Why The Soros Economic Development Fund is So Interested in Cooking

Mozambique is amongst the poorest countries in the world, and the Soros Economic Development Fund (SEDF), a nonprofit private foundation that is part George Soros' Open Society Foundations, is concerned not only with food insecurity, but also with how Mozambicans cook their food. To address these concerns, the SEDF wrote a $6 million check to CleanStar Mozambique -- the biggest check the company has ever received from a single donor.

You won't find the residents of Mozambique preparing their meals on fancy six-burner stoves with convection ovens. As it turns out, most of them cook their food on charcoal…indoors. Charcoal grilled food may be delicious, but using it indoors is dangerous. The open flame and smoke produced poses a clear, visible danger, and the carbon monoxide released poses an odorless and invisible danger. The SEDF's funds, along with other sponsors such as Bank of America Merrill Lynch and industrial biotech company Novozymes, are betting on CleanStar Mozambique's business plan to not only provide a safer means of cooking, but jobs and food stability while the company's at it.

That's a pretty tall order for a coalition of companies, much less a single company. However, CleanStar's business model is pretty interesting. The company itself will reportedly create 1,000 new jobs by 2014 while providing around 2,000 small farms the ability to increase their production of staple food crops and cassava -- a surplus crop. Cassava is the surplus crop because it won't be used for eating; it will be used to create cooking fuel. CleanStar refers to this process as "conservation-agriculture."

How this conservation agriculture works is that CleanStar will provide the small farmers with the additional tools, technology, knowledge and improved planting materials that allows them to grow crop surpluses. Whatever the family does not sell or use themselves, CleanStar purchases. The surplus cassava is used to create cooking fuel, flour and chicken feed. Other surplus crops such as soya are packaged and sold around the country.

In this circle of economic life, the cooking fuel allows Mozambicans to abandon the dangerous practice of cooking with charcoal, which in turn, leads to decreased deforestation and helps curb slash-and-burn farming. The surplus crops allow the families to earn additional income, not only giving them the ability to afford alternative fuel sources for cooking but pay for other needs as well. The more they earn, the more they can afford to purchase, driving economic growth and development in the country.