day of sun and started to dehydrated mesocarpo as we can see in the short clip they sent. They used the SOL5 from 9:30 to 15:00, shortening the drying time from 4 days to 5 and a half hours! They’ll now reinforce the ground with gravel stones to make it flatter and less soft.

Links to details in this article:
Suruí people
Suruí: Perseverance under pressure
This is another interesting page on the Suruí people.
Indigenous territory
Babassu nut

SOL5 & Dehydrator with Suruí family. Linea 10 (Near Cacoal), Rondonia, Brazil.

Starting in Brazil

Posted Saturday 17 November 2018 by Will Cleaver.

In the background of the above photo you can see Cacoal city. I’m in Cacoal building a solar concentrator and food dehydrator for the Surui people that live in the jungle a few hours by car from Cacoal, State of Rondonia.

It’s been a week and a half since I arrived in Cacoal. The project is to introduce the indigenous Amazon Suruí people to our solar technology, a solar concentrator and food dehydrator that I’m in the process of making. They plan to use them to speed up the process of dehydrating the babassu nut.

Cacoal is quite an industrial city with a population of around 80,000 people so it’s been easy to find materials to build with. We are working in partnership with Forest Trends and local Forest Trends employees Marcio, Carlos and Maria have been supporting me during this project; sourcing materials, communicating in their local network to find a metal workshop for me to use and connecting me with the leaders of the different Surui families that live in the jungle. They are in contact with about 25 Surui families that live in different villages near each other.

So far the build is going well. The weather is hovering between 30 to 35°C and the tropical clouds and rains visit once or twice a day, generally after sundown. The Surui people normally take 4 days to dehydrate the babassu nuts they gather from the jungle floor. The project is to see how much we can speed that process up. Stay tuned to find out!

View looking away from Cacoal, the jungle is in the foreground and in the distance behind the farmland.

Meeting the Kopitge Bakers in Kenya
and First Solar Bread Testing

Posted Monday 2 May 2016 by Will Cleaver.

We are proud to be able to help the Koptige Bakers by providing them with the knowledge to build and maintain a solar powered bakery that they can use on a daily basis regardless of the power cuts they sometimes suffer, that can last for days.
Baking with solar ovens, watch the video below to see the first results of working with the clean renewable energy source that is the sun!
Their work is supported by the NGO World Vision Kenya. World Vision Kenya is working closely with Word Vision Finland where the Weconomy Start supports social impact companies to meet their market and lean on their extensive experience in the field.


Building Sol5 Solar Concentrators in Kenya

Posted Wednesday 27 April 2016 by Will Cleaver.

Our best solar oven and roaster builder Lorin Symington has been in Kenya for a few weeks making our Sol5 solar concentrator to roast peanuts and bake bread. After having sourced all material for the solar concentrator locally and worked with a local team of metal workers great success has been achieved and two fully functional Sol5 solar concentrators with oven and roaster are now ready. Get a feel for the construction process in this short video:


GoSol - What We Do and Why

Posted Friday 15 April 2016 by Will Cleaver.

At GoSol team spirits means a lot to us. Since a few years now, no matter if we work
together from different corners of the globe or not, no matter the huge ups and downs of every project, we share the same spirit and working together on our own solar projects around the world was and still is a deep joy.

With the idea of creating simple and efficient solar technology that can be built easily we want to provide clean energy to anyone that wants to use it. We are now at the stage where we have, with the SOL4, a great simple design that works wonderfully, and is very powerful and cost effective.

What we wanted to share with you in this video is the path we have walked. It is immensely satisfying to have gotten to the point where we are now with the coming release of the SOL4 guide. It’s all about providing the knowledge for people to create solar energy powered options to live in a sustainable way.