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Can you name this fruit?

It is a fast-growing, high-yielding, nutrient-rich fruit that has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years. Originating in New Guinea, this green football-sized fruit is now grown in tropical regions around the world. It boasts higher protein than potatoes, wheat, rice, soybean, corn, and peas. It is low in fat and a good source of fiber, calcium, potassium, and other minerals. It has been referred to as the "food of the future.”

Yet despite its promise, this crop—called breadfruit—has been historically underutilized.

CTI is trying to change that.

This summer, CTI intern and University of St. Thomas engineering student Vang Xiong researched the history of breadfruit to understand how the crop is typically grown, processed, and eaten. With the help of CTI Program Director Wes Meier and volunteer engineers, Vang built two prototype breadfruit driers—one for indoor use and one for outdoor use.

The driers were co-designed by University of St. Thomas engineering professors Robert Bach and Camille George, a longtime associate of CTI. Over 10 UST students have been involved in simplifying the design and bringing the costs down since the first student team presented a design to CTI in 2003.

Each drier has a five-shelf drying rack with a total space of 30 square feet, with a frame of PVC pipe. The drier was designed to be simple—easy to load and unload, food-safe, and cost effective. While the drier was designed specifically for breadfruit, it can also be used to dry potato, mango, banana, cassava, and other soft-fleshed produce.

In July, Vang, fellow UST student Michaela Andrews, and Dr. George attended the International Breadfruit Conference on behalf of CTI to present the drier prototypes. Held in Trinidad and Tobago, the conference focused on the theme of commercializing breadfruit for food and nutrition security.

Vang reported that the driers were well-received, with both the indoor version and the outdoor version sold by the end of the conference. Everyone he spoke with enjoyed the conference and the presentations, and was interested and engaged—sharing feedback and information, as well as their personal experiences, to help others.

Vang had the opportunity to speak to local breadfruit growers to determine how to best meet their needs in regards to processing breadfruit. During the conference he learned about methods to increase crop yield, potential threats to the crops’ health, and best growing practices. He looks forward to analyzing his findings from the conference, hearing feedback from the individuals who purchased our prototypes, and adapting our design to meet the identified needs.

Vang’s favorite part of the conference was the diversity of the attendees: “it was moving to see people [of all backgrounds] working together to make something happen.”

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Julia Fair is entering her senior year at Northland College this fall. She is double-majoring in Sociology with a Social Justice Emphasis and Sustainable Community Development. After finishing her internship with CTI, Julia will begin an internship with the Peace Corps Ambassador program as well as an internship with an immigration lawyer based in Ashland, WI.




Friday, 10 July 2015

Intern Spotlight: Julia Fair

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Last November, CTI and Northland College established the CTI/Northland College Wendy and Malcolm McLean Internship in memory of Malcolm McLean, President of Northland College from 1971 to 1987 and CTI Executive Director from 1991 to 1995. I was selected for this internship, which included the opportunity to go to Nicaragua for a week. As a Sociology and Sustainable Community Development major with an emphasis in social justice, I was interested in CTI because its mission connects both of my majors. I have always enjoyed travel for experiential learning, so I was very excited to go to Nicaragua and see CTI’s work firsthand.
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While in Nicaragua, I had the opportunity to observe two groups of engineering students from Iowa State's “Human-Centered Design in Nicaragua” course. Human-centered design is an approach to engineering that focuses on listening to people’s needs to produce appropriate and sustainable technologies. The students grappled with how to design the most effective water catchment system (using a ram pump, or bomba ariete in Spanish) and biochar reactor. Biochar is a charcoal produced from leftover biomass, such as grass or manure, which produces a rich fertilizer when burned.

Since I’m not an engineering student, I asked a lot of questions about why the groups made the choices that they did, taking notes of their experiences throughout the design process. I primarily observed the bomba ariete group, whose design was able to pump water from large catchment sources, such as streams or rivers, to a smaller source uphill—using only the energy from the flowing water.    

Every student on my trip has worried about whether or not they will make a lasting impact with their technology. I think that this says a lot about this program—both the curriculum and the students who participate. Focusing on human-centered design led them to approach their projects without assumptions—they interviewed the people that they designed the technologies for so they were able to get an understanding of the needs of their clients. I think that their focus on human-centered design had a positive effect on how they approach their projects.  Under the human-centered design approach, the designer needs to understand the cultural relations between human interaction with places, objects, institutions, and other people. Well-meaning agencies may send materials to areas that are not useful or usable, because the agencies have not asked what will work best for the area. By taking the time to understand people’s needs, projects have much greater potential for successful adoption and powerful impact.

At the end of each day, the group would come together to debrief. I always enjoyed this part of the day, listening as the students offered each other feedback and brainstormed potential solutions together. CTI Program Director Wes Meier and Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability (EOS) employees also joined in—it was incredible to see the interaction between staff and students. The different perspectives allowed the students to step away from their project and analyze potential issues that they had not considered during the day.

Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible! It was a life changing experience and I am so grateful for my time in Nicaragua. 

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Julia Fair is entering her senior year at Northland College this fall. She is double-majoring in Sociology with a Social Justice Emphasis and Sustainable Community Development. After finishing her internship with CTI, Julia will begin an internship with the Peace Corps Ambassador program as well as an internship with an immigration lawyer based in Ashland, WI.




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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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!

CTI is co-sponsoring an event with the Caux Round Table that includes a special program and reception honoring Brian Atwood on Thursday, June 11 at the Minneapolis Club. Atwood is the former Dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and former Save The  Date Brian AtwoodChairman of OECD's Development Assistance Committee. He also played an influential role in shaping the United Nation’s Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).

The event is co-sponsored by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Citizens League; McKnight Foundation; Minneapolis Foundation; Minnesota International Center; Great Plains Institute; Center for Victims of Torture; the Minnesota International NGO Network; and CTI!

Please join us in thanking Atwood for his leadership, dedication, and service to our state and country. Tickets are only $10 per person, and you can register online here.

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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.

There is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone, yet nearly one billion people are chronically hungryan estimated 60 percent of which are women and girls. BRIDGE, a gender and development-focused program at the Institute of Development Studies, recently released their 2014 report examining the role gender plays in hunger and malnutrition around the world.

The 2014 BRIDGE Cutting Edge Overview Report “Gender and Food Security” provides a comprehensive gender analysis of food and nutrition insecurity, concluding that gender equality and human rights are the key to achieving food and nutrition security. Although current responses to hunger and malnutrition are not entirely gender blind, they fail to address the underlying economic, social, and cultural causes of food security that are gender unjust. The report calls for policies and programs that take a comprehensive approach to food securitylinking nutrition, gender equality, trade, finance, agriculture, and other relevant areas.
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CTI’s Executive Director Alexandra Spieldoch brought her extensive experience to the study as lead advisor and co-author, collaborating with over 40 experts on food and nutrition security and gender around the world over a two-year process.

As an organization that primarily focuses on post-harvest technologies, CTI is incredibly excited about this work. In rural areas, women are responsible for the majority of post-harvest laborand we’ve seen firsthand how reducing this burden can increase yields, improve the quality of food produced, and help women better market and sell their crops. But while improving women’s access to technologies and resources is important, this report emphasizes that access alone is not enough. We are excited to learn from this report and engage in the dialogue it creates! Read the full report here.


We are excited to announce that CTI is launching a new program in Senegal with support from the World Bank to provide  threshers and grinders  to 50 farmers’ groups over the next 2 years. We’re partnering with ANCAR, an agricultural extension organization that provides essential training and resources to smallholder farmers throughout the nation.

Our Program Director, Wesley Meier, is currently working with ANCAR leaders in Kaolack, the heart of Senegal’s pearl millet production, to train rural advisers on the assembly and operation of the threshers. Training is critical; we know from surveys conducted during last year’s launch of the tools in Senegal that training and practice greatly increases the thresher’s performance. In response, we are putting greater emphasis on training by incorporating several operation demonstrations, written step-by-step instructions in Woluf, and a simple video for ANCAR’s rural advisors to keep. And in each village where the equipment is being placed, we will be surveying communities with a mobile phone app as part of our commitment to continually review our programs with a critical eye to measure and evaluate our impact, learn from community input, and improve our tools and distribution methods.



Last year, CTI and our partners EOS International and Self-Help International launched a study to measure the effectiveness of CTI’s Water Chlorinator and water treatment efforts in rural Nicaragua. We are pleased to report that in unannounced visits to 21 communities with the chlorinator installed, 95% (20 out of 21) of chlorinators were stocked with chlorine and the units were being properly maintained by villages. A full report will be released in the coming weeks, but in the meantime we want to share a few of the highlights:

  • The chlorinator completely eliminated the presence of harmful bacteria in all communities with the chlorinator operating.
  • In communities with no water treatment system, harmful bacterial contamination was found in 70% of water sources, indicating a strong need for treatment

To date, 275,000 people in 540 villages across Nicaragua have gained access to safe drinking water through our program – including 76,000 people in 136 villages over the course of 2014 alone.

Look for the full study later this year!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Saying goodbye to a remarkable man

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George Ewing

CTI Founder

It is with heavy hearts that we announce George Ewing, founder of Compatible Technology International, passed away peacefully on Monday, January 12.

George was born June 26, 1930 on a farm in Richland County, Wisconsin. He served with the US Navy in the Korean War before graduating from the University of Wisconsin in Madison with a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering. He spent his career in research and engineering at General Mills, where he formed a group of volunteer scientists interested in helping communities in developing countries overcome their food processing problems. George’s group grew, and in 1981 they created the nonprofit Compatible Technology International.

George was the last surviving founder of CTI, and has been the heart and soul of the organization. Over the past 30+ years, he played a key role in the development of many of our post-harvest solutions, including storage and tools for peeling, slicing and drying of potato chips in one of our first programs in India.  George was also the inventor behind CTI’s grinder, for which the Ewing Grinder was named in his honor.

George was an incredibly smart and giving man. Even into his 80’s George has remained one of our most active volunteers, and in recent years he’s lent his expertise to create drying technologies, peanut processing tools, and a lower-cost grinder.

There is no doubt that thousands of people across the globe have permanently raised their standard of living because of George’s vision. And his work has inspired so many others here at CTI to use the skills and privileges we all have to give others a hand up. George was truly remarkable and his mind, generosity, and sense of humor will be deeply missed.

Services will be held at 1:30 PM on Saturday, January 17 at Spirit of Hope United Methodist, 7600 Harold Ave., Golden Valley. Visitation will begin at 11:30 AM until time of service.

If you would like to honor George, the family has asked that memorials may be made to Compatible Technology International. Memorial gifts can be made online, or by mailing us at 800 Transfer Road, Suite 6, St. Paul, MN 55114.