Monday, 01 March 2010

Looking Forward in Haiti

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Following the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in early January, CTI began to receive calls from relief organizations looking for manually operated equipment to process the food aid pouring into the country. Many organizations distributing food did not have access to electricity or gas, so there was great demand for hand-powered devices that could process flour and peanut butter. In response to this demand, generous donors paid for grinders and travel expenses, allowing CTI to send a volunteer to Haiti to distribute grinders and train the end users.

Upon arrival in Cap Haitien, CTI Americas Committee Vice Chair, Sam Usem, quickly realized that the desperate situation in the country extends far beyond the Port au Prince region. An estimated half-million people have fled Haiti’s capital in a little over a month. In Cap Haitian, on the north coast of Haiti, refugees have been pouring in looking for food, water, and relief from the destruction.

There is famous expression in Haiti, “Dèyè mon gen mon”, which roughly translates to, “beyond the mountains, there are mountains”. This expression has several meanings, and is often used to express the seemingly endless challenges the country has faced. Even before the earthquake, 80% of Haitians lived in poverty, and  88% of the rural population lived in poverty. However, Sam met with countless determined individuals who demonstrated that, despite their desperate circumstances, Haitians have never given up on working towards a better future.

While in Haiti, Sam had the opportunity to meet with RAFAVAL, a women’s group located in the town of Limonade. With the help of the Haitian development nonprofit, Sonje Ayiti, the women’s co-op had started a business making chocolate for hot cocoa. When presented with CTI’s Ewing Grinder, the women were thrilled that they will no longer have to travel to pay someone to grind their cocoa, saving them time and money.

“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. Thanks to Compatible Technology International.” – Gabrielle, Country Director for Sonje Ayiti

Sam met with several other co-op groups throughout Haiti. While many people he encountered expressed reservations about believing more talk about “saving” Haiti, they still shared the hope that, this time, sustainable development will be more than a promise.

As refugees flee Port au Prince and settle in rural areas, there is an opportunity for an investment in Haiti’s long neglected countryside. Two-thirds of Haitians work in agriculture, yet the country imports between 57 and 80% of its food, and much of the population is subsisting on the edge of starvation. Haiti’s agriculture sector will be an essential component for building the country’s future.

CTI’s approach is very well suited to help revitalize agriculture in Haiti. CTI technologies are ideal for small-holder farmers and are adaptable to most food crops grown in Haiti. CTI is currently working on developing projects that will contribute to the sustainable rebuilding of Haiti.

In Haiti, the famous proverb, “Beyond the mountains, there are mountains,” is also used to express the idea that there are endless opportunities and infinite possibilities. In the months and years to come, Compatible Technology International will be working to provide opportunities to for Haitians to feed and support themselves. At CTI, we believe that there is a brighter future ahead for Haiti and we will hope you join us as we help Haitians build it.

Tuesday, 01 December 2009

Water Chlorinator Project in Nicaragua Restarted

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According to the 2006 United Nations Human Development Report, close to half of all people in developing countries are suffering at any given time from a health problem caused by water and sanitation deficits. For children under age five, water-related diseases are the leading causes of death with1.8 million children dying each year from diarrhea – 4,900 deaths each day. The World Health Organization has stated that no intervention has greater overall impact upon national development and public health than the provision of safe drinking water and the proper disposal of human waste. 

Compatible Technology International began development of a water chlorinator in 2002 after being contacted by the Nicaraguan government for help in correcting the badly contaminated water systems in the rural areas of that country.  The CTI 8 is a simple, unique water chlorinator(see photo below) that focuses on delivering clean water to rural communities with low to medium flow water systems that do not have access to water treatment or electricity, and have minimal economic resources.  Most water systems are designed for larger communities and are more costly to implement.  

The CTI 8 Water Chlorinator was initially installed in about 30 communities in Nicaragua under the direct supervision of Nicaraguan Water Ministry personnel. Unfortunately, a combination of issues arose that caused the water project to stall for a couple of years.  We were unable to obtain the necessary chlorine tablets and the Nicaraguan Water Ministry disbanded the office which had been supervising the CTI 8 installations. 

In 2009 CTI restarted the Water Chlorinator Project with the help of the Nicaragua Department of Health, who has committed their hygienists, employed by the Department of Health, to participate in this project at the Department’s expense. CTI has contracted with an epidemiologist in Nicaragua to restart the project.  He has visited all of the original installations and was pleasantly surprised to find that the vast majority of them had been maintained by the original water committees and were just waiting for the necessary chlorine tablets to make them operational once again. 

In addition to the CTI representative, the hygienists will be a valuable component of the project, as they live in the municipalities, know the rural communities, work in health in those communities, and have community health education around water as part of their responsibilities. The distance and location of the chlorinators in rural communities make the use of the hygienists important, as they are able to monitor the chlorinator installations as part of their daily work, eliminating the need for difficult and constant travel to monitor the installations.  While we are actively searching for a chlorine tablet supplier in Central America, a shipment of tablets was delivered from the US this month and we are awaiting word that at least some of the installations have been reactivated. 

The intent is to have this project be self sustaining within a year through the sale of the chlorine tablets and chlorinator systems, but until that time we are continuing to seek funds to support the work we are doing in Nicaragua. 

Tuesday, 01 December 2009

Innovative Pearl Millet Device Tested in Mali

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Compatible Technology International has built the first hand-operated technology for processing pearl millet, a breakthrough that could triple the food supply in parts of the world most vulnerable to famine. Pearl millet is a cereal grain that grows in Africa and Asia in some of the world’s harshest climates. More than 500 million people depend on pearl millet to live, but because of the plant’s difficult characteristics, until now, no one has successfully developed technology for processing the plant on the village level.

 CTI volunteers became interested in pearl millet processing because of the enormous untapped potential of the grain. Pearl millet is highly nutritious and thrives in extreme heat and even under drought conditions, in places where maize or even sorghum will fail. Over a year ago, CTI began developing a device for stripping and threshing (separating the grain from the stalk and other plant debris) pearl millet. In the typical CTI fashion, volunteers sought a design that is simple enough to be replicated in-country, requires no electricity, and is appropriate to local cultures and customs. Collaborating on this effort was the OneLab Initiative, a group of engineers in Ohio who had formed a socially responsible design organization. After a year of trial and error, the team developed equipment for threshing and winnowing (isolating the grain from remaining plant material) pearl millet by hand.

 In early December, CTI Executive Director Roger Salway and OneLab engineer Thom Haubert traveled to Mali to visit communities who process pearl millet using traditional methods.  They visited a rural region where farmers break up the grain by driving over it with a tractor. For hours, Roger and Thom watched the farmers drive the tractor over the harvested pearl millet. Next, women collected the broken up plant material and poured it through the air, using the wind to carry away some of the dirt, and plant debris.

 After several hours of work, the Malian pearl millet farmers estimated that they were only capturing about 30-40% of the grain. With the traditional processing method completed, Roger asked one of the farmers to test CTI’s pearl millet processing equipment. The CTI thresher is modeled after an antique washer ringer and as the Malian farmer turned the handle, stalks of pearl millet were squeezed through the ringers and came out the other side stripped from the stalk and separated from the plant chaff. Next, the farmer dropped the plant material into CTI’s winnowing device (see photo above of Tom Haubert and a Malian farmer), turning the hand fan to blow away the lighter plant debris and isolate the heavier grain. The CTI process took about ten minutes and when completed, the farmers gathered around in awe of the bag full of clean, unbroken grain.  

“What blew me away was the expression on the farmers’ faces when they saw the grain. You cannot imagine the impact this will have on these communities.” – Roger Salway, CTI Executive Director

CTI’s pearl millet processing equipment captures an estimated 90% of the grain which amounts to a three fold increase in food production! The processing devices’ potential to increase the supply of this nutritious grain and simplify its extremely laborious production was enthusiastically received in Mali. Farmers, development experts, and crop scientists alike were thrilled and excited by CTI’s innovation in pearl millet processing. 

In the next few months, the CTI and OneLab team will use feedback from the Malian farmers to put finishing touches on the equipment design and begin to look for in-country manufacturers who can get the device into the hands of those who need it most.  All of this work requires continuing financial support, which we are actively seeking.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

CTI Awarded Vista Hermosa Grant

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CTI was recently awarded $15,000 by the Vista Hermosa Foundation for a potato processing enterprise in India.  This will be a joint project with Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.  The project will be implemented in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India in a community established in 1976 as part of the Gandhi 21 Point Program to provide livelihoods other than begging. Through the efforts of United Methodist Church missionaries, Hank and Dorthea Garwick (of Minnesota), who are also CTI volunteers, the community established a “weaving Ashram”. The weaving enterprise and support from the Methodist Church has helped sustain the community since 1976. However, due to global economic changes there is a current glut of woven fabric and the market for textile production has dwindled and the community has an immediate need for new income. CTI will use the Vista Hermosa funds to help establish a potato processing enterprise that will produce community income.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Compatible Technology is Awarded McKnight Grant

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Malnutrition is widespread in Malawi and Tanzania, particularly among children under five whose diet is deficient in protein, oils and micronutrients. The need is urgent to develop and harvest improved, nutritious foods using locally available crops such as groundnuts (commonly called peanuts). Increased groundnut production can significantly improve individual nutrition as well as economic security.

In September, Compatible Technology International was awarded a Grant from the McKnight Foundation to enhance child nutrition using groundnuts in rural Malawi and Tanzania. CTI will lead the four-year, $673,000 project, which is a partnership with Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

“This project is essentially about collaborating with these farm families about the crops growing naturally in their environments,” said CTI’s vice president of operations, Bert Rivers. “This collaboration is important, not only to provide additional nutrition to their families, but to also provide increased revenue for their households to improve their livelihood. We are also being educated by the farmers about the realities of their living conditions and farming systems.”

The project will include 3 primary goals:

1)       To develop a nutritious food for post-weaning children
2)       To determine best practices for processing groundnuts
3)       To establish capacity in-country

In the first component of the project, CTI, its partners, and food scientists, will research and develop a nutritional foodstuff for young children using groundnuts and other local staple crops.

Compatible Technology International’s post-harvest processing technology and experience will be instrumental for the second component of the project, in which CTI will help determine the best practices for processing groundnuts in rural Tanzania and Malawi. An integral part of this project will be determining the tools and practices individual farmers need to get the maximum value from their crops.

A fundamental aspect of CTI’s mission is to give people the tools they need to feed and support themselves. The final component of the project incorporates this principle and is essential to the project’s ultimate success. CTI and its partners will be working over the next four years to ensure that they leave behind the tools necessary for local communities to continue to benefit from the project.

CTI volunteer and Technical Advisory Council Member, Steve Clarke inspects the papayas in Tanzania

In late September, CTI volunteer, Steve Clarke and Vice President of Operations, Bert Rivers traveled to Tanzania to kick off the McKnight project. During their trip, they had the opportunity to travel to Morogoro, the home campus of Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA). While at SUA, the CTI travelers were able to meet first hand some more of their collaborators in the project. These face to face meetings gave them the opportunity to put into place some concrete action plans for the project. While in Morogoro they made contact with local fabricators who might become the agents of our capacity building activities in Tanzania.

In the city of Bagamoyo, Bert and Steve met for McKnight’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) for Southern Africa Annual Grantee Meeting. At the gathering, in addition to each Grantee presenting the status report for their project, attendees were introduced to the needs of individual farmers through their participation in the conference’s discussions. McKnight also took the opportunity to present a powerful team of guest speakers who spoke on improving the quality and the depth of the research being conducted by the Grantees.

While all these researchers were present, Bert and Steve had the opportunity to tell CTI’s story, both publically and in one-on-one sessions. It was during these sessions that Steve and Bert believe that CTI made a major impact upon the attendees. They were able to show the track record that CTI has established over the years and the value of CTI technologies for farmers and villagers. Many of the attendees are hungry for what CTI can bring to their communities.

CTI’s mission compels us to continuously look for opportunities to disseminate our knowledge of technology that can help improve lives in places where it may have the greatest impact. A recent collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), to develop the next generation of professionals engaged in rural development in India and around the world, is doing just that.  This collaboration has established a pilot scholarship program for a graduate student in integrated rural development at CTARA (Center For Technology Alternatives for Rural Development) at IITB. Funded in part by a generous donation from a long-time CTI Volunteer and former board member, the first Fellow, Mr. Ninad Jagdish (letter of acceptance below), has been selected, and starts his coursework this fall.  Additional funding is being sought through foundation channels.

This program will supplement current methods of disseminating our technology solutions by investing in people. The broad curriculum includes courses in engineering, economics and cultural aspects of rural development and significant time in the field with rural needs assessment and the development of appropriate solutions.

By engaging with these students during this period CTI expects to develop a lifelong relationship with emerging leaders in rural development who will be fully aware of CTI capabilities and will include these technology solutions in their tool-kit. CTI will also get a first hand look at the needs in the rural areas in and around Mumbai.

In this initial phase of the program our goal is to have five trained “CTI Fellows” in India with a Masters in Technology (M.Tech.) in rural development from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. The program will be evaluated annually and a report will be submitted to CTI Executive Director and the Board. If the program is successful in increasing CTI’s impact in the Western region of India it will be considered for expansion in other regions of India and the rest of the world.

 Dear CTI,
 
I am honoured to have been selected for the CTI-IITB fellowship. The provisions of the fellowship will indeed support me during this Master’s programme in Technology and Development. I am thus grateful.
 
Through the Master’s programme, I intend to gain a better understanding of the problems that the world faces and to develop the ability to think of relevant interventions that may help solve these problems. Fundamentally, I hope to refine my perspective of the world and make it more ‘realistic’.
 
As providers of this fellowship, you may be interested in knowing who exactly it is that you are funding. A brief description thus follows.
 
I graduated as a Mechanical Engineer in 2008 from Osmania University in Hyderabad, India. At that point of time, my interests were more toward flight, aerodynamics and product design rather than issues related with development. After graduating I pursued aero-modeling. I learnt much about flight during that time but was somehow still searching for something more ‘meaningful’. It was then that I was found by a stray dog that had been hit by a car. A month of trying to help it live followed. It ended sadly and pushed me to think seriously of animal welfare. I volunteered at The Blue Cross in Hyderabad. Questions of well being, quality of life and harmonious/sustainable living flooded my mind. I then began working for Engineers Without Borders (EWB)-India. There, I helped develop improved designs of equipment used for biomass briquetting. All these events ultimately led me to seek out and apply for this programme. 
 
I thank you once more for providing this fellowship and look forward to a healthy relationship with CTI. 
 
Sincerely,
Ninad Jagdish

Saturday, 01 August 2009

Wooden Grinder Nears Market

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Volunteer LeAnn Taylor, practicing the Wood Grinder assembly

Over the past year we have had several parties express an interest in our wooden grinder. In each case we have been able to send to them our engineering drawings of the grinder. In all cases, these drawing have not been able to fill the needs of those interested in this break-through technology. For some, the electronic transfer has not been successful; for others, a lack of exposure to three dimensional  presentations was not understood; for still others, the use of “English units” was an impediment.

Thanks to the outstanding work of Brigette Blesi, all of these problems have been overcome. Brigette has taken an existing wooden grinder and broken it (not literally) down into its individual components. A template was then made for each of the seventeen wooden parts with dimensions given in both Metric and English units. Brigette then identified each of the 97 fasteners, by number, and researched the closest metric part size that corresponded so as to complete the Bill of Materials.

The next step was for Brigette to establish the step by step assembly procedure. Anyone who has ever had “nice” things to say about assembly instructions now can claim that they know someone who has written one of these procedures. Every piece of wood, every fastener, every metal part s could be translated into action????

TaDa!!! Enter our guinea pig…otherwise known to her friends as LeAnn Taylor. LeAnn will be taking a wooden grinder down to El Salvador this month to determine if the wooden technology will expand our impact with the bakers of El Salvador. LeAnn used Brigette’s instructions and her part identification techniques to reassemble the grinder, not once, but twic e. Well done LeAnn! Now she can teach our colleagues in El Salvador how to make a wooden grinder.

Major kudos to Brigette for all this exacting and accurate work! We are one step closer to getting our wooden grinder accepted as an alternative, cheaper and more sustainable technology.

In July, CTI had the pleasure of hosting a visitor from Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), one of Africa’s leading agricultural schools. Dr. Yasinta Muzanila, Senior Lecturer and Dean of Faculty of Science, traveled to CTI headquarters to collaborate on a McKnight grant proposal focusing on Southern Africa. 

During her visit, Yasinta described the significant impact she could see CTI technology having on the lives of those in rural Tanzania and Malawi: 

“I’m looking forward to working with CTI and on the project…We think CTI technology will be good to assist rural people to try to reduce the workload-especially on the women. The women back home do most of the work; they use primitive ways of processing like mortar and pestle. They work for five hours to get enough flour for food. If they have a grinder, they might have more time for other activities.”

Yasinta is from Morogoro, a college town of some 220,000 residents and the center of agriculture in the region. As Yasinta describes it, daily life in Morogoro does not sound too far from that of a typical American city. At the end of the work day, many Tanzanians participate in a routine that echoes the American “happy hour” tradition. At about 3:30 in the afternoon, when the workday has ended (work typically starts at 7:30 am), workers often gather at the bar for beer and roasted meat, called Nyama Choma. On the weekend, young people typically meet at centers of discourse or attend concerts. Music is an important part of the culture of Morogoro. The city has generated several influential jazz musicians and its strong musical tradition continues to this day. 

During Yasinta’s first visit to the United States, CTI staff and volunteers did their best to welcome her with a bit of the famous “Minnesota nice”. CTI staff and Yasinta were treated to tours by General Mills and the University of Minnesota’s Department of Food Sciences and Nutrition. On her last day with CTI, when asked of her impression of Americans, Yasinta said, “The people are very good. Everyone I’ve met here is very friendly. I don’t feel homesick. Everyone is very friendly and everyone takes good care of me.”  By the end of Yasinta’s trip, there was a consensus among the CTI community: regardless McKnight’s final decision, CTI’s collaboration with Sokoine University has yielded a valuable partnership and a strong friendship.

In early 2002, the Nicaraguan government contacted CTI and asked us to investigate the possibility of correcting the badly contaminated water systems in the rural areas of that country.  CTI responded by engaging Americas Committee volunteers Fred Jacob (noted community organizer with a Nicaraguan NGO) and Charles Taflin (Senior Engineer with the Minneapolis Water Department) to design and implement a water disinfection system.  Thus, the CTI 8 water chlorinator was created.

The chlorinator was initially installed in about 30 communities in Nicaragua under the direct supervision of Nicaraguan Water Ministry personnel.  This simple chlorinator allows the people and communities where it is installed to have access to disinfected drinking water for pennies per day.  Unfortunately, due to political issues in Nicaragua, the dissolution of the Nicaraguan Water Ministry, and challenges securing appropriate chlorine tablets, the project has been less active than desirable the last few years.

However, in recent months, the National Health Ministry has been given jurisdiction over rural water and has been in communication with CTI to reinstate the water chlorinator program.  That, along with a recent breakthrough in obtaining the proper chlorine tablets, prompted Fred Jacob to visit Nicaragua last month where he checked on the chlorinators that had been installed by CTI a few years ago.  What he found was encouraging!  Fred reports, “It was heartwarming to see that most of the chlorinators and water systems were in acceptable to wonderful condition!”

CTI is actively forging ahead with this project and is working towards the goal of making 50 chlorinators fully operational within 90 days!

CTI was invited to attend an award ceremony in Chicago to recognize the winner of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge grant (MIT) as well as the 33 finalists, which included CTI.

Roger, CTI Executive Director, attended the event on CTI’s behalf and summarized CTI’s submission, “CTI had submitted a project from the Asia Committee which addressed developing a water harvesting model to provide both a reliable supply of water for crop irrigation and for resale as drinking water to surrounding communities in Tamil Nadu, India.  This project, which was initiated by Ram Krishnan, the Chair elect of the CTI Asia Committee, has scope for replication in other countries of Asia and Africa; the project showed a payback on the initial investment ($100,000) in technology in two years.  The project anticipates locating solar powered pumps capable of pumping harvested water into storage tanks for subsequent chlorination and distribution through drip feed irrigation systems.”

The BFI Challenge attracted 6,000 entries from 25 countries and some 50 universities worldwide, including MIT, Stanford and CalTech, many of which had representatives at the ceremony.  It was apparent that this is considered a prestigious and competitive technological award within the academic community, and it is a testament to CTI’s technologies that we were listed amongst the top six entries in the judgment of the jurors.

Congratulations to Ram Krishnan, to Anne-Marie Hendrickson who crafted our submission, and to the Asia Committee (Steve and Nancy Laible).

(Filled with rainwater)

(Empty pond)