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

The fact that unsafe water kills more people each year than all forms of violence (including war) is appalling. But the fact that there are plenty of affordable and effective water treatment solutions makes these deaths a tragedy.

One of the challenges of eradicating waterborne illness in the developing world is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. What works well in one community isn’t going to be appropriate in another. Take CTI’s water chlorinator, for instance. Our chlorinator is designed to provide safe water for a community; it attaches to a gravity-fed water source that an entire village obtains its water from, like a water tank. In Nicaragua, where community water tanks are common, CTI Water Chlorinators provide safe water to over 150,000 people. But there are many parts of the world where families obtain water from less centralized sources, like nearby streams or lakes. For these families, CTI’s Water Chlorinator isn’t going to be much help.

In search of a small-scale water solution

To help individual families treat their water, CTI is exploring a smaller-scale water filtration system that can provide safe water for 8-10 people and meet the following criteria:

  • Affordable
  • Portable
  • Does not require electricity
  • Must produce safe drinking water within 2 hours
  • Must produce a minimum of 15 gallons per day
  • Must be certified as to its efficacy against waterborne pathogens
  •  Must be easy to clean

We aren’t seeking to reinvent the wheel, so CTI’s water team has researched numerous technologies on the market that either meet the above criteria, or can be adapted. We’ve narrowed our focus on the Sawyer Water filter. We like the filter because it’s very affordable and it works exceptionally. Like most water treatment technologies, the filter does require occasional cleaning. Without cleaning, the water’s flow rate begins to decrease over time as the filter collects contaminates. In order to make the system easier for families to clean, we’ve permanently connected a backflush device that returns the filter to its optimal flow rate.

Testing Water Filter in Nicaragua

Testing in Nicaragua

Testing Water Filter in Senegal

Testing in Senegal

Field Testing in Senegal and Nicaragua

Two Prototype units are currently being field tested in Nicaragua and Senegal for flow capacity and ease of use. Thus far, feedback on performance has been consistently excellent. Users have reported the prototypes are effective, intuitive to use, and their rate of output is quite satisfactory. If the initial field tests continue to go well, CTI will likely explore wider distribution of the systems.

Published in Water

Pearl Millet WinnowerDid you know that at least 25% of the grain produced in Africa is lost after harvest? CTI is on a mission to help Africa save its grain.

Our Executive Director, Roger Salway, has just arrived in Senegal where he’ll visit the first recipients of CTI’s new Grain Processing Suite: a manually-operated stripper, thresher and winnower that help farmers capture more than 90% of their pearl millet grain at a rate 10x faster than traditional processing methods. Our partners at the National Business Cooperative Association have distributed the suites to six communities in Senegal as part of a Farmer-to-Farmer program funded by USAID.

Many of the pearl millet growers Roger will visit are the same farmers who tested and evaluated early prototypes of the grain tools. During those field trials, the farmers were enthusiastic about the equipment, which they saw as an opportunity for a better future. At a demonstration with a rural village in November 2011, pearl millet farmer Ndiayne Keur spoke up,

“80-90% of the families depend on traditional methods to process, if technology like this were made available, a whole region could benefit, let’s be honest this is a survival tool.”

The prototypes received unanimous approval from farmers during field tests, so we are anxious to learn more about how the completed designs have been received.

Teff

Teff is so small, the seends are less than 1 mm in diameter

Roger will also visit fonio farmers in Senegal to learn more about their post-harvest processing practices. Fonio is a small-seeded grain that grows throughout West Africa. Many researchers are beginning to encourage farmers to grow more traditional crops like fonio because they are better adapted to local climates, and are often much more nutritious than wheat or corn. But many traditional grains like fonio or teff—which is native to Ethiopia—are also exceptionally small (see photo), which makes them very difficult for farmers to process by hand.

CTI has been asked by several farmers and organizations to explore whether we can help reduce the drudgery and waste associated with the traditional processing of small-seeded grains. So we are beginning our research where we always start, by talking to farmers directly.

Published in Grain Processing

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
Wednesday, 15 December 2010

An Open Mind and Heart

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.”

Published in West Africa
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