This year, CTI launched a pilot program to begin distributing our new grain tools in Senegal. We sold and delivered tools to more than 50 villages—improving millet production and strengthening food security for more than 12,000 people! We also spent time following up with the women using our tools (through discussions, formal surveys, and field tests) to learn how the tools were impacting women’s lives, and how we can improve our technology designs and services, to ensure farmers are realizing their maximum potential.

While feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, women asked us to make the thresher faster, more affordable, and easier for one person to operate. Our design team got to work, and today, we’re premiering our newest thresher design! Check out the video to see it in action!

And if you want to be a part of helping us deliver our new prototype to farmers, along with training, financial and business mentoring, you can click on the image below to make a donation, and your gift will be matched—today only!

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Published in West Africa

AliouMeghan Fleckenstein, CTI Communications Director

It’s 110 degrees and CTI’s team is being introduced to a rural village near Kaolack by our Senegal Program Manager, Aliou Ndiaye. Speaking in Wolof, the local language, Aliou addresses about two dozen villagers who’ve gathered to greet us under the shade of a large tree,

“For the past 10 years you have seen the same rate of yield in your pearl millet crop. You have good seed and good farming practices, but we cannot extend the land. We are here today look at how postharvest technologies can help feed your families. We can’t find the solution without you. We can’t improve our technology or help other farmers use it without you. So we have to make you work. We need you to tell us honestly how you feel about the technology, what you like and dislike, and how you think it can impact your village.”

A team of CTI staff and volunteers is in Senegal to work with our local partners on expanding the distribution and impact of our recently-launched Grain Tools. Over the past few weeks, CTI has delivered sets of tools (including a pearl millet stripper, thresher, winnower and grinder) to 15 villages in Senegal as part of a program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal of the project is to place the suites in different types of villages throughout Senegal and gather data on their use so we can focus our distribution efforts on reaching the communities that stand to benefit most from the tools.

Villagers Provide Feedback

The village we were visiting had recently received CTI’s tools and  we wanted to check in with the community to provide additional training and get their initial reaction. First, we spoke to the village women’s organization. While in Senegal, I learned that formal women’s organizations are very common in villages, and some communities even have more than one. They often run businesses and use their earnings to pay for school fees or to purchase things for the group.

Womens Group Leader

The president of the women’s organization, Ndeye Gueye, spoke on behalf of the group, “We are very happy about this technology. It is very useful. In the past we were using the mortar and pestle and now that we have this, we can reduce drudgery for women and save grain. This technology may be a small thing, but for us it is a big gift.”

Other community members—both men and women— gathered to offer advice for increasing the output of the technology and improving the grinder so it can process wet millet. The villagers also expressed how much they enjoyed using the grinder to make peanut butter and they hoped to earn money grinding for others. They explained that previously, the village had been using an expensive motorized grinder provided by another organization, but when the machine broke just two years after they received it, the women had to return to grinding their peanuts by hand. We hear this type of story far too often at CTI—money being spent providing communities with expensive, complicated machinery that rarely lasts more than a few years.

After spending more time with the community, as we prepared to leave, Aliou addressed the group a final time, and was clear and direct that our collaboration is a partnership that will require work and commitment on both sides. Aliou explained,

Village Leader

“We are very happy about this technology. Everything you see starts small and grows. We see this as just the beginning.” – Demba Aly Ba, Village Leader

“We came here to work together to find solutions for the whole nation. This is our proposal to you, but it is just a proposal. If you do not want to do this, we can go to another village. But if you want to use the technology and tell us how you honestly feel about it, then let’s get to work.”

At CTI, we never stop pushing ourselves to do better, to improve our process and our technologies, and we depend on communities to give their honest opinions rather than telling us what they think we want to hear. In Senegal, this has not been a problem. The women and men are smart, outspoken, and engaged.

Published in Grain Processing

Alexandra-de-CTI-avec-Marie-Mbaye--Coordonnatrice-du-CGC-de-Keur-Thième-Sawaré

On a recent trip to Senegal, our Executive Director Alexandra Spieldoch met some real life “superwomen” — women who are farmers, mothers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders. Here she is with Marie Mbaye, Coordinator of a collective of women pearl millet farmers and community leaders in rural Senegal. Empowering and supporting women, who do the bulk of post-harvest labor, will be an important part of our work as we introduce our pearl millet tools in Senegal.

Published in Uncategorized

Grain_Tools

Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, a program funded by USAID and implemented by Fintrac Inc., s helping CTI launch our newest innovation: a suite of tools designed to help developing world farmers increase their production of pearl millet grain.

CTI has received a grant to invest in manufacturing, local marketing, and sales of the tools in Senegal. Establishing a business model for the equipment in West Africa will enable us to deliver the tools to the farmers who need them in a way that’s efficient and sustainable.

Partnering for Innovation is a USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) initiative that supports the commercialization of agricultural technologies that can help smallholder farmers increase their productivity and competitiveness. In addition to USAID’s support, we recently received a separate grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to conduct long-term evaluation and impact monitoring of the millet tools in rural villages.

New Innovation Saves Africa’s Grain

CTI’s pearl millet suite — which includes a manually-operated stripper, thresher, winnower, and grinder — significantly increases farmers’ grain yields while minimizing the drudgery and food losses that occur with traditional hand-processing methods. Pearl millet is a major food source throughout the developing world and tools that help farmers improve its production can greatly strengthen food security for the global poor.

While field testing the prototype equipment in West Africa, farmers were amazed to see real and relevant solutions to their daily struggles — tools that can help them feed their families, earn a better living and invest in their communities. In Senegal, we met Cheickeh Dame, a well-respected farmer who remarked,

“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.”

We met countless other farmers like Cheickeh, men and women who never asked for handouts, only opportunity, and with the launching of CTI’s pearl millet suite in Senegal, we will make sure they have it.

FTFPFILogo

USAIDFINTRAC

 

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Published in Grain Processing

kids

We are thrilled to announce that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded CTI a Grand Challenges Explorations Grant, an award that supports innovative and bold ideas that take on persistent health and development challenges. With backing from the Gates Foundation, CTI will deliver its new Pearl Millet Processing Tools to villages in rural Senegal for long-term evaluation and impact monitoring.

The award marks the culmination of years of effort developing a suite of tools that can significantly increase grain production in the most impoverished regions of the world.

Post-harvest grain loss is a major contributor to global hunger and poverty. Approximately $4 billion dollars of grain is lost after harvest in Sub-Saharan Africa every year—that’s equivalent to the entire amount of food aid sent to the region during the past decade.

CTI’s manually-operated pearl millet stripper, thresher, winnower and grinder can help farmers rapidly produce pearl millet grain with much less food waste. During field tests in Mali and Senegal, women and girls told us that the tools were a “blessing,” a “godsend” and an answer to their prayers. Now it’s time for us to gather scientific data about the wider economic and social impact that improved grain processing can have on a rural community. Precisely how much grain can communities save? How will women spend their freed time? We hope to answer these and other questions this fall, when we launch the tools in several rural Senegalese villages. Check our website for updates on our progress, and watch this video to see our tools in action.

Why Pearl Millet?

MilletPearl millet may just be the most important food crop you’ve never heard of. About 500 million people depend on this nutritious and drought-tolerant grain for their livelihoods. It’s a particularly important food source in West Africa, but it’s also notoriously difficult to process into edible grain. Traditionally, women and girls spend hours each day processing their pearl millet grain by breaking it apart in a mortar & pestle and winnowing it in the wind—an extremely wasteful practice. For these women, more efficient grain tools represent more than just additional food; they represent freedom from hours of daily drudgery and time to go to school, grow more crops or start a business—these tools are a major step towards profoundly improving lives.

We would like to thank the many volunteers, collaborators and donors that have supported our grain processing innovations, including the John P. and Eleanor R. Yackel Foundation, NCBA/CLUSA, and many more generous organizations and individuals!

 

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Published in Grain Processing

By Laura Dorle, Intern

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.

Most of our crops are now in their 13th week of growth, and most of them are doing well. There has, though, been a fair share of challenges in achieving their success.

Last year, one of the biggest challenges once the grain crops (primarily pearl millet and sorghum) completed pollination and reached their milk stage was a population of hungry birds that was eating away at the fresh grain. The team tried hard to deter the birds, using netting, noise makers, metallic streamers, and everything they could, but the birds only became more relentless in feeding on the grain.

Well, those sparrows and other small birds are at it again. The bird issue was a large part of the discussion before the crops were planted. The team made the decision that this year we would bag the heads of sorghum and pearl millet as protection. Corn breeders at the University use special paper bags to prevent cross-pollination, and we were able to access some of those bags for the sorghum. Pearl millet, on the other hand, has a head that is much longer and narrower than the sorghum head. For that, we have used paper bags sent to us by ARS/USDA pearl millet researchers in Georgia. Though we were not totally sure about the effect that these bags would have, after a couple weeks, the heads that have been bagged are doing much better (untouched so far) than those without (see pictures below for visual).

Of course birds are not the only pests running around our urban ecosystem. We’ve had bunnies chewing on the Bambara groundnuts. The Bambara groundnuts are looking sickly, but we’ve since fenced them so maybe we have some chance. We also have had to continue to fight a virus induced by leafhoppers in the legumes. Finally, we’ve noticed that the fonio is rather behind where we thought it would be by this point. Some of the team hypothesized that like finger millet, a crop from last year with a similar problem. Day-length sensitivity may be an issue (reproductive stage triggered only by shorter days than we have in summer), but so far we have not come across any conclusive literature.

Obviously, growing season pests are a problem, especially when we have very little of each crop to begin with, but they’re not our focus in this project. Luckily, there are many researchers who are focusing on how to reduce pests and disease to increase healthy yields. With those increased yields, come tough questions on better post-harvest storage, market access, and efficient processing. Those are the questions that CTI is addressing, and as our crops get ready for harvest within the next month or so, I’m excited to learn more and test some of their innovative technologies. More to come on that!

Meanwhile, if you live in the Twin Cities area, feel free to come visit the plot yourself (PDF with directions). If not, we’ll continue to do the best we can to relay the experience virtually.

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

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!”

Published in Uncategorized

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.

Published in West Africa
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