Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Coffee workers gain safe water in Nicaragua

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Siblings do the washing at Acopia San Francisco Uca, a major coffee plantation and wholesaler in Nicaragua. Behind them, community members build a CTI water chlorinator.

Siblings do the washing at Acopia San Francisco Uca, a major coffee plantation and wholesaler in Nicaragua. Behind them, community members build a CTI water chlorinator.

In rural Nicaragua, seasonal workers and their families travel long distances to work on coffee, corn and cocoa plantations for months at a time. The money they earn during this period is essential to their families’ welfare, but the lack of safe drinking water at plantations often causes serious illness—preventing seasonal workers from going to work and devastating families.

Access to safe water not only improves community health, it increases incomes too. In fact, every $1 invested in improved water and sanitation yields an average of $4-12 for the local economy.

Because communities ability to earn money is so dependent on safe water, many plantations in Nicaragua are installing CTI’s Water Chlorinator. We are currently providing safe water to more than 12,000 seasonal workers in Nicaragua. With access to safe water, parents can earn wages, kids can attend school, and families in general have better lives.

Thursday, 07 February 2013

5 surprising facts about poverty you need to know

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1) The hungriest people grow food for a living

Global hunger and poverty are largely a rural phenomenon. 70% of the developing world’s extremely poor people are in rural communities and work in agriculture. Developing world farmers rarely have access to electricity or fuel, so they must plant, harvest and process their crops by hand. They barely produce enough food to survive, which is why they’re often referred to as “subsistence farmers.”

2) We’re growing plenty of food

We are currently growing enough food to feed everyone in the world, but roughly 1/3 of the food produced for human consumption gets lost or wasted. By losing so much food, we are missing an opportunity to feed our world’s growing population.

In many African countries, at least 25% of the total cereal crop is lost after harvest, usually due to a lack of storage and efficient post-harvest processing technologies. Our Executive Director, Roger Salway, is in Senegal meeting with farmers that have received our new Grain Processing Suite: a manually-operated stripper, thresher and winnower captures more than 90% of pearl millet grain at a rate 10x faster than traditional processing methods. Check out our blog for more on Roger’s journey.

3)   Dirty water exacerbates poverty

Clean water has a direct tie to a community’s economic wellbeing. Every $1 invested in improved water and sanitation yields an average of $4 – $12 for the local economy.

In rural Nicaragua, we help villages install our Water Chlorinator—an inexpensive device that produces safe water for an entire village for just pennies per day. The project is saving lives, helping kids go back to school and allowing parents to return to work. We are providing safe water for 135,000 in Nicaragua, and we plan to double our impact by the summer of 2014.

4) We already know how to fix it

Investing in agriculture is, hands down, the most effective method of reducing poverty. Growth in agriculture is 2x more effective at reducing poverty than any other type of development effort.

Unfortunately, our investment in agriculture is declining. USAID allocates just 5% of funds to agricultural programs, and globally, less than 6% of official development assistance supports agriculture (down from 17% in 1982).

5)   Poverty is declining, and we can be the generation that eliminates it

Global poverty isn’t inevitable—it’s dropping in every region of the developing world. In 1990, 43% of people in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 per day—today, it’s only 22%—meaning nearly a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in the past 20 years.


We have an opportunity to build on this historic progress.


Visit our website right now, and invest $10 in the fight to erase poverty for good.


Donate Now


$10 is the amount of money the average American throws away in uneaten food every week. It may not be much money to us, but $10 can go a long way in the developing world. So let’s put that $10 to good use!




This article was originally published in CTI’s newsletter. Sign up now to receive monthly updates from CTI.

Pearl Millet WinnowerDid you know that at least 25% of the grain produced in Africa is lost after harvest? CTI is on a mission to help Africa save its grain.

Our Executive Director, Roger Salway, has just arrived in Senegal where he’ll visit the first recipients of CTI’s new Grain Processing Suite: a manually-operated stripper, thresher and winnower that help farmers capture more than 90% of their pearl millet grain at a rate 10x faster than traditional processing methods. Our partners at the National Business Cooperative Association have distributed the suites to six communities in Senegal as part of a Farmer-to-Farmer program funded by USAID.

Many of the pearl millet growers Roger will visit are the same farmers who tested and evaluated early prototypes of the grain tools. During those field trials, the farmers were enthusiastic about the equipment, which they saw as an opportunity for a better future. At a demonstration with a rural village in November 2011, pearl millet farmer Ndiayne Keur spoke up,

“80-90% of the families depend on traditional methods to process, if technology like this were made available, a whole region could benefit, let’s be honest this is a survival tool.”

The prototypes received unanimous approval from farmers during field tests, so we are anxious to learn more about how the completed designs have been received.


Teff is so small, the seends are less than 1 mm in diameter

Roger will also visit fonio farmers in Senegal to learn more about their post-harvest processing practices. Fonio is a small-seeded grain that grows throughout West Africa. Many researchers are beginning to encourage farmers to grow more traditional crops like fonio because they are better adapted to local climates, and are often much more nutritious than wheat or corn. But many traditional grains like fonio or teff—which is native to Ethiopia—are also exceptionally small (see photo), which makes them very difficult for farmers to process by hand.

CTI has been asked by several farmers and organizations to explore whether we can help reduce the drudgery and waste associated with the traditional processing of small-seeded grains. So we are beginning our research where we always start, by talking to farmers directly.

Monday, 28 January 2013

9 Years of Progress

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In 2003, CTI volunteers Nancy and Steve Laible started a program in Bangladesh to help village children gain access to primary school. When they met some of the children they were helping, they were inspired to do something proactive about the nutrition of the village children. In 2005, they introduced CTI’s grinder to the village and helped a group of women launch a successful peanut butter enterprise that’s still going strong.

The picture of little girls having lunch on a bench was taken in Bangladesh in 2003. The girl on the left is Martina and on the right is Ponina. Nancy and Steve have met with these two girls every year since 2003. Today, Martina and Ponina are in grade level 8. They speak both Bangla (their first language) and English fluently. They act as ‘translators’ for Nancy and Steve when they walk the villages of northwest Bangladesh. Steve, jokes: “If you have trouble learning a second language, just raise your own translators. It only takes 9 years.” Martina and Ponina are healthy and happy young ladies who are determined to continue their education. Their progress in life has been helped in large part by the programs and projects of CTI and collaborative groups in Bangladesh.

The CTI volunteer work of Nancy and Steve in Bangladesh has now expanded to include the development of a Education and Technology (EAT) Center, a four classroom building with a model food preparation area for continuing research on post-harvest technology. They are actively seeking collaborators and sponsors for further EAT Center development.


In December, I was part of a Engineers Without Borders (EWB) team from South Dakota State University that traveled to Carmen Pampa, Bolivia to install CTI’s Water Chlorinator.  Our EWB chapter has developed a five-year commitment to the Unidad Academica Campesina de Carmen Pampa (UAC-CP) and the surrounding community to help them meet their drinking and waste water needs.  The UAC-CP is a rural university that provides a BS-level education to young women and men who do not have that opportunity due to unequal access to education by the poor.


Our group installed two Water Chlorinators in parallel to treat the drinking water for the upper campus of the UAC-CP.  This drinking water serves about 300 students.  CTI’s Water Chlorinator operates by dissolving chlorine tablets in order to kill bacteria in the water.  The chlorine tablets are available in La Paz, which is a four-hour drive from the UAC-CP.  The parallel installation of the two chlorinators allows the users flexibility in the amount of water treated and the concentration of chlorine, as well as providing system redundancy.

Everything went well with the installation process, and everything has been up and running for almost a month.  Our EWB team plan to return over the summer to follow up on the chlorinator.  If everything is working well, and the people like the drinking water, we plan to install another chlorinator system for the lower campus and the surrounding community.


Greg Tanner

Greg Tanner is a senior Mechanical Engineering major at South Dakota State University and president of the EWB SDSU student chapter.

He spent the summer of 2011 interning with CTI.

CTI volunteer Roger Wilson is in Ethiopia meeting with communities and entrepreneurs who produce pepper shreds for home consumption and income. In this video, farmers are using our prototype pepper shredder in Awassa. The shredder is performing very well, look at it go!

Wednesday, 05 December 2012

From our Executive Director

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CTI Executive Director Roger Salway and villagers inspect pearl millet grain that’s been processed with CTI’s new grain tools.

When I met Astou, a young woman from a rural village in Senegal, West Africa, she told me she wasn’t interested in the future that had been laid out for her. The man who wants to marry her, she told me, “wants me to spend my day pounding a mortar and pestle.” In Astou’s village, and throughout much of the developing world, women and girls still rely on rudimentary tools like a mortar and pestle to thresh and grind their grain. The work is long and exhausting, and in the end, much of their harvest is blown away in the wind or dropped in the dirt.

Astou is the head of a women’s organization in her community. She’s smart, ambitious, and determined to build a future for herself that doesn’t include working in the fields from dawn until dusk and having to choose between pulling her children out of school to work or risk the family going hungry. Like so many of the women I’ve met in the developing world, Astou isn’t settling for poverty. She hasn’t given up on the idea that she can have a better future—and neither have we.

I was in Astou’s village last December field testing CTI’s new grain processing tools with pearl millet farmers. We knew from preliminary trials that the tools could nearly double farmers’ yields and increase their efficiency tenfold. But we also knew that we couldn’t call our new grain tools a success until they’d been approved by the farmers they were designed for.

The farmers in Senegal were overjoyed when they saw what our tools can do. Women told us that access to more efficient farming tools mean much more than additional food and time, it means the opportunity to increase their incomes, send their kids to school and start businesses—the opportunity for a better future.

Compassionate and thoughtful engineering can provide real pathways out of hunger and poverty. Just as those of us living in wealthy countries have benefited from innovations in science, agriculture and technology, I believe that we can do profound good when we use our skills and knowledge to give developing world communities a hand up.

For more than thirty years, CTI has been providing practical tools that give impoverished communities the chance to overcome their food and water challenges. In 2012, we’ve given thousands of Nicaraguans sustainable sources of safe water, we’ve empowered farmers with post-harvest tools that help them raise their standard of living, and we’ve developed several exciting new technologies that we believe will radically transform lives.

I invite you to join us and support our mission to innovate for the greater good. Because while innovation alone can change our world, only innovation paired with compassion can save our world.

Roger Salway, CTI Executive Director

This letter was originally published in CTI’s 2012 Annual Report. Email cti@compatibletechnology.org if you would like to receive a copy of the Annual Report.

When we think of food waste, we often think about the massive amount of food we throw away in the developed world; uneaten food in our homes or unsold food from grocery stores and restaurants. But food waste also exists in countries with high rates of malnutrition and poverty, and it’s a huge contributor to global hunger. An estimated 15-50% of food produced in the developing world is lost after it’s harvested, often due to a lack of proper storage or processing technologies.

In a recent post on the Global Agriculture Development Initiative’s blog, CTI Senior Advisor Alexandra Spieldoch writes about post harvest losses and the need for technologies that can address this food waste and eliminate a major contributor to global hunger.

“There is little reliable data on post-harvest loss (PHL) and until recently it hasn’t played a big part in agricultural investment strategies. Only four percent of development assistance goes to agriculture and little of it for post-harvest programs. In light of high prices and lack of food availability, there seems to be new recognition that the world community can do more to prevent post-harvest loss as a means to meet world food demand.

In one of the most comprehensive reports to date, Missing Food: the Case of Post-Harvest Loss in Sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank, the UN FAO and the UK Natural Resources Institute indicate that over 4 billion dollars of grain are lost annually in Sub Saharan Africa, which is enough to feed 48 million people for 12 months. PHL equals half of the region’s annual grain imports, and exceeds the total amount received through food aid over the last decade.  More investment in post-harvest technologies in Africa has great potential to improve food security as well as improve the lives of poor farmers. Helping small-scale women farmers get access to innovative, affordable tools that help them harvest, store and process their crops is a game-changer for development.”

Check out the full article on the  Global Agricultural Development Initiative’s Global Food for Thought Blog.

By Brianna Besch, CTI Intern-

Last month the Food and Agricultural Organization estimated that 850 million people on the planet are chronically hungry. The problem isn’t necessary lack of food—the world is growing more food than ever before—it’s that this food can’t be accessed by those most at risk of hunger: the rural poor, in particular, landless and smallholder farmers, who are not producing enough food to subsist. These farmers can’t compete in a global agricultural system stacked against them.

This is why CTI develops simple technologies that help farmers in the developing world overcome food insecurity. Our devices are designed specifically for the daily challenges small farmers face. They are efficient, affordable and culturally appropriate. Instead of encouraging farmers to grow more food, we help them keep the food they already have by reducing post-harvest processing losses.

Small developing world farmers are at a huge disadvantage in the global agricultural market. It started with the Green Revolution; the period in the 1960’s that promoted extensive deployment of chemical fertilizers, farm machinery and high-yielding varieties of grain. While many view this era as a great triumph (food production skyrocketed,) growing more food did not help feed the world’s poorest population—smallholder rural farmers. As production exploded and cheap, subsidized imports flooded developing world markets, grain prices plummeted. Smallholder farmers were unable to afford expensive inputs associated with high-yielding varieties, and using traditional production methods could not compete against large international agribusinesses. As a result, many farmers lost their land while others switched to cash crops, leaving them food insecure and deeper in poverty.

Increasing yields isn’t the only way increase food availability. Each year Sub-Saharan farmers lose $4 billion worth of grain in post-harvest processing. CTI works at a village level to harness this waste with simple, efficient, labor saving technologies.

One example is our newest set of grain processors. Farmers lose 15-50% of their grain in traditional processing methods:a mortar and pestle to remove grain from the stalk and separating grain from chaff in the wind. We created a stripper, thresher and winnower system for pearl millet, a highly nutritious traditional crop. These devices process grain ten-times faster than traditional methods, with less than 10% losses. During the testing phase, Oumar Sarr, from Senegal, described the system’s impact:

“I like the lack of yields lost in the process, the clean unbroken grain, but most importantly, what would take 10 women to do in an hour now takes 1 woman 10 minutes.”

Through a collaboration with the National Cooperative Business Association, we sent six of these systems to Senegal, and held trainings on them with rural villages last month.

While the problems of the world agricultural system are out of our hands, our work is one piece of a global solution to eradicating hunger. By focusing on post-harvest food capture, rather than highly technical yield increases, we are helping smallholder developing-world farmers compete when the deck is stacked against them.

Brianna is a senior Environmental Studies and Geography major at Macalester College, currently interning at CTI.

CTI recently attended the 2012 Norman Borlaug Dialogue, sponsored annually by the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines, IA. Researchers, the private sector, non-governmental organizations came together to discuss the challenges of the global food system, and to explore partnerships that can make a positive difference. United Nations Secretary General presented this year’s World Food Prize to Professor Daniel Hillel, the Israeli scientist who is responsible for inventing drip irrigation, a practice which has greatly improved food production in arid areas around the world. Drip irrigation is a technology that has allowed farmers to use water to plant roots through small holes in pipes with a controlled amount of water, a method which reduces water loss and helps plants to absorb water more efficiently.

CTI Advisor Alexandra Spieldoch with Dr. Daniel Hillel, 2012 World Food Prize Laureate; and Danielle Nierenberg, Director of the Nourishing the Planet project at the Worldwatch Institute

From CTI’s perspective, thinking outside of the box to develop comprehensive solutions as exemplified by Professor Hillel is critical. Today, 870 million people are under-nourished and one out of six people are chronically hungry. With current food stocks low and global food prices high, UN officials are warning that there may a major hunger crisis in 2013. We need thoughtful action and we need to act quickly.

At the Norman Borlaug Dialogue, Jane Karuku, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA), stressed the need to ‘get back to basics.’ Real local solutions are not complicated, but require innovative business models if they are to truly have a positive impact on the rural poor. One major challenge is that the private sector and public institutions are not connected to grassroots farmers. As a result, nutrition suffers among the vulnerable groups who need it the most.

Innovation, including technologies to improve production as well as post-harvest technologies like the ones that CTI is developing, testing and scaling out, is essential. Unfortunately, support for post-harvest work has only been about 3 % of agricultural funding overall. Much of the conversations that took place at this event were focused ways to reduce post-harvest losses for large-scale production. CTI was a lone voice advocating for low-cost, appropriate technologies for reaching the poorest of the poor. We are unique in our approach to reduce loss while empowering farmers who are otherwise off the grid.

CTI’s technology solutions support responsible value-chains that are invested in local and regional markets. Here, the public and private sector at varying levels can play a significant role on ensuring that low-cost appropriate technologies have a positive impact on the rural poor. Better indicators are needed to ensure that market development fits in with a holistic understanding of local leadership in achieving food security and poverty reduction.

Leadership at all levels cannot be stressed enough. We need a coordinated effort among a mix of stakeholders to create an enabling environment that will make a difference. This includes investing in technology solutions through public-private partnerships and grassroots leaders, working closely with women leaders to turn the tide.

Though the obstacles are great, CTI is optimistic because there is more attention to cooperation than ever before. There is also more attention given to working with smallholder producers, particularly women, together to achieve development from the bottom-up. Leaders are recognizing that long-term commitments to agricultural development are what are most needed. And, there is political will among developed and developing country leaders to work more closely together. CTI understands the challenges as well as the opportunities and is ready to do its part.

Alexandra Spieldoch, Senior Advisor – Strategic Partnerships

Alexandra Spieldoch is an independent consultant and a Senior Advisor on Strategic Partnerships with Compatible Technology International with research, advocacy and leadership experience pertaining to gender, food security and sustainable development.