Monday, 14 December 2015

CTI publishes Design Innovation Path

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CTI’s newly published Design Innovation Path (DIP) is here!

In 2014, we worked with international consultant, Marius Quintana, to design a methodology for CTI’s research and development. Our DIP is the basis for CTI’s current and future research, putting small farmers’ needs at the center.

We start with an understanding of what small farmers, particularly women, are experiencing in relation to post-harvest activities and food processing. We explore ways in which CTI might be able to help. From there, we work with small farmers to create effective design and to insure our tools are available, affordable, accessible and valuable to them.

“Excellence must be achieved through the eyes of those who judge us; once achieved it can only be maintained with constant innovation.” (Tom Collins, Author, Entrepreneur, Epicurean)

You can read the Design Innovation Path in full here.

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Last week marked the beginning of the 21st Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21). More than 150 world leaders are convening in Paris with the ambitious goal of limiting global temperature change to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

So what’s at stake?

According to a recent report on global food security from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), climate change, extreme weather, and environmental degradation will be among the greatest threats to food availability during the next 10 years. Increasing food insecurity is predicted to hit Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia the hardest. As a result, scarce resources could lead to violence and instability.

Reducing global food loss and waste holds great potential for combatting both problems.

More than a third of all food produced on our planet never gets eaten. This has a major impact on climate change. If food waste was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases—behind only the United States and China. This waste is also exceedingly expensive. The direct cost of food waste is about US$750 billion annually, equivalent to the GDP of Switzerland.

Global food waste and loss is also a major driver of food insecurity. While research has invested heavily in improving yields and inputs, less than five percent of agricultural research is spent on reducing global food loss and waste. The introduction of better farming practices and access to seeds, fertilizer, and the like has boosted yields, but these gains are often undermined by the enormous waste of food due to spoilage, insect infestation, and other factors that occur after harvest. This needs to change. As stated in ODNI’s report, “Simply growing more food will not result in more food-secure countries.”

This is why CTI is committed to reducing postharvest loss. We design tools carefully tailored to meet the unique needs of small farmers—tools that enable small farmers to not only increase production, but to reduce loss and deliver high-quality food to market. And our tools are supported by comprehensive programs, because we recognize that tools are only one piece of the puzzle. In Senegal, for example, we are working with local manufacturers, distributors, and food purchasers to ensure that our technologies are available, affordable, and linked to business opportunities.

As outlined in the ODNI report, we need to invest in the necessary infrastructure, technology, and education to improve food access around the world. Global food security and climate change are inextricably linked—COP21 must address global food loss and waste if they hope to reach their goal.

You can read the full ODNI Global Food Security Assessment here.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Turning Hunger Into Hope

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For more than 30 years, CTI has provided simple tools to empower small farmers to overcome hunger and rise from poverty.

We are so proud to talk about our impact using one of our longest-standing technologies, the Ewing grinder, which supports small-scale food processing around the world. For women in developing countries, grinding crops into edible food is a daily struggle. Using the traditional mortar and pestle, women and girls can spend hours preparing food each day. The process is grueling and time-consuming—limiting the amount of food families can produce.

With CTI’s hand-operated grinder, women can make flour or nut butter in minutes. With this increased productivity, women have time for other important pursuits—such as continuing education or starting a business—allowing them to increase their economic opportunity, strengthen their leadership, and greatly improve their social status in their community.

Over the last 20 years, we’ve shipped our grinders to more than 40 countries. Here's what we have heard from our customers in Haiti:

We are helping farmers produce high-quality, processed products that contribute to health and nutrition.

In Haiti, Love a Child purchased a CTI grinder to help Sonja start a business selling Moringa powder. Sonja dries the nutrient-rich leaves in a solar dryer and grinds the dried leaves into powder. She sells the powder to Love a Child’s nutrition clinic, where nurses distribute it to pregnant and nursing mothers and malnourished children.

“The number of severe malnutrition cases has dropped from 130 per day to less than 4 [cases] in the community,” reported Mike Sullivan, Love a Child’s Development and Sustainability Coordinator.

We are increasing economic opportunity for small farmers and their families.

“Selling peanuts in the shell has a very low profit margin. Especially when the farmers owe a percentage of the income to their landowner,” explained Peter Johnson of Seeds of Support: Mission Haiti. Seeds of Support is a ministry of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota in partnership with Redeemer Lutheran Church in Pasquette, Haiti. “However, grinding roasted peanuts into peanut butter and selling it at local hotels and restaurants creates a higher income for the farmers and their families.”

What does this mean for the people of Pasquette? Affordable education. Because of cost, only one or two children in [each] family have the opportunity to go to school. A greater income from peanut butter means more schooling opportunities for more children—and education brings a brighter future.”

We are empowering women—responsible for the majority of food preparation within their communities.

With the help of Haitian nonprofit Sonje Ayiti, RAFAVAL—a women’s group in the town of Limonade, Haiti—received a CTI grinder for their business making chocolate for hot cocoa. When presented with the grinder, the women were thrilled that they would no longer have to travel to pay someone to grind their cocoa—saving them time and money.

Gabrielle Vincent, Country Director for Sonje Ayiti, told us, “RAFAVAL will be making hot cocoa to distribute at makeshift shelters in Limonade and will use this new tool to make more hot cocoa to sell locally. This is not relief, but development and empowerment.”

With simple—yet meaningful—contributions, we can help small farmers improve nutrition. Start businesses. Earn higher incomes. Become leaders in their communities. And we can end hunger in our lifetime.


The global community is increasingly recognizing gender inequality – and its implications for food security – as a critical issue to understand and address.

Women make up an estimated 43 percent of the global agricultural workforce, yet they receive only a fraction of the resources ­– seeds, land, access to markets, agricultural training – compared to men.

Understanding why this gender gap exists is crucial to reversing it – and boosting global food and nutrition security in the process.

In a report conducted by MAIZE, a CGIAR Research Program, researchers examined how household gender dynamics affect women’s demand for, and adoption of, mechanization. The report studied four sites across Kenya and Ethiopia, observing significant differences in norms and values in how agricultural labor is gendered and governed.

A gendered division of labor was apparent across all four sites, with women often experiencing chronic time poverty and exhaustion as a result. Women are responsible for several highly labor-intensive tasks, including tillage, post-harvest management, and transport of produce. All responsibility for reproductive labor—such as childcare and water/fuel collection—rests on women as well.

These responsibilities limit women’s opportunities outside of the home, such as business training or education.

CTI seeks to overcome these barriers by working with women as co-designers, utilizing participatory research to ensure our tools make sense to rural women farmers. The tools are designed, field tested, and modified in direct collaboration with women smallholders. This was one of the key recommendations of the MAIZE report – that women are involved in the design process to ensure mechanized technologies reflect their unique priorities and constraints.

Providing women a dramatic boost in productivity, these technologies allow valuable time for women to create businesses and access new markets – helping women strengthen their leadership within the community and improving the standard of living for entire villages.

The MAIZE report emphasizes that mechanization alone will not change gender roles overnight. Within male-headed households, for example, men still determine whether or not labor-saving methods will be used. For organizations such as CTI, understanding these cultural norms is crucial to ensure technologies and services are accepted and adopted by communities.

You can read more about CTI’s approach here.

World Bank Sites

Rural farmers—women in particular—often aren’t aware of, or don’t have access to, time- and labor-saving agricultural innovations.

The World Bank’s West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP) is working to counteract this by organizing workshops to educate women on new technologies—developed with WAAPP’s support—and to encourage their participation and adoption of the tools.

A ten-year program aimed at developing and distributing emerging technologies, the WAAPP brings together a wide range of value chain actors to help farmers not only access technologies, but successfully adopt them to improve productivity, increase incomes, and create business opportunities.

Workshops took place from July 20 through July 24 across Senegal—in Kaolack, Kaffrine, Diourbel, and Thies. At each workshop, World Bank project staff presented a variety of technologies, including new varieties of cereals, soil fertility management systems, and CTI’s thresher and grinder. After the presentation, farmers asked questions—primarily on how to access the technologies and how they would improve their livelihoods.

Aside from World Bank project staff, attendees included CTI, agricultural extension agency ANCAR, the Senegalese Institute of Agricultural Research (ISRA), local authorities, buyers, and government officials. By including representatives across the value chain, the workshops fostered collaboration among actors that are typically siloed. More importantly, the workshops allowed farmers to access all of these resources in one place. The workshops also provided an opportunity to present solutions to women farmers and actively ask how we can serve them better.

There is a growing demand for millet in Senegal—and small farmers have the opportunity to cash in, if they are able to produce quality grain in volume. For example, one of the buyers who presented in Thies was Mamelles Jaboot, a Senegalese family-run business which specializes in the production of yogurt and local cereals, primarily millet.

With access to more efficient, mechanized farming tools—and the necessary knowledge and resources—women have the opportunity to capitalize on this demand and access new markets for increased incomes.

MINSA certification

“The greatest ideas are the simplest.”

Our Water Chlorinator is one of CTI’s greatest success stories — and one of our simplest designs, made of inexpensive PVC pipes and chlorine tablets. Today, our Chlorinators are providing more than 330,000 Nicaraguans in over 600 rural villages with safe drinking water for just pennies per day.

In July 2015, the Chlorinator reached another milestone.

Dr. Carlos Saenz Torres, the Director of Public Health of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health (MINSA) certified our Water Chlorinator as effective in eliminating fecal contamination in drinking water and providing water safe for human consumption.

CTI has worked closely with MINSA for years, but primarily with the local, municipality-level branches — providing water treatment installations in areas MINSA identifies as high-risk and assisting with various public health initiatives. While MINSA provides critical public health services at the municipality level, the national-level MINSA Central is the regulatory agency.

Despite our established partnership with the municipal branches, communities were frequently asking us, “Is this device certified by MINSA Central?” We listened to their concerns — the new certification comes directly from MINSA’s national office in Managua.

What does this mean for CTI?

“As a recognized and well-respected authority, MINSA’s certification adds credibility to our Water Chlorinator and our work in Nicaragua,” explained CTI Program Director Wes Meier. “This gives us greater opportunities to expand our reach, establish new partnerships, and provide more Nicaraguans with safe drinking water.”

Thanks to this simple technology supported by an effective program, CTI plans to reach 500,000 Nicaraguans with safe drinking water by 2018.

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Can you name this fruit?

It is a fast-growing, high-yielding, nutrient-rich fruit that has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years. Originating in New Guinea, this green football-sized fruit is now grown in tropical regions around the world. It boasts higher protein than potatoes, wheat, rice, soybean, corn, and peas. It is low in fat and a good source of fiber, calcium, potassium, and other minerals. It has been referred to as the "food of the future.”

Yet despite its promise, this crop—called breadfruit—has been historically underutilized.

CTI is trying to change that.

This summer, CTI intern and University of St. Thomas engineering student Vang Xiong researched the history of breadfruit to understand how the crop is typically grown, processed, and eaten. With the help of CTI Program Director Wes Meier and volunteer engineers, Vang built two prototype breadfruit driers—one for indoor use and one for outdoor use.

The driers were co-designed by University of St. Thomas engineering professors Robert Bach and Camille George, a longtime associate of CTI. Over 10 UST students have been involved in simplifying the design and bringing the costs down since the first student team presented a design to CTI in 2003.

Each drier has a five-shelf drying rack with a total space of 30 square feet, with a frame of PVC pipe. The drier was designed to be simple—easy to load and unload, food-safe, and cost effective. While the drier was designed specifically for breadfruit, it can also be used to dry potato, mango, banana, cassava, and other soft-fleshed produce.

In July, Vang, fellow UST student Michaela Andrews, and Dr. George attended the International Breadfruit Conference on behalf of CTI to present the drier prototypes. Held in Trinidad and Tobago, the conference focused on the theme of commercializing breadfruit for food and nutrition security.

Vang reported that the driers were well-received, with both the indoor version and the outdoor version sold by the end of the conference. Everyone he spoke with enjoyed the conference and the presentations, and was interested and engaged—sharing feedback and information, as well as their personal experiences, to help others.

Vang had the opportunity to speak to local breadfruit growers to determine how to best meet their needs in regards to processing breadfruit. During the conference he learned about methods to increase crop yield, potential threats to the crops’ health, and best growing practices. He looks forward to analyzing his findings from the conference, hearing feedback from the individuals who purchased our prototypes, and adapting our design to meet the identified needs.

Vang’s favorite part of the conference was the diversity of the attendees: “it was moving to see people [of all backgrounds] working together to make something happen.”

rsz julia fair picture for bio

Julia Fair is entering her senior year at Northland College this fall. She is double-majoring in Sociology with a Social Justice Emphasis and Sustainable Community Development. After finishing her internship with CTI, Julia will begin an internship with the Peace Corps Ambassador program as well as an internship with an immigration lawyer based in Ashland, WI.




Friday, 10 July 2015

Intern Spotlight: Julia Fair

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Last November, CTI and Northland College established the CTI/Northland College Wendy and Malcolm McLean Internship in memory of Malcolm McLean, President of Northland College from 1971 to 1987 and CTI Executive Director from 1991 to 1995. I was selected for this internship, which included the opportunity to go to Nicaragua for a week. As a Sociology and Sustainable Community Development major with an emphasis in social justice, I was interested in CTI because its mission connects both of my majors. I have always enjoyed travel for experiential learning, so I was very excited to go to Nicaragua and see CTI’s work firsthand.
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While in Nicaragua, I had the opportunity to observe two groups of engineering students from Iowa State's “Human-Centered Design in Nicaragua” course. Human-centered design is an approach to engineering that focuses on listening to people’s needs to produce appropriate and sustainable technologies. The students grappled with how to design the most effective water catchment system (using a ram pump, or bomba ariete in Spanish) and biochar reactor. Biochar is a charcoal produced from leftover biomass, such as grass or manure, which produces a rich fertilizer when burned.

Since I’m not an engineering student, I asked a lot of questions about why the groups made the choices that they did, taking notes of their experiences throughout the design process. I primarily observed the bomba ariete group, whose design was able to pump water from large catchment sources, such as streams or rivers, to a smaller source uphill—using only the energy from the flowing water.    

Every student on my trip has worried about whether or not they will make a lasting impact with their technology. I think that this says a lot about this program—both the curriculum and the students who participate. Focusing on human-centered design led them to approach their projects without assumptions—they interviewed the people that they designed the technologies for so they were able to get an understanding of the needs of their clients. I think that their focus on human-centered design had a positive effect on how they approach their projects.  Under the human-centered design approach, the designer needs to understand the cultural relations between human interaction with places, objects, institutions, and other people. Well-meaning agencies may send materials to areas that are not useful or usable, because the agencies have not asked what will work best for the area. By taking the time to understand people’s needs, projects have much greater potential for successful adoption and powerful impact.

At the end of each day, the group would come together to debrief. I always enjoyed this part of the day, listening as the students offered each other feedback and brainstormed potential solutions together. CTI Program Director Wes Meier and Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability (EOS) employees also joined in—it was incredible to see the interaction between staff and students. The different perspectives allowed the students to step away from their project and analyze potential issues that they had not considered during the day.

Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible! It was a life changing experience and I am so grateful for my time in Nicaragua. 

rsz julia fair picture for bio

Julia Fair is entering her senior year at Northland College this fall. She is double-majoring in Sociology with a Social Justice Emphasis and Sustainable Community Development. After finishing her internship with CTI, Julia will begin an internship with the Peace Corps Ambassador program as well as an internship with an immigration lawyer based in Ashland, WI.




Iowa State students  Julia

“How do you find inspiration?”

It’s one of the most common questions we’re asked at CTI, and the question comes in many different forms: “How do you know where the most need is?” or “How do you come up with new solutions to centuries-old challenges?”

Well, today we’re going to let you in on our secret: We listen.

We meet face-to-face with farmers, mothers, and artisans, and we listen to them express—in their own words—their needs and their ideas.

Ok, maybe listening wasn’t a concept invented by CTI, but you’d be surprised how often well-meaning projects fail because they start with a solution in search of a problem. We are committed to changing this mentality, and we want to encourage the next generation of social innovators to see the rural poor not as a problem to be solved, but rather, a source of inspiration. Smallholder farmers are incredibly creative, resourceful, and more dedicated to improving their communities than they’re often given credit for.

This week, CTI Program Director Wes Meier is in Nicaragua mentoring students on key strategies for engaging with rural communities. Wes is working with a group of students and professors from Iowa State University as part of the class, “Human Centered Design in Nicaragua.” This course is an exciting collaboration between Iowa State and Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability (EOS), one of CTI’s key partners in Nicaragua. The class offers students the opportunity to study abroad and be immersed in another culture, while also teaching them the critical engineering methodology of human-centered design. Human-centered design is an approach that focuses on appropriate and sustainable technologies designed with an awareness of cultural norms and nuances.

Traveling with Wes is Julia Fair, the intern selected for the CTI/Northland College Wendy and Malcolm McLean Internship. After spending her first two weeks in our St. Paul headquarters, Julia traveled to Nicaragua with Wes for the study abroad portion of her internship. Julia, a rising senior, observed:

“I absolutely love it here and I have met so many kind people. Augusto José Cordozo is the owner of the bike shop. His eagerness to learn more about the project and to help in any way possible seems to be a common theme in Nica…This trip was easily one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had.”

Another adventure led Julia and the other students to a coffee farm, where they spoke with the president of the local coffee cooperative and enjoyed freshly brewed coffee which they ground themselves. The coffee roaster they used was designed in collaboration with coffee farmers during last year’s human-centered design course.

If you want to see more, you can check out photos from Wes and Julia’s trip on our Facebook page!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

From the Lab

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Our engineers have been hard at work this year, and we are happy to announce that we have TWO new technologies in the works! The first is our motorized thresher, with the prototype being sent to Senegal this spring for testing. CTI is dedicated to human-centered design, and we are always looking for ways to incorporate customer feedback to improve our tools. The motorized thresher was designed in response to farmers’ requests for higher capacity — and we delivered! The new thresher produces 200 kg of clean grain per hour, or 20 times faster than manual threshing.

Our second technology is a new and improved grinder model, to be unveiled this fall. The new grinder will be a streamlined, lower-cost model that is easily motorized. As of now the new model does not have an official name — suggestions are welcome!