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.


Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Celebrating Malcolm McLean

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CTI is sad to announce that Malcolm McLean, our beloved Executive Director from 1991-1995 and long-time friend, passed away on November 19th, 2014. Malcolm brought his wealth of experience to CTI, mentoring those around him and serving as an ambassador to the organization for the last twenty years. He will be greatly missed by the team.

Malcolm was instrumental in revitalizing CTI’s water treatment program in Nicaragua, after bringing together the program team and securing funding in 2010. Today, more than 275,000 people in Nicaragua have gained safe water as a result of Malcolm’s dedication.

In honor of Malcolm and his wife of 58 years, Wendy, CTI and Northland College have launched an internship for students to work with CTI’s technical experts in the workshop, and to travel internationally to see how basic food and water tools are making a difference in peoples’ lives where we work.

A memorial service will be held for Malcolm on December 6th at 11am at the Macalester Plymouth Church, 1658 Lincoln Avenue, St. Paul, MN. Click here to read Malcolm’s obituary.

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Untapped Potential of Women In Agriculture

Written by


Wesley Meier, CTI Program Director

A common and very important theme that echoed during the 2014 World Food Prize was the untapped potential of women in agriculture. Pamela Anderson, the Director of Agriculture at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pointed out that 2 out of 3 women in Africa are employed in agriculture, and it’s women who responsible for 90% of grueling post-harvest processing work.

If women had equal access to credit, land, inputs, markets as men, we would be able to increase agricultural productivity by 20%.

One of the biggest constraints faced by women, according to Anderson, is labor. Reducing women’s labor is a major focus of Compatible Technology International, and we’ve seen how easing the burden on women farmers can increase their yields, improve the quality of the food they produce, and help them better market and sell their crops.

But while improving women’s access to technologies and resources is important, access alone is not enough to make a lasting difference. The gender gap is deeper and broader than we thought, Anderson noted, and we need to continue studying it and addressing the topic through technologies and policy.

At CTI’s Spring Benefit Dinner, we are celebrating the power of innovation—the transformation of an idea into impact! You can help empower communities with innovative food and water tools by joining us in Minneapolis on May 8 for a Senegalese dinner and an R&D runway show! If you’re interested in attending the event or hosting a table, contact Lee@compatibletechnology.org.



The global food waste problem is enormous in scale. Recent estimates indicated that waste accounts for one third to one half of all current food production. Much of this loss comes from post harvest inefficiencies that have long lasting environmental and socio-economic consequences. Since most developing countries rely on agriculture as their main economic sector, addressing post-harvest loss can have a significant impact on poverty reduction, crop resiliency, and sustainability of rural livelihoods.

In recent reports stemming from the 68th General Assembly publications, the United Nations recommends that prevention of post-harvest food waste is key as well as investment and engineering in “relatively simple technologies which can provide effective solutions and dramatically reduce losses.” This is precisely where Compatible Technology International (CTI) comes in.

Cereal grains grown in developing countries traditionally incur up to 50% post-harvest loss due to spillage, poor separation and drying contamination, or storage. One particularly important grain is pearl millet, a drought resistant crop grown in Sub-Saharan Africa that is highly nutritious. With CTI’s Pearl Millet Suite, farmers capture more than 90% of their harvest, helping them produce millet flour ten times faster than by using traditional methods.

The tools are simple: a stripper, thresher, winnower, and grinder, all engineered for the needs of a small farmer.

For impoverished communities struggling in times of a changing climate, CTI’s Pearl Millet Suite, more efficient post-harvest grain production could be the difference between a thriving farm and going hungry for years to come. With less food waste, farmers can diversify their crops to increase their resilience in times of environmental stress and spend less time in the field, allowing for more economic opportunity to sell their increased yield.

The impact is enormous: Security for food can lead to increased security for many other aspects of life: education, healthcare, and increasing economic power.

Blog pic of Sorcha

Sorcha Douglas is an intern from Macalester College, studying International Studies with a concentration in International Development and a minor in Environmental Studies.




Wednesday, 18 September 2013

CTI welcomes new Executive Director!

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We have exciting news!  We are thrilled to announce that our Board of Directors has voted unanimously to appoint Alexandra Spieldoch as CTI’s Executive Director. While serving as interim director over the past several months, Alexandra has been an outstanding leader for the organization.  Alexandra has many years of experience working in economic policy reform, food security and sustainable development. Check out Alexandra’s bio on our website.


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.

CTI recently attended the 2012 Norman Borlaug Dialogue, sponsored annually by the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines, IA. Researchers, the private sector, non-governmental organizations came together to discuss the challenges of the global food system, and to explore partnerships that can make a positive difference. United Nations Secretary General presented this year’s World Food Prize to Professor Daniel Hillel, the Israeli scientist who is responsible for inventing drip irrigation, a practice which has greatly improved food production in arid areas around the world. Drip irrigation is a technology that has allowed farmers to use water to plant roots through small holes in pipes with a controlled amount of water, a method which reduces water loss and helps plants to absorb water more efficiently.

CTI Advisor Alexandra Spieldoch with Dr. Daniel Hillel, 2012 World Food Prize Laureate; and Danielle Nierenberg, Director of the Nourishing the Planet project at the Worldwatch Institute

From CTI’s perspective, thinking outside of the box to develop comprehensive solutions as exemplified by Professor Hillel is critical. Today, 870 million people are under-nourished and one out of six people are chronically hungry. With current food stocks low and global food prices high, UN officials are warning that there may a major hunger crisis in 2013. We need thoughtful action and we need to act quickly.

At the Norman Borlaug Dialogue, Jane Karuku, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA), stressed the need to ‘get back to basics.’ Real local solutions are not complicated, but require innovative business models if they are to truly have a positive impact on the rural poor. One major challenge is that the private sector and public institutions are not connected to grassroots farmers. As a result, nutrition suffers among the vulnerable groups who need it the most.

Innovation, including technologies to improve production as well as post-harvest technologies like the ones that CTI is developing, testing and scaling out, is essential. Unfortunately, support for post-harvest work has only been about 3 % of agricultural funding overall. Much of the conversations that took place at this event were focused ways to reduce post-harvest losses for large-scale production. CTI was a lone voice advocating for low-cost, appropriate technologies for reaching the poorest of the poor. We are unique in our approach to reduce loss while empowering farmers who are otherwise off the grid.

CTI’s technology solutions support responsible value-chains that are invested in local and regional markets. Here, the public and private sector at varying levels can play a significant role on ensuring that low-cost appropriate technologies have a positive impact on the rural poor. Better indicators are needed to ensure that market development fits in with a holistic understanding of local leadership in achieving food security and poverty reduction.

Leadership at all levels cannot be stressed enough. We need a coordinated effort among a mix of stakeholders to create an enabling environment that will make a difference. This includes investing in technology solutions through public-private partnerships and grassroots leaders, working closely with women leaders to turn the tide.

Though the obstacles are great, CTI is optimistic because there is more attention to cooperation than ever before. There is also more attention given to working with smallholder producers, particularly women, together to achieve development from the bottom-up. Leaders are recognizing that long-term commitments to agricultural development are what are most needed. And, there is political will among developed and developing country leaders to work more closely together. CTI understands the challenges as well as the opportunities and is ready to do its part.

Alexandra Spieldoch, Senior Advisor – Strategic Partnerships

Alexandra Spieldoch is an independent consultant and a Senior Advisor on Strategic Partnerships with Compatible Technology International with research, advocacy and leadership experience pertaining to gender, food security and sustainable development.

Volunteers Arrive in Haiti

CTI volunteer Natalie George is blogging from Haiti, where she’s joined her mother Dr. Camille George, CTI Board Member, Program Manager and Professor at the University of Saint Thomas.

The George’s are in Haiti helping locals take advantage of an underutilized food source: Breadfruit. Breadfruit grows in abundance in Haiti, but spoils just days after ripening. CTI has developed a set of tools that villagers can use to preserve breadfruit as affordable flour.

Natalie and Camille are in Port au Prince, helping Haitians open a breadfruit bakery and showing “field to fork” proof that breadfruit can be harvested, transformed into flour, and processed into delicious and nutritious food products.

First Impressions

Street in Haiti

After departing the airport, we start driving to our hotel and I get my first glimpse of Haiti’s capital city. It reminded me a lot of Mali in West Africa, but with its own twist. The roads are half-paved, half-broken rubble and, the further you get into the city, the more broken and choppy the roads get. There are people EVERYWHERE and like in Africa, many of them transport their goods on their heads. However, their clothing surprisingly resembles that of Americans.

The poverty level is extremely noticeable, more than I have ever seen in my life. I didn’t think that the earthquake’s destruction would still be evident, but it definitely still is. There are severely broken buildings with giant boulders of concrete all about, but there are also buildings right next door which are completely fine.

I notice that there isn’t a road sign in sight. Instead, there’s spray paint on the concrete walls with a name and some numbers. The roads are so twisted I have absolutely no clue how people know where to go!

Each building is surrounded by a giant concrete wall and then a huge metal door. To get inside people just beep a few times and then someone comes and opens this massive metal gate door. The concrete walls all either have barbed wire or cleverly have broken glass bottles along the top of the wall to discourage people from scaling them.

Breadfruit Bakery, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Day 1

On our first day, we wake up at 6:30am and it’s already 90 outside. Our friend Brulan navigates us through the twisty rocky roads, and we approach a random concrete wall and he beeps ever so lightly and someone opens the door.

How will we run a bakery without electricity? Stay tuned for an update!

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.

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