By Roger Wilson, CTI volunteer project lead
 
 
Roger Wilson in Ethiopia testing a new prototype technology, the Pepper Eater. An estimated 400,000 women in Ethiopia process peppers by hand; a laborious procedure that turns peppers into higher-value products of dried flakes, seeds, and powder. The Pepper Eater (featured in National Geographic) is a device in development that mills dried peppers with a hand-crank much faster and safer than the traditional method of flaking peppers by hand. The Pepper Eater concept was developed by students at Stanford University, and was recently redesigned in a collaboration between CTI engineers and the Stanford team. CTI volunteer Roger Wilson and the Stanford team are in Ethiopia meeting with women who are evaluating the new Pepper Eater prototype.  

 We set up today with the table across the street from the Encino Berbere market (Berbere is a pepper, or spice mixture that is a staple ingredient in Ethiopian cuisine). The crowd was instant. It took some work to get the children and men back far enough to let the women look and try the Pepper Eater (here called the Berbere Machine) and the grinder. I am working on trying to get shades of grey in the translation of the responses of the women because what I am getting is, “It is good.” I think that means it is fine; yes I can use the product, whether it be from the Pepper Eater or the grinder. So the Pepper Eater was liked. We did grind some of the Berbere that we had flakes with smiles and yes it was good.

To demonstrate the grinder we not only ground Berbere, but used CTI’s prototype poly burr to break the husk and split peas, which were then winnowed by hand and we ground the split pea as normal with the metal burrs. The beans we cracked with metal burrs, winnowed, and then ground. The shiro (powder) produced by both the peas and beans caused eyes to light up and the comment, “That sure is easier than pounding!” One woman was excited and immediately wanted a grind with a motor; she had big plans quickly.

Aschalech Jemal, a University Grad in Agriculture who’s working with me, said that word of mouth will transmit what the women say quickly so the demo will be pretty widely talked about. Another component she picked up on is that the success of introducing either of these technologies is dependent on Ethiopians making it happen. She has the vision that this does provide business opportunities in several different ways and venues.

So far, our health has been good. The tomato crop is yielding well and thankfully the Project Mercy cook’s know how to make a safe and delicious salad that is often nearly half tomatoes. Just for fun they throw in the occasional Mitmita bit (Thai like hot pepper.) The locals seem to know pretty well when this are dry enough to work. Yesterday in the market was interesting because Asfew turned down many vendors because the Berbere was too flexible, i.e. washed and still too wet. We bought them at the Butajira market because the administrator here said the merchants were less flexible at the other markets and there was a choice here, which seemed to be true.

At the end of the trip today, I asked that we stop in Butajira at the hotel so I could buy a drink for the five people that went to Encino. It cost a whole 25 Birr for 5 machiato (like espresso with steamed/foamed milk); mine was delicious. There is nowhere in the Twin Cities that I could get a coffee like that for myself for the $1.50, much less five people. So there are some good things lighten the rest of the work.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Every child deserves clean water

Written by

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re just a few feet away from a source of clean, safe water. But if you lived in rural Nicaragua, you and your family would likely have no choice but to drink polluted water collected from local rivers and lakes.

In a small village in rural Nicaragua, contaminated drinking water was making everyone extremely ill. Children were dying, their small bodies unable to handle the intensive dehydration caused by severe intestinal diseases.

Then CTI’s water team stepped in and helped the village build a simple water chlorination system, and now the children are healthy, attending school regularly and enjoying life.

CTI’s water chlorination system is now in place in 126 communities, serving 79,698 people. The Water Chlorinators are built from PVC pipes and valves costing just $100. Villagers maintain the systems and pay to replace their chlorine tablets. The chlorine kills the bacteria, so the water is  safe to drink.

Every child deserves clean drinking water. We are setting a goal of providing clean water to 250,000 Nicaraguans by June 2014.

But we need your help to get there. A donation, in any amount, will help communities gain a sustainable source of water, and will help us give tens of thousands of children a better hope for the future.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Tackling Hunger with Breadfruit Tools

Written by

Breadfruit is a high-carbohydrate fruit that grows in abundance in tropical nations that struggle with hunger and poverty. Breadfruit has been long recognized for its potential to alleviate hunger in countries like Haiti, but there’s just one problem: fresh breadfruit rots in 48 hours.

But if poor communities were able to make flour out of breadfruit, locally produced breadfruit flour could replace expensive imported cereals and increase food security.

Compatible Technology International (CTI), with help from a team of engineers, researchers and breadfruit experts, is developing a set of tools that will allow villagers to process breadfruit into shelf-stable flour.

Shredder
CTI has designed a manually-operated shredder that shreds breadfruit into small strips that are optimally shaped for quick drying. Engineers at CTI and the University of Saint Thomas (UST) reached the current shredder design after testing other concepts with communities in Haiti.

Drier
After they are shredded, the breadfruit strips must be dried quickly to prevent spoiling. To source the best technologies for this crucial step, UST recently organized and judged a contest challenging teams to develop a simple, effective and affordable breadfruit drying structure.

The first place winner of the contest is a team of long-time CTI volunteers, and second place is a team from the University of California, Davis. In March, both teams will travel to Hawaii to present their designs at the Breadfruit Institute, a division of the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

Grinder
Once dried, breadfruit strips can easily be ground into flour by villagers using CTI’s grinder. The breadfruit processing system will go through rigorous tests at the Breadfruit Institute before being deployed in the Caribbean.

Breadfruit flour could be an important microenterprise opportunity and an untapped source of nutrition for food insecure communities. With your help, we can get these and other innovations into the hands of the communities that need them.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Making “a profound difference” in Haiti

Written by

In the months following the tragic earthquake in January 2010, CTI began collaborating with organizations working in rural Haiti. Though the earthquake was devastating to Port-au-Prince, communities outside of the capital city were struggling to find food and employment for their current residents, let alone the influx of refugees displaced from the earthquake.

Using donations from several organizations, the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF) began purchasing grinders to help families near Jeremie, Haiti support themselves. The grinders, in the words of Bette Gebrian, HHF Director of Public Health: “are making such a profound difference…”

Funds for grinders were donated by many supporters, including several rotary clubs. With help from members of the Jeremie Rotary, Mme Josie Charles has built a business using a CTI grinder to make and sell peanut butter and a warm corn-based drink called Akasan. Mme Charles cooks the Akasan by 6am and sells it all by 8am, so children can drink it on their way to school. The small enterprise has been very successful.

The Haitian Health Foundation has distributed more than 20 grinders which are being used to create micro-enterprises. 17 more grinders will be shipped to HHF in late January, 2012.

 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Senegalese Farmers Approve CTI’s New Grain Tools

Written by

Perhaps Albert Camus said it best:

“Good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”

Africa is littered with well-meaning aid programs gone wrong.

Traveling through rural villages, we’ve seen technology graveyards of industrial farming machines rusting in the sun because they’ve broken down or the community can’t afford the fuel to keep them running.

In our 30 years of developing and implementing appropriate technologies, we’ve learned that no idea—no matter how noble or innovative—can succeed without community collaboration.

After learning from farmers that they were losing more than a third of their grain due to inefficient processing methods, CTI began developing a concept for a set of manually-operated grain processing tools. For the past three years, we’ve met with farmers in West Africa to get their take on our equipment. Beyond whether or not the technology is effective, we want to know that it’s culturally appropriate and desired. Because, as brilliant as an idea may be, if the people don’t want it, it won’t work.

In November, CTI Executive Director Roger Salway and Program Manager Andrea Brovold visited 20 villages in Senegal to meet with farmers and have them test the equipment.  The farmers were elated, but don’t take our word for it, they can speak for themselves.

"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." - Omar Sarr, Farmer

“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.” – Omar Sarr, Farmer

One of the most perceptive responses came from Cheickh Dame, an established farmer. “In my father’s generation, the introduction of fertilizers was the boom. Those that were not early adopters or that didn’t believe this would help are no longer here. As soon as these technologies are made available, I will be the first in line.” His sentiment was echoed in many of the villages we visited. Not only do the farmers desire the equipment, they would gladly purchase it given the opportunity.

It may surprise some people, but even in the most desperately poor communities, people don’t want handouts, they want opportunities. Whether it’s a community pooling its resources to fund clean water, or women paying back a loan with their grinding business, the people we meet are smart, hardworking, and fiercely proud of what they can accomplish.

Experience has taught us that development works best when people are helping themselves. With this in mind, CTI is passing on its knowledge and technology to Africans. After our recent field tests, CTI’s prototype equipment was purchased by USAID and will continue to be operated in Senegal in collaboration with the National Cooperative Business Association, who is helping farmers improve their value chain for pearl millet grain. We have identified a manufacturer in Senegal that can build the grain processing technology and a Senegalese distributor that will train communities to use the equipment.

Thank you for your support as we’ve worked to get these tools right. This has been years in the making, but we are nearly ready to get these tools in the hands of the farmers who need them. In the words of one woman in Senegal:

“We are thankful we are thankful we are thankful!”

Monday, 28 November 2011

Meeting with Rice Farmers in Vietnam

Written by

By Steve Laible, CTI Volunteer

Steve and Nancy Laible, CTI volunteers

As part of my project work with CTI, I along with my wife, Nancy Laible,  have been involved with the development of a device that uses rice hulls as a “feedstock” and converts them into a cooking fuel. The rice hull makes up about 20% by weight of the rice kernel. The goal of our current work in Vietnam is to gain an understanding of the communities where rice milling is taking place. If conditions and supply are appropriate, there may be an opportunity to introduce a rice hull production device into the area.

Vietnamese Rice Mill

After visiting a rice farm, we travel a few miles to a local rice mill. Because we are between harvest seasons, the mill is not active. There is a “watchman” (actually a watch woman) on duty in the small office. Our guide, Dai Tran, strikes up a conversation with her and we are able to ask a few questions. As the woman warms to our presence, she offers to give us a tour of the rice mill. It is clear that the equipment in the mill is very old, but functional. This particular mill serves a local market. Thus, much of the rice is sold in the area after processing.

Rice Hulls as cooking fuel

A portion of the rice hull by-product is used as fuel in large cook stoves where the function is to maintain a hot fire for long periods of time. The stoves used to burn bulk rice hulls are very similar to the “cook stoves” used in the USA some 80 to100 years ago when it was common to burn corn cobs in farming areas. The cook stoves are able to use the energy value of some of the rice hulls, but the large stoves and the bulk fuel is not practical for home use. We have gained useful information from this visit. We say farewell to our hostess and continue or quest for a more modern mill and more information about using rice hulls as fuel.

Friday, 30 September 2011

CTI Supporters Celebrate 30 Years

Written by
In September, over 150 volunteers, donors and partners gathered to celebrate CTI’s 30th anniversary at the White Bear Lake United Methodist Church. Thank you to the many volunteers that helped organize the celebration. To see photos from the event, check out the online photo gallery.
Wednesday, 01 June 2011

CTI Fufills Its Promise to Ground Nut Farmers

Written by

Two years ago CTI was issued a challenge from the McKnight Foundation: help farming villages in Malawi and Tanzania improve groundnut production efficiency and nutrition among young children. Rather than arrive in East Africa with pre-determined solutions and tools in hand, CTI and our partners at Sokoine University of Agriculture and ICRISAT knew it would be essential to start by listening to the farmers and building trust with the communities.

During the first year of the project, we traveled to 32 communities in Malawi and Tanzania to interview 640 families about the challenges they face producing groundnuts and struggling to feed their families. Across communities and countries, the farmers expressed frustration with harvesting, stripping, and shelling groundnuts – operations which are usually performed tediously by hand and largely by women.

The CTI team began focusing their efforts on developing a more efficient method of stripping groundnut pods from the plant, which farmers (primarily women) currently do by hand, pod-by-pod. We gathered a research team to investigate existing technologies for stripping groundnuts and after delving through journal archives and warehouses at research institutes, the team identified three potential devices for proof-of-concept evaluation.

In May, Bert Rivers and Steve Clarke brought these devices to Malawi to test in controlled on-station trials and in the field with project farmers. Besides gathering statistical data on equipment performance, the team gathered feedback from the farmers they had interviewed, who were delighted that CTI had lived up to its promise to include them in designing the solution.

 “The farmers were thrilled. We had been promising for the past year as we collected information from them that we were coming back with equipment and we did. We kept our promise. The credibility of CTI and the McKnight Foundation jumped immeasurably because of our actions.”   – Bert Rivers, CTI VP of Operations

 CTI’s team will use the farmers’ feedback to further develop prototypes for groundnut stripping. In addition, we will begin researching improved methods for harvesting and shelling groundnuts as these were also identified as major impediments by the farmers. Concurrently with the introduction of these new devices, CTI and our partners are exploring new marketing options for the farmers and we are beginning to feed complementary foods to the babies involved in the study.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

An Open Mind and Heart

Written by

Written by  Andrea Brovold, Africa Co-Chair/Volunteer

One month ago, CTI volunteer, Andrea Brovold, and Executive Director, Roger Salway traveled to West Africa to share CTI’s new thresher and winnower prototypes with farmers in Mali and Senegal. While most of us were preparing food for our yearly Thanksgiving Day feast, Roger and Andrea were helping women in rural Senegal with their daily six hour ritual of threshing, winnowing, and grinding their family’s meal by hand. Here, Andrea shares her impressions from the trip that would test her physical and emotional limits, and leave her with unforgettable memories and lifelong friends.

Upon arrival to the Kuer Ali Guey village in the Kaolack region of Senegal, we were welcomed with open arms.  Awa, President of the Women’s Association said “Andrea, you look like you are a peaceful volunteer”.  It was the warm reception of Kuer Ali Guey and the surrounding villages and organizations from the very inception of this project that the rest of the trip would live up to, even surpass.  Come to think of it, while there were parameters in which we were expected to work towards, per NCBA/USAID along with objectives and outcomes to strive towards, my expectations–as per the opening title–were  “Going in with an open mind and heart”…and little more.

Quickly, I found that the universal language of love and compassion transcends any boundary or constraint, personal, professional or otherwise.  Put simply, the more you are willing to give of yourself, the more response and progress one will find.  Many village visits, meetings and relationships were forged due to our determination to serve.  And serve we did.  The thoughtful technologies of CTI, coupled with the sensitivity to cultural and individual differences, advanced this month long journey to a caliber of unexpected proportions.

 Some dialogue that we observed from various sources were “If you could visualize our interest, it would be as tall as a skyscraper!”, Ahmed Dame Cisse from Lat Mingue village; “You have a friend here…in me”, Dougal Guey in Kayemon village; and “C’est bon C’est bon C’est bon!”, a farmer from CARITAS. Most touching for me was a departure from a life-long friend I made despite the language barriers “I have left my heart with you”, said Therese, wife of CARITAS Geo-Scientist Renee with whom we dined at a Thanksgiving Feast to help us feel at “home” in their home.  Touching is the fact that each of these people are tickled by what our simple technologies can provide–a way and means for a better life–and touching is the fact that I have been blessed to have had the chance to help secure that opportunity.

Recently, at our December board meeting, I explained my obsession with taking photographs of doors. Each of us have had doors closed, only for others to be opened, and until CTI and pursuing my Masters in Development Policy with a concentration in Africa, it seems that there was a less definable period in my life.  Many “doors” and opportunities have been presented to me within this organization that I think so highly of, and I have been keen to act on those opportunities. Beyond that, I feel that it is my job to continue to open similar doors for the people CTI serves, those who are equally deserving, but without the ways or means. It is unconscionable to me to think that what CTI is able to provide will not be visible to most rural communities.  So I, like each of the equally passionate and eager volunteers at CTI, happily forge an exodus towards a goal of creating and supporting sustainable environments that will provide future generations with tools, education and kindred roots.

I had a lot of reflective moments during this trip, and I also blogged our adventures, seemingly because it would have been impossible to re-create most of these experiences after the fact.  But what resonates loudest in my mind are the moments that rendered me speechless (something that rarely happens).  It is these silent moments, personal exchanges, accepting smiles, joyous laughter and dancing that are impossible to prepare for, which allowed me to reflect most authentically and honestly that I am truly the most fortunate woman in the world.

We are called to do certain things in our lives, and it is what we do with that time that matters most.  Cliché perhaps, but I enjoy very much a quote I once heard, “In the end, it is not the amount of breaths you take it’s the moments that take your breath away.”

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Working Together to Leave Hunger and Poverty Behind

Written by

For nearly 30 years, CTI has worked with volunteer engineers and scientists in heart of the Midwest United States’ agricultural belt to create food and water technologies that relieve hunger and poverty in the developing world. With the help of supporters and partners around the globe, we are providing meaningful and lasting solutions for “the bottom billion.”

Innovation that can feed the world: Many African pearl millet farmers struggle to produce enough food to make a living, yet they lose about half of their harvest using rudimentary processing tools.To develop innovative new equipment for processing pearl millet, one of the most widely eaten cereal crops in the developing world, we collaborated with volunteer scientists and engineers from the USDA, ICRISAT, and the OneLab Initiative. The result has been a breakthrough technology: the first successful hand-operated tools for threshing and winnowing the pearl millet. The set of devices can capture 90% of a farmer’s grain, potentially doubling the pearl millet food supply in some of the most famine-prone regions of the world.

“Sometimes providing a simple service like a grinder can transform a community”  – Curtis Rogers, NWHCM Community Development Coordinator

Partnering to deliver solutions for the “Bottom Billion”: After the devastating earthquake hit Haiti, CTI’s generous donors provided grinders to help feed and employ Haitians. Since then, we have been helping Feed My Starving Children distribute grinders to their partner feeding sites throughout Haiti. At Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, CTI grinders have been made available to people in a number of towns, freeing them from a two to three hour walk to the nearest commercial miller. With grinders centrally located throughout Haiti, community members have an opportunity to produce nutritious food for their family or start businesses.

Engaging communities Development can only be sustainable with the participation of local communities. CTI’s culturally appropriate solutions empower locals to take ownership of their future. In Nicaragua, where less than half the people have access to clean drinking water, we’ve engaged community water groups to help install and maintain dozens of water chlorination devices in rural communities. By working together, CTI and rural Nicaraguans are providing clean drinking water for dozens of communities.

Without the support of CTI’s skilled volunteers and generous donors, thousands of families in rural Nicaragua would be without clean drinking water and farmers in Mali will continue to lose half of their livelihoods for lack of simple tools. Together, community by community, we can end extreme hunger and poverty!