Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Field Notes from Malawi

Written by Bupe Mulaga Mwakasungula, Malawi Project Manager

LovenessBlogLet me introduce you to a true superhero. Loveness is a farmer and entrepreneur from a small town in Kasungu District in Malawi. She’s the main breadwinner for her family — her husband passed away last year – and she runs several businesses including a small grocery store and a farm where she grows peanuts and sugarcane.

Loveness has 10 children depending on her, so we were blown away when she told us she’s managed to educate them all. Some of her kids are working now, while others are finishing secondary school. She owns a few cows, an iron sheet house – a luxury – and as of a few weeks ago, she’s also the proud owner of a CTI peanut stripper.

Loveness is the first farmer to purchase a peanut stripper on her own, rather than as part of a women’s group. CTI’s peanut stripper helps farmers rapidly remove peanut pods from the stem, and is part of a suite of tools that also includes equipment for harvesting and shelling peanuts. The tools help farmers produce more peanuts with far less effort, and they improve the quality and market value of their crop.

“My plan is to have all three of CTI’s peanut tools so I can use them on my field and earn money lending them out to other farmers.”

Loveness is a role model in her community, and when she starts using new technologies, others follow. Loveness is organizing a meeting with her neighbors this month so she can show them how to use the stripper.

“Owning these tools, for me, is a sign of wealth,” she told us. “Please bring me a sheller, I will buy it too.”

We are collaborating with farmer organizations throughout Malawi to introduce our peanut tools to farmer leaders and women’s organizations. We provide tools, training and ongoing support, while the farmer groups cover the material costs of the peanut equipment through loans or savings.

As we monitor their progress over the next year, we’re learning about the most effective models for farmers to purchase the equipment and earn a return on their investment – valuable information which will help us scale the tools in Malawi and throughout the region. Thank you to our generous donors, as well as the McKnight Foundation and the CHS Foundation, for supporting this work.

In a new video, our volunteers and staff talk about how simple technologies—developed and delivered in partnership with women farmers—are transforming communities.

 

“Right now we’re seeing women dance, right we’re seeing women set up businesses, we’re seeing women with smiles on their faces knowing wow, I’m going to be able to something else with my day.”

 
We want to thank catchfire, a Minneapolis-based advertising agency that volunteered many hours to create this beautiful video.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Volunteer Spotlight: Vern Cardwell

Written by

Vern blog
CTI has collaborated with skilled volunteers since we were founded in 1981 by engineers and scientists who sought to use their expertise to fight global hunger. On our design team, you’ll a find a creative and quirky bunch of seasoned experts from a variety of fields. Take Vern Cardwell, an agronomist who spent 45 years teaching at the University of Minnesota, before retiring and becoming a daily fixture in CTI’s lab. Vern’s work and wisdom have impacted so many people, and he’s been instrumental in the development of our groundnut tools and grain thresher. We recently spoke to Vern about why he volunteers and what drives him to spend his retirement working to fight global hunger.

Why do you volunteer?

I taught a course on world food problems for 15 years at the University of Minnesota and I’ve had the opportunity to work with farming communities around the world. I’ve lived through the horse drawn equipment era to the modern 1000 hp tractors and so I recognize that big machinery can do a lot of things, but big machinery isn’t going to solve the problems of small farmers.

When you arrive on some of these African villages and you look across the skyline, you can’t see a power pole anywhere, there’s no electricity. You look around and there are no motorized vehicles other than the ones you came in. You ask to see their tools and they show you a machete and a short handled hoe. It’s a lot of backbreaking work. When you talk to the women, who are doing most of the work, and they very matter-of-factly point out, “We have our periods of hunger, where there isn’t enough food for our children, and there are deaths in our family.” That gives you a sense of urgency to do something to improve on the situation.

I retired in December of 2012 and I started working as a volunteering in January. I’ve been putting in 20-25 hours a week ever since and have made 5 trips to Malawi and one to Tanzania. 

What drives you to care about global hunger?

All we have to do is think about where we came from. My grandparents left Russia at the time that the Bolshevik revolution in 1914. They didn’t have enough money to come directly to the US, so they ended up going first to Argentina. Grandpa worked on a wheat farm to earn enough to get to Tampa. When they got to Tampa, grandma was rejected. She had to leave. She and several others in their group went to Cuba. After about three months grandma was able to come to the US and meet up with grandpa again.

But by the grace of god, I could have been a Russian, I could have been an Argentinian, I could have been a Cuban. But I am an American. Each of us, we are all in this country, immigrants. We may have been born here but our forefathers came from somewhere else. And the fact that we have what we have is a tribute to their hard work, but it’s also a tribute to the bounty that this nation has in terms of natural resources.

Africa is the dry continent. The oldest soils in the world are in Africa. The soils have been weathered; they have been leached and are low in natural fertility in many areas. And so our bounty is not because we’re so much smarter, but because we have a rich geographic area that has above normal precipitation, and 25% of the world’s class one land. We take it for granted and we shouldn’t.

Does that make you feel a sense of responsibility?

Hunger and poverty are the responsibility of everyone. It’s not just nonprofit groups or church groups. Our corporate leaders have a responsibility, our government has a responsibility, and each of us individually has a responsibility. Sometimes it’s giving gifts to support and other times it’s working with legislatures. It is only going to be through collective efforts that we we’ll see the kinds of improvements that are needed, where the tools, infrastructure, political and economic conditions in these areas provide the resources for the villagers where they have a voice in their future. Then their lives will begin to improve.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Why I am called to help

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Ron Christenson, CTI Board Member and Former Chair

All of us are called to help others. As a CTI donor and board member, I’ve been working to help families in Senegal for many years. But it wasn’t until I recently visited the country that I saw the powerful and lasting impact we can have on poverty with simple tools and a little compassion.

Senegal is a place with a lot of need and a lot to be proud of. Much of the population earns less than $2 per day. The people are friendly and care deeply about building their country. The government is stable and effective.

CTI is working side-by-side with farmers, women’s groups, and artisans in Senegal to equip communities with grain threshing tools so they can produce and sell more food. This gives people the power to improve their own lives.

I recently had the opportunity to join our Senegalese staff for the delivery of a thresher. The joy of the villagers was palpable. It was very fun to witness firsthand. With more time and higher earnings from the additional production provided by CTI tools, this village now has the opportunity to break the subsistence cycle.

Think about what this means for so many children. Often, we read about the child mortality rate in the developing countries and wonder what we can do. Providing these tools is a wonderful first step.

CTI's focus on helping families with post-harvest food production in select countries is resulting in progress. CTI’s threshers are currently being used by close to 200 villages, and we are delivering 150 more this year – reaching more than 40,000 people.

We are making progress by collaborating with many partners. We’re working with government partners to place the tools where they can have the most impact. We have a Senegalese leader of CTI Senegal who is just outstanding. And CTI's executive director, Alexandra Spieldoch, is providing strong leadership. She has a passion for West Africa and is very fluent in French.

CTI has an uncommon series of forces and events coming together to provide for very effective progress in coming years to have a significant impact on poverty in Senegal. Philanthropy through CTI is helping others. And this is very fun and wonderful to see in person. I feel I am helping others in a significant way by supporting CTI!

 

Ron L. Christenson retired from his position as Corporate VP and CTO at Cargill in 2009 after 38 years of service. During his career with Cargill he lived in Argentina and Canada and several locations within the USA while engineering, building and operating food processing plants. He had been responsible for Plant Operations, Food safety and Environment, Health and Safety and Engineering.

Ron has an interest in continuing to help people in the developing world through technology and education. He is supporter of Engineers without Borders. Ron also chairs the Dean's Advisory Board for the Institute of Technology at the University of Minnesota. He has supported the University through scholarships, fellowships and by endowing a chair in renewable energy. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1972. He is a registered professional engineer.

Ron is a member of the Board of Trustees of Science Museum of Minnesota. An avid outdoorsman, he owns a small woodland that he stewards for wildlife.

SteveWebCTI has collaborated with skilled volunteers since we were founded in 1981 by engineers and scientists who sought to use their expertise to fight global hunger. On our design team, you’ll a find a creative and quirky bunch of seasoned experts in a variety of fields. Take Steve Clough, a metallurgist and a top notch welder who helps CTI with equipment design and prototyping.

How does a kid from Detroit grow up to be a world record holder in motorcycle land speed racing and PHD metallurgist who helps fight global hunger in his spare time? Read on to find out:

Where did your creative spark came from?


I was born and raised in the Detroit area until 6th grade when we moved to a small farm 50 miles outside of Detroit. When you’re a farmer, you get involved in fixing and making things.

My whole life, I’ve liked building things.

When I was a little kid my dad had a pile of wood in the corner of the garage and some hand tools that I was always free to use. As a teenager, I was into building hot rods and drag racing motorcycles.

Where did your life take you?


After high school, I enlisted in the Air Force to keep from getting drafted during the Vietnam War. I spent four years in the Air force before getting into Michigan Technological University in 1970. I worked straight through the summers and got my PHD in metallurgical engineering in just about six years. I spent much of my career in surface analysis, which is an analytic technique to look at the surface, chemistry, and metallurgy of materials. Eventually, I started my own company, and then retired in 2011.

I’ve got two vintage 1955 Indian motorcycles, one of which I race — land speed racing in Utah. I established land speed record for my class of motorcycle in 2013 and raised the record in 2016. I’ll be going back this summer to attempt to break my record again.

So, I have hobbies that I’m deeply involved in, but after retirement, I was looking for something to do, not only fill time, but to feel like I’m paying back.

My wife is a registered nurse at the retirement community where the founder of CTI, George Ewing, was living. She and George had become good friends and he was always showing her his latest inventions. One day she came home and said, “George is going to be on TV tonight and we have to watch.” I watched the story on George, and looked at the CTI website and knew wanted to get involved, even if it just meant sweeping the floors.

What inspires you?


I enjoy doing something for somebody who’s not going to be doing anything back for me.

I never knew of efforts like CTI’s to work with very poor farmers. I was more aware of what you read in the news of big programs using automated equipment, but none of it helps the small individual farmer. I probably never even realized how many people are farming on 1, 2, or 3 acres and producing barely enough to feed themselves. I think CTI’s approach is having a big impact by taking these complex machines that we take for granted and turning them into simple machines that are affordable and reliable.

The volunteers I work with primarily are Don and Vern. I think the world of both guys. They’re able to contribute something I’m not and I contribute something they’re not. So, it’s a team effort to try to solve a problem and create a solution that’s lasting and valuable.
Friday, 03 March 2017

Engineering for Peace

Written by
Bridget ShopHello, my name is Bridget. I’m an engineering undergraduate student at University of St. Thomas and have the great fortune of being an engineering intern at Compatible Technology International (CTI) for this spring and summer term. CTI works with primarily women farmers who are experiencing poverty to increase their efficiency, decrease the drudgery, and collaboratively create pathways out of hunger through technology. The internship is for credit in my program "Peace Engineering," but more so it is an opportunity to be involved in the field of engineering I’ve always wanted to do. I believe engineering can change the world – not just by creating cool gadgets, but by meaningfully changing lives as CTI does.

We are taught in engineering how to look at the big picture and account for all effects on a system. Often this is constrained to physical products (bridges, cars, computers, etc), but engineers have the potential to see the whole system: the social system. Seeing the contextual social, economic, and environmental factors allows for more sustainable and personal design. More importantly it allows for humble and respectful service of designing with those economically disadvantaged. This is what I view my purpose in studying engineering to be, service. Service to respect and respond to the dignity of all persons. Service that works together with farmers to design what is best for them through collaboration. Service that aims at greater justice and empowerment for women which will result in a more peaceful world. I’m excited to work with CTI because I have seen how they use engineering design, data, and theory to touch lives and empower communities.

Now I know that we can’t give all the credit to engineering. The work CTI does requires gender specialists, financial supporters, manufacturing partners, and more! But I hope to share with you the engineering side of the story here on my blog. How we design for the worker and the community. How we improve for sustainability during a day’s work. And other reflections of technical work impacting life in very human ways: medically, socially, economically, etc. Engineering doesn’t have to be cold, anti-social, and analytical as is often the stereotype in media and society. Engineering can be personal and contemplative to bring life, justice, and peace.

While at CTI, I look forward to being involved in a number of diverse tasks. I will be a resource for the engineering team for computer drafting of designs in Solidworks. I will do research for best practices and existing designs for new challenges as well as assist in the fabrication of prototypes. Right now, I am analyzing data for the crank handle tools for my first project. But no matter what I’m working on, I always want to keep it in the context that the work will serve others, and I hope you will join me.

You can find the latest updates from Bridget here. 

bridgetthumbBridget is an undergraduate student at the University of St. Thomas (UST) in the Peace Engineering program, and an engineering intern at Compatible Technology. She has a life-long passion for service, social justice and fighting poverty and hunger. When she found another passion in engineering, creativity and design, she became inspired to combine them. Now, she is grateful of the opportunities at UST and CTI to develop the social and technical skills to pursue her passions.
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The millet harvest just ended in Senegal and families across the country are preparing for one of the busiest times of the year. In a few weeks, women and girls will gather to start processing their millet into edible grain. Usually, this is backbreaking work done almost entirely by hand. 

But this year, we’re delivering CTI's Pearl Millet Threshers to 150 villages in Senegal, and these communities are ushering in the millet season with singing, dancing, and celebrations. Last week our staff traveled by truck, by boat, and by horse to deliver a thresher to a small seaside community in Western Senegal. Members of this community had previously tested a prototype of the thresher and were grateful to see that that their input had influenced the thresher design.

 

“We are glad that you really listened to us and included our feedback in the thresher design. It’s really easy to turn the crank and we can see it’s producing high-quality grain,” Awa told our staff. “We’re looking forward to using the thresher to create an income for our community.” 

 
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It would be difficult to overstate the importance of millet in Senegal, and the opportunities that this technology represents. Millet is the most widely grown crop in the country and it’s a vital source of nutrition for families. With access to CTI’s thresher, families can produce more food with less effort. Now, moms and their daughters will have more time to go to school, sell their crops at market, and enjoy life. 


Over the next several weeks, we’ll be delivering threshers across the country. The thresher is now being built by a fabricator in Senegal, so farmers will have a place to turn to for repairs and spare parts. Local manufacturing means that expensive shipping costs are eliminated so more donor dollars go directly towards helping farmers and their communities. 

What would you do if you were on your own, with six kids to care for, and fighting for your life?

If you’re like Joyce, you get to work.

A few years ago, Joyce was in bad shape. Like 10% of Malawians, Joyce had HIV. Her weight had dropped to 85 pounds and no one expected her to live much longer. But she was a fighter. Joyce and others with HIV in her community began growing peanuts. They got their hands on a CTI grinder and started making peanut butter. Before long, everything changed.

Eating peanut butter helped Joyce and her friends gain weight. With better nutrition, their HIV medication started to kick in. Now Joyce is strong, healthy, and is selling peanut butter to help put her kids through school.

“Since this grinder was introduced to me, I have seen a big change in my health. Even my children cannot believe how much my health has changed,” said Joyce. "People can’t believe that I have HIV.” ” 

This project was made possible by the suport of Earthen Vessels, click here to learn more. 

nutritionMalawi is one of the most malnourished countries in the world. In this small southeast African country, about the size of Ohio, malnutrition typically starts during childhood as a result of micronutrient deficiencies, a diet comprised of mostly cereals, and food shortages. Chronic malnutrition causes stunting in children, and those who survive it often deal with lifelong health and cognitive development challenges. The lasting effects of undernutrition impacts 60% of Malawi’s adults and cost the economy millions of dollars each year.

But that’s only a part of Malawi’s story. In recent years, Malawi has made major strides in reducing child mortality (down 80% since 1990) and the prevalence of HIV. Malawi is nicknamed “the warm heart of Africa” and it’s full of incredibly resilient communities working together to improve life for everyone. And it’s paying off.

At CTI, we’re equipping communities with tools that will help them produce more peanuts—one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. And we’re partnering with farmer co-ops and researchers in Malawi so families have nutritious, high-yielding seed varieties. Together, and with the support of our donors, we are helping communities boost their yields and diversify their diets so families are healthier and kids can look forward to brighter futures.

5 Things You Should Know about Child Nutrition in Malawi 

1) 23% percent of all child mortality cases in Malawi are associated with undernutrition

2) Today, 1.4 million or almost half of the children in Malawi are stunted

3) 66% of the adult population engaged in manual activities were stunted as children, representing an annual loss of US$ 67 million

4) Of all school year repetitions, 18 percent are associated with stunting

5) The total annual costs associated with child undernutrition are estimated at US$ 597 million, equivalent to 10.3% of GDP

Aflatoxins are the most toxic naturally occurring carcinogens known.

Aflatoxins are poisonous, cancer-causing chemicals that develop from mold and fungus, often as a result of improper storage and mishandled food. In many parts of Africa, aflatoxin contamination poses a serious risk to the health of rural communities. It’s also a major barrier to their ability to market their crops and earn a profit. 

Engineers at CTI are working in partnership with crop researchers at ICRISAT to develop a testing kit to help farmers and researchers identify aflatoxin in peanuts. ICRISAT has created a simple strip test that develops an easy to read black line to indicate if the peanuts are safe to eat.  CTI is researching simple, low cost technologies that can be adapted to chop the peanuts into a suitable sample size for testing. With a low-cost, field- testing kit, farmers can identify aflatoxin contamination at its source, in minutes, and mitigate a major threat to rural health and incomes.
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