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.

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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rsz erv in shop 1

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!

rsz dsc 0405 6730

This week, the world’s leading experts in agricultural innovation, science, and technology gathered in Abu Dhabi at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture to discuss emerging solutions to sustainably feed our growing world. Notable speakers included United States Secretary of State John Kerry; Assistant Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Dr. Ren Wang; and Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT), Dr. David Bergvinson. The conference featured a series of roundtable discussions to foster collaboration across sectors and the development of shared strategies and solutions. The conference also included an exhibition demonstrating current innovative solutions in sustainable agriculture, including technologies in agribusiness, nutrition, postharvest and more.

CTI Program Manager Aliou Ndiaye was in attendance to highlight how postharvest innovations—particularly those created in direct collaboration with farmers—can help overcome key barriers in linking smallholders to markets. During the roundtable discussion “Towards a Global Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (GAIP) for Promoting Value Chains and Entrepreneurship Development on Nutri- Cereals and Legumes,” led by Dr. Kiran Sharma from ICRISAT, representatives from farmers’ organizations, universities, governments, and practitioners discussed what makes a platform a relevant mechanism for fostering innovation. Special emphasis was placed on “demand-driven innovations” as a means to get all stakeholders involved in the innovation process.  

A key takeaway from the roundtable, and a theme echoed throughout the three-day conference, is the incredible opportunity to collaborate with smallholder farmers. There are an estimated 500 million smallholder farms globally, producing roughly 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Two billion people depend on these smallholder farms for their livelihoods. With the access to necessary resources such as innovative technologies in post-harvest handling and processing, information, credit and new markets, we can reduce hunger and malnutrition around the world and empower farmers along the way. The GFIA conference is a wonderful opportunity to build partnerships and dialogue at the global level.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Human Centered Design approach in Nicaragua

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This June, 9 students and 2 professors from Iowa State University embarked on a journey to study abroad in Nicaragua for their class, “Engineering—Human Centered Design.” This trip marks what CTI and Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability (EOS) in Nicaragua hope to be the first of many.

Wes Meier, CTI’s Program Director, was on-site to welcome the team and also lay the foundation for their time in Nicaragua. Through his eyes, there was a functional purpose to the trip: giving undergraduate students an opportunity to study abroad and be immersed in another culture while working on engineering design. But Wes also knew that he had an opportunity to plant a seed for a methodology to engineering that was not just designing for the people, but was designing with the people.

“Human centered design” is about working with the people, listening closely to their needs, getting feedback on ideas, and ultimately co-designing technologies. And, the results of this trip speak for themselves on what can be accomplished with this approach. The students designed three simple prototypes during their time in Nicaragua:

1. Coffee roaster: a larger scale roaster than what is currently being used
2. Water catch system: a system that catches rain water from roofs
3. Biochar reactor (combined with a study of biochar in the soil): biochar is charcoal created from left over biomass (i.e. grass, manure, etc.) that when burned in a certain way creates rich fertilizer

Isn’t it amazing what can be designed when we listen first to what the people need?

This trip was a great introduction to this partnership between CTI, EOS and the Iowa State Engineering Department, with students and faculty giving it the green light for future years. The desire is to grow the program, so if you know of other universities that may be interested in participating in a collaborative study abroad program, focusing on “human centered design,” we want to hear from you. Please contact Wes Meier, Program Director, at with your information.