By Heather Stone, Volunteer- 

Heather speaking about her project at the August Africa Committe Meeting.

My inspiration to do this project started in the summer of 2011. I was the designated weed helper for my sister Tiffanie at Compatible Technology International’s plot: Lost Crops of Africa.  I’d never done any work in a field before, and my only previous work with plants was growing garden vegetables. The crops were very unfamiliar to me, as were the weeds.  The first couple days of going to the field was full of differentiating between weeds and crops. As I got more familiar with the plants, I started asking myself questions. One of the main ones was on the tef that was planted. It was planted in rows, but after a month we could barely get into the crop to weed. Why was the plant so prone to lodging (falling over) and how do farmers in Africa deal with this problem? I started doing research to answer these questions.

Tef is a staple crop grown in Ethiopia, eaten at every meal. The tef seed is so small it’s comparable to sand (there are 1.3 million seeds per pound). The farmers of Ethiopia don’t have any technologies to plant this miniscule seed, so they hand broadcast it, which leads to lodging, inability to weed, harvesting difficulties, a laborious process. I researched ways to plant small seeds, and putting seed in rows always came up as the best way to get the most yield out of a field.

Before I started building a tef seeder, I wanted to be able to compare my seeder with other commercially small grain seeders available  for under 100 dollars. There were 5 of them: the Earthway seeder, Vibrating seeder, Dial seeder, Water Bottle seeder and a Push seeder (pictured right in order).

To test these seeders I rolled out a 56cm x 300cm paper roll and laid duct tape (sticky side up) down the center of the paper to catch the seeds as they fell. I then marked 25cm away from the center and also 52cm away. I set a metronome to 72 beats per minute and walked that pace down the paper roll while working the seeding device. Afterwards, I picked 3 different 52cm x 30 cm blocks and counted the seeds in each region (5cm duct tape, 25cm and 52cm). I repeated this for each seeder with 4 trials each and recorded the data. From this test I found out that the water bottle seeder was the best seeder of all those tested, it rarely hit outside of the 25cm mark and the amount of seeds per cm was very reasonable. This was surprising and a little ironic. All of the seeders except the Water Bottle seeder were bought; this seeder I made up on my own, thinking that by dragging the water bottle with holes, it will follow the path you take it on. Since it’s on the ground you won’t have to worry about wind carrying the seed and dispersing them. I then did a field trial on these seeders and my findings confirmed what I’d found in the home trial.

The next thing I did was make standards that I wanted my seeder to live up to. These included: lightweight, easily replicable design, made out of readily available materials, low cost, accurate and has an accepted seed flow rate.  I also made a list of materials that would be easily found in third world countries, including: cloth, wood, tires, nails, screws, bottles and cans. Then I went to designing and this is my final result:

Starting with the build; the handle is at about a 45 degree angle made to be pulled. The four (seed holding) water bottles are 4 ½ inches spread apart and are held to the wooden board by screws. There are aluminum slips in-between the wooden board and the caps of the bottles. This controls the flow of seed. On the underside of the board there are furrowing screws (right under the holes seed flow out of), these screws make divots in the ground for seeds to fall into. Because of the tilt to the seeder, the other side covers up the seed. There are also tacks in the wood to help the storing of the seeder, but these are optional.

With my seeder at hand, I tested the seeder the exact same way as the other small seeders with the paper roll method. The seeds never reached the 52 cm marker or the 25 cm marker; it was the most accurate along with having the most consistent seed flow rate.

The next step from here is to test my seeder directly against hand broadcasting. I am currently running tests on which got the most yield in a square foot.  I will let you know my findings on my next blog post.

Heather Stone is an 11th grade PSEO student at Century College, a local high school. 

Published in Orphan Crops
Friday, 30 September 2011

CTI Supporters Celebrate 30 Years

In September, over 150 volunteers, donors and partners gathered to celebrate CTI’s 30th anniversary at the White Bear Lake United Methodist Church. Thank you to the many volunteers that helped organize the celebration. To see photos from the event, check out the online photo gallery.
Published in St. Paul

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.

Published in East Africa
Sunday, 16 November 2008

Thank You, Volunteers

Volunteers are the heart and soul of CTI.  To recognize their hard work and dedication we held a Volunteer Recognition Event earlier this month at the Biosystems and Bioproducts Engineering Department of the University of Minnesota.  The turnout was impressive (over 40 volunteers!) and we wanted to take this opportunity to again mention how much we value their hard work.  Our volunteers – who are engineers, food scientists, volunteer travelers, Board members, Information Technology providers, art and design experts… the list goes on – make CTI what it is! They champion projects, develop technologies, support our work at home and overseas, and keep CTI moving forward.  Thank you!

As another way to reognize our volunteers, we will begin regularly featuring short biographies of different volunteers in our Post Harvest.  For our first segment, we’d like to highlight our 2008 Volunteer of the Year, Ruth MacDonald.Ruth is the one to thank for our beautiful 2007 and 2008 Annual Reports, as well as our new website that will be coming out in early 2009.   She has volunteered many hours of her time and expertise to create these beautiful publications, and is revamping our website as part of her capstone project for her Masters Degree in Scientific and Technical Communications at Metropolitan State University.Ruth was introduced to CTI by volunteer Steve Clarke shortly after her involvement with the Peace Corps took her to Mali in 2003.  At the time, Ruth and her husband Mike were searching for groups to volunteer with and, after seeing the need in Mali for simple, appropriate technologies to assist the people in processing their crops, were drawn to CTI’s mission to create just such solutions.

Ruth majored in Biological and Pre-Medical Illustration at Iowa State University and went on to work as a medical photographer and forensic photographer (among other things) before heading to Mali with the Peace Corps.Ruth now works at American Medical Systems as a technical writer, and enjoys biking, camping, and working in the garden where, her husband says, “She really gets into compost.”Thanks for all your hard work, Ruth!

Published in Volunteer