milletstalks

With food trends, what’s old has become new again. Ancient grains like quinoa, farro, and freekeh have all had their turns in the spotlight. Many of these foods have been around for millennia, sustaining generation after generation. Now, they’re catching on around the world.

Here, three traditional foods gaining new popularity and how CTI is making them more accessible.

1. Millet

While new to American diets, this ancient grain has been around for over 7,500 years. Originating in north China, millet is now a dietary staple for over 90 million people across Africa and Asia.

Millet holds an obvious appeal. Able to grow in Africa’s most famine-prone regions, millet produces reliable yields in hot, dry climates with poor soil quality. Some varieties of pearl millet can withstand temperatures as high as 147 degrees Fahrenheit. It is also a nutritious grain—rich in iron, easily digestible protein, and three times the calcium as milk.

In Senegal, pearl millet is primarily produced at the subsistence level and hand-processed by women and girls. Though pearl millet is a major source of nutrition for the rural poor, it is very labor-intensive to harvest and process—something CTI is working to change. This fall, we’re distributing 150 threshers to farmers’ organizations across Senegal, with the potential to impact tens of thousands of people.

2. Peanuts

Did you know that peanuts are as rich in antioxidants as most berries? One of the most nutritious foods on the planet, peanuts are also high in protein and healthy fats. Like millet, peanuts grow well in hot, dry climates. And the plant is hailed for its nitrogen-fixing properties, which improve soil quality.

While the peanut originated in South America, today nearly 92 percent of the world’s peanuts are produced in Asia and Africa. Because of the plant’s high nutrient content and increasing global demand, African countries like Malawi see peanuts as a growing priority. An agricultural country, Malawi historically relied on tobacco as its top export crop. With the fall of tobacco, the government is embracing peanuts as a valuable alternative—encouraging farmers to increase peanut production through seed subsidies and other initiatives.

Across Africa, peanuts are seen as a women’s crop. This means that women carry out the majority of the harvesting and processing of the nuts, which is both time-consuming and difficult. CTI’s peanut tools help women harvest and process more nuts, faster. Because it is easier to grow more peanuts, farmers are able to sell more of their crop at market—increasing their income in the process.

3. Moringa

Moringa has risen in popularity as a nutritional superstar, joining the ranks of up-and-coming superfoods like goji berries, acai, and spirulina. With “seven times the amount of Vitamin C of oranges and three times as much potassium as bananas,” it’s easy to see why. Native to India, Pakistan, and Nepal, Moringa has been used for centuries to treat and prevent a multitude of diseases—from acne to diabetes. Because of its ability to thrive in harsh conditions Moringa is now grown around the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, to combat malnutrition.

Typically, the leaves are eaten raw or sautéed with food. The leaves can also be ground into a powder, which can be used as a supplement. In Haiti, a woman named Sonja started a business selling Moringa powder. Sonja dries the nutrient-rich leaves in a solar dryer and grinds the dried leaves into powder using a CTI grinder. She sells the powder to a local nutrition clinic, where nurses distribute it to pregnant and nursing mothers and malnourished children.

Clinic staff reported that “the number of severe malnutrition cases has dropped from 130 per day to less than 4 [cases] in the community.”

In all three examples, these foods have stood the test of time. CTI is dedicated to working with indigenous crops that are highly nutritious, easy to grow, and able to thrive in our changing climate.

If you're interested in supporting that work, you can donate here.

Published in Newsletter
Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Can peanut farmers crack global poverty?

Groundnut stripper

To Americans, peanuts are a simple food—a snack staple in ballparks and backpacks alike. But for millions of farmers in Malawi, this humble legume may offer a path out of poverty. 

One of the most nutritious foods on the planet, peanuts are rich in protein and healthy fats. They’re also a valuable crop that grows well in Malawi’s hot, dry climate.

Malawi’s small farmers are responsible for 93 percent of the country’s peanut production. But they’re not profiting. Women harvest and process their nuts by hand—work that is exhausting and time-consuming. And when farmers try to sell their harvest, they’re often taken advantage of by vendors who buy low and sell high. So while the farmers are doing the hard work, vendors are getting the profits.

New technologies are changing the game for Malawi’s peanut farmers.

CTI has developed a suite of tools to help farmers harvest and process more peanuts, faster. The tools were designed with input from hundreds of small farmers, who praised them for their ability to shell high-quality nuts. Farmers were confident the tools would help them grow and sell more peanuts—and often asked to buy the prototypes on the spot. Now CTI is working with local manufacturers to get farmers these tools in time for the May harvest.

We’re on a mission to make sure farmers can get their hands on the tools, sell their nuts at a fair price, and profit.

Over the next two years, we’re partnering with farmers’ organizations across Malawi—including NASFAM, the largest smallholder farmer group in the country. Farmers’ groups like NASFAM give farmers access to resources like new technologies, training, and good seed. By working in a group to sell their crops, farmers’ organizations can also help their members get better prices at market.With this partnership, farmers' organizations can now offer CTI's peanut tools to their members—giving farmers the support they need to reap the full benefits of their labor.

CTI Executive Director Alexandra Spieldoch was recently in Malawi to kick off the McKnight-supported project. While there, she met with the President of the Republic of Malawi, Peter Mutharika, to share more about our work.

President Mutharika was supportive of the program, as peanuts are a growing priority for the Malawi government. An agricultural country, Malawi has historically relied on tobacco as its top export crop. With the fall of tobacco, the government is embracing peanuts as a valuable alternative—encouraging farmers to increase their peanut production through seed subsidies and other initiatives.

But most peanut farmers aren’t thinking about export opportunities or how to solve global food insecurity. Instead, they’re wondering if this season’s harvest will be enough to eat and sell. While developing our tools, we interviewed over 200 small farmers in Malawi. They told us that access to the tools would help them increase their incomes, boost nutrition, and improve their quality of life. 97 percent of farmers said they would plant more peanuts if the nuts were easier to harvest and process. Now, we can make easier harvesting and processing a reality.

Published in Groundnuts
Friday, 21 September 2012

How Peanuts Can Help Change the World

By Laura Dorle, Intern—

Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) are very familiar to those in the United States, and around the world. Here in the U.S., the peanut is our favorite nut—eaten raw, in the form of peanut butter, or in the many varieties that gave our own USDA scientist, George Washington Carver, his claim to fame.

We think of peanuts as the classic American nut, and in a sense they are, as they were domesticated in Peru in South America and are now grown around the world, serving an important role in many diets.

Peanuts, legumes, or groundnuts?

We group peanuts in the nut family, but unlike many other nuts we love to consume, the peanut does not grow on trees. In fact, they grow in the ground, and in many parts of the world their name gives way to that fact, groundnuts. They belong to the legume plant family, one that includes all those beans we know and enjoy. And as with all legumes, peanut plants have the ability to fix atomospheric nitrogen to improve the soil.

The peanut plant grows to about 12-18 inches in height, and has green ovular leaves. The plant produces yellow flowers, which continue to flower throughout the growing season (about four months). Once the flower is pollinated, it forms a “peg” which then bends toward the ground, and pushes the ovary into the top layer of soil where the peanut pod develops.

Peanuts and the developing world

Peanuts are highly nutritious, containing many important vitamins and minerals, and are high protein and oil content. Because peanuts grow in abundance in many parts of the developing world, including throughout East and West Africa, they have the potential to provide desperately-needed nutrition in many communities that suffer with extreme hunger.

Despite their importance to the global poor, peanuts can be dangerous. Without proper handling and storage, peanuts are particularly susceptible to aflatoxin contamination post-harvest, a deadly carcinogen produced by a fungus that causes food safety issues for local consumers and losses in the ability to export. That, combined with the difficulties of manual processing, can lead to significant yield and quality losses in poor communities.

Better peanut tools can improve nutrition and lives

Efforts to create greater efficiency in production and higher marketable values can play an important role in rural communities in the developing world to improve farmer livelihoods and community nutrition.

With the support of the McKnight Foundation, CTI, in partnership with Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, is working on a project to do just that. In Tanzania and Malawi in Eastern Africa they are testing and developing simple, affordable mechanical technologies to improve harvesting, handling, drying, stripping pods from plants, storage, shelling, and grinding. They have been evaluating these new technologies with farmers on the ground, as well as seeking to improve child nutrition and reduce aflatoxin contamination.

In the next few weeks, I will be running stripping, drying, and shelling efficiency tests on the peanuts that CTI and the University of Minnesota have been growing as part of the Orphan Crops project on the University’s St. Paul Campus.

Laura is a student intern from the University of Minnesota who is helping CTI manage its Orphan Crops Plot—a collaboration between CTI and the University of Minnesota to grow and research some of the most important food crops of the developing world.

Published in Orphan Crops

By Laura Dorle, Intern —

Groundnuts (also known as peanuts)

Last summer, CTI and the University of Minnesota (UMN) collaborated in growing six “Orphan Crops”: teff, finger millet, pearl millet, sorghum, grain amaranth, and groundnuts (peanuts).

Orphan crops are important food crops for subsistence farmers in many African as well as Asian and South American communities, as they have a strong cultural importance, and are often more nutritious and drought resistant than many of the large commodity crops.

Most agricultural research has focused on increasing the yields of commodity crops, such as wheat or corn. However, simply growing more food is not enough—not when between 15-50% of crops are lost after harvest, often due to post-harvest spoilage and inefficient processing methods. That is why CTI is committed to filling some of the gaps in the research by working on orphan crops, focusing on the post-harvest side of the value chain helping bring rural farmers out of subsistence living while improving their livelihoods.

Tiffanie Stone, a recent graduate of the University, was the student intern on the St. Paul Campus plot last year with the guidance of Agronomy Professor Paul Porter and other UMN and CTI colleagues.

This year, we are at it again, and I’ve joined the team, along with many of the great folks from CTI and UMN who originated the project. I’m Laura Dorle, student intern with the Orphan Crops project and a junior in the Environmental Science, Policy, and Management Program at the U. With a particular interest in food, agriculture, and international development, and a great desire to learn a lot more in those areas, this project was the perfect opportunity to do so.

The plot has been off to a good start thus far. The crops were planted in late May. In addition to the crops from last year, we also planted cowpeas, fonio, quinoa, mung beans, and Bambara groundnuts. Most have been doing very well, despite heavy rains early and intense heat. As usual, there is group of stealthy weeds that are thriving right along with them, and a lot of volunteers have been out there working hard to battle them, the leafhoppers, and Japanese beetles.

Orphan Crops Plot

When the crops begin to mature at the end of the summer through the fall, we’ll be able to use them to do field tests of CTI’s post-harvest equipment including prototypes of groundnut processing technologies that are being developed for a program in Malawi and Tanzania funded by the McKnight Foundation. We will also be testing CTI’s new pearl millet processing suite on additional grains.

I’m really excited to be working on this project. Be sure to stay tuned. More updates to come as the process continues! And we’ll be organizing some field visits starting in mid-August!

~Laura

Published in Orphan Crops

In a small town in rural Malawi, elated villagers met CTI with song and dance as they gathered to celebrate the arrival of CTI’s peanut stripper, a new prototype that will liberate families from the drudgery of stripping peanut pods from the plant by hand.

Peanuts, or “groundnuts” as they’re known in Africa, grow in abundance throughout East and West Africa and provide an important source of income and nutrition for many poor communities.

 

Farming by hand aggravates hunger

Without proper tools, groundnut growers face huge obstacles bringing their crop from the field to the market. Women spend most of their day processing their harvest by hand, time that could be spent growing more food or running a business.

CTI is collaborating with African groundnut growers to develop a set of affordable and culturally-appropriate devices that harvest, strip and shell groundnuts. The program, funded by the McKnight Foundation, is based in Tanzania and in Malawi, where we just delivered our new groundnut strippers to 16 rural villages.

New peanut tools liberate farmers

 

The groundnut stripper is constructed from a metal frame covered with woven metal–a material similar to chain link fencing. When a farmer slides a groundnut plant across metal, the nuts get snagged and easily pop off the plant. The groundnut strippers are a vast improvement upon the traditional processing methods, where women tediously strip the pods from the plant by hand, one pod at a time.

With this new tool, farmers can strip their groundnut pods three times faster than doing so by hand. 

With the addition of harvesting and shelling equipment also being developed by CTI, farmers will be able to significantly increase the quality of their nuts in a fraction of the processing time, earning higher profits and greater opportunities increase their standard of living.

Published in Uncategorized
Tuesday, 16 December 2008

New Solutions in Haiti

CTI volunteer and Technology Committee Chair, Erv Lentz, has solved a major problem for Dr. Pat Wolff of Meds and Food for Kids in Haiti.  Dr. Wolff uses our Omega VI grinder to create Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for children in Haiti who are suffering from severe malnutrition.  She creates RUTF by first grinding peanuts into paste, then passing the peanut paste through a separate Omega VI with added oil, powdered milk, sugar, and vitamins and minerals.  This “medika mamba” (the translation is “peanut butter medicine”) became syrupy and tended to run out the clearance hole for the shaft in the rear of the hopper.  While this leakage was a housekeeping problem for Dr. Wolff’s operation, it was also inhibiting her from securing approval from UNICEF to expand her operation, so she approached CTI for a solution.

After much research, Erv was able to find a stock die and food grade silicon-rubber sealant for adhering the seal to the hopper wall (see photo).  It works so well it maintained a seal after being run constantly for over a week.  (That’s 2.5 million revolutions on the shaft!)  This rubber seal is low-cost and was sent down to Haiti and adhered to Dr. Wolff’s Omega VI grinders.  CTI volunteer George Farrell reports that the seals were easy to adhere to the grinders and, although he was concerned they would come off when the grinders were cleaned, they have stuck very well and the leakage has stopped!
Dr. Wolff now looks forward to approval of her operation from UNICEF.  Approval may mean that a lot more children will have access to the life-saving Ready to Use Therapeutic Food and many more CTI grinders will be used.  This is another great example of how our volunteers are continually creating simple technical solutions with life-saving results!  Great work Erv!  (To read a recent CNN.com article that mentions Dr. Wolff, follow this link: As Children Starve, World Struggles for Solution.)

Published in Haiti