Who makes sure the fridge is fully stocked? Who packs the kids’ lunch for school? Who does most of the cooking? Around the world, women are still doing the bulk of food prep. Nowhere is this more apparent than sub-Saharan Africa, where women contribute up to 80 percent of food production. This work is primarily done by hand—a process both laborious and time-consuming.

Women in countries like Senegal have limited access to tools that could reduce their labor and improve their productivity.

These women are in charge of food preparation for their families and communities. But the time- and labor-saving technologies women need are rarely developed with their input. Furthermore, women lack access to finances and other resources that would help them access new technologies.

To give women a seat at the table, CTI organized a national forum of women farmer leaders in Dakar, Senegal. The forum, which took place in August 2015, was attended by women leaders from across the country, investors, manufacturers, and government officials. Attendees discussed common challenges for women farmers, and opportunities for women to benefit from appropriate tools and training.

Noah blog 1

After I had the privilege of interning with CTI last summer, I spent the 2015 fall semester studying international development in Senegal—where CTI's work has a profound impact. I saw this firsthand when I lived in Tattaguine, a small village 100 km southeast of Senegal's capital, Dakar.

In Tattaguine, the day's work began before sunrise, preparing livestock for pasture and breakfast for the family. Later, the women would begin preparation for the family's lunch and dinner—pounding several stalks of millet using the traditional mortar and pestle. The women would occasionally pause to sift through the grains. After meals, they cracked bowl after bowl of the family's peanut crop by hand.

Millet and peanuts are just two of the many crops grown by smallholding farmers in the region. Many families have their own small farms where they grow sorghum, beans, maize, and sometimes peppers and watermelons. My host family, the Ngom's, do the same: they rely on their crops for food and sell what is left.

Despite growing their own food, the Ngom's remain food insecure. This means that the family of 15 lacks nutritious choices, sometimes going without a meal. I spent my summer internship with CTI researching this phenomenon. At its core, hunger is often an economic problem where supply and demand interact—or in this case, fail to act—to provide enough nutritious food to all people. The supply side argument holds that production fails to meet the food needs of populations. The demand side argument claims the opposite: the failure to get enough food comes from high prices or inaccessibility at the market and a lack of income.

This has real consequences. To provide even an insufficient amount of food for her family, my host mother spent her entire afternoon preparing couscous for dinner. My host sisters would help out as well, sometimes needing to put off their homework to pound the millet. To have enough money for food, clothing, and other expenses, my host sisters' husbands worked miles away from home. They are only able to visit once per month at most.

Noah blog 2

A related phenomenon is the mechanization of agriculture, which is any process by which food production and processing is done with the help of machines. Mechanization lessens workloads, boosts productivity, and permits faster, higher-quality, and larger-scale production and processing. More food is produced and kept out of harm's way, which increases supply. Sales from this increased supply, and improved capacity to sell throughout the year, increase incomes to bolster the demand side. Further, spillover effects of mechanization include decreasing rates of fertility and child labor, increasing market integration, employment, and resources and power for women.

This is what CTI does in Senegal. They are tackling hunger, one thresher at a time. Obstacles persist due to the remoteness of some communities, lack of education and knowledge, and the issue of financing so many machines (for CTI) and buying them (for some farmers), but the CTI model escapes some common pitfalls. For one thing, its manual machines are cheaper for farmers than other larger, bulkier options and forgo the use of expensive and unsustainable fossil fuels.

CTI hopes to extend its work with extension agencies like SAPPAT, my host organization in Tattaguine, to further the impact of its program in Senegal and eliminate hunger among Senegalese families. I am privileged first to have worked for two incredible organizations on two continents and second to connect both my experiences and the organizations' work in such tangible ways. Much work remains, but progress is surely being made, from the offices of St. Paul to the millet fields of the Sahel.

Noah headshot

Noah Nieting studies economics, African studies, and international development at Macalester College where he also runs the student-led international development group. He can be contacted at nnieting@macalester.edu.





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.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Introducing CTI’s newest thresher design!

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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!


Wednesday, 15 December 2010

An Open Mind and Heart

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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.”

Tuesday, 01 December 2009

Innovative Pearl Millet Device Tested in Mali

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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.

CTI volunteers Ed Galle and Dick Fulmer recently returned from a trip to Ghana and Liberia where they worked with several collaborators to conduct extensive grinder training for 25 trainers on the use of the Omega VI (photo), demonstrate the processing of moringa leaf powder and peanut butter, and present CTI’s hand-held corn sheller and the wooden grinder.

President of the Moringa Association of Ghana and friend of CTI, Mozart Adevu, worked with Dick and Ed while they were in Africa, and attested to the quality of the Omega VI for moringa production in his recent newsletter.

“Ed Galle and Dick Fulmer, volunteers of CTI, joined me to travel to Liberia between March 28 and April 4. We conducted 6 demonstrations in 6 separate locations in two Counties, Nimba and Montserrado for over 260 farmers. The enthusiasm during the demonstrations was overwhelming and the farmers and communities indicated the opportunity as a great blessing for them. The situation during some demonstrations are likened to Acts 3:8 as the farmers jumped with joy and praised God with the excitement of the “miracle” of the new possibility for them to mill their products at such a fast rate. They considered this as great “healing” of their situation and prayed to God to sustain the lives of those who help them in such “wondrous” ways. We made the demonstration sessions very practical and participatory. The farmers, especially women, took turns to try their hands on the Omega VI grinder and it was great fun! When some quantity of powder was produced, the participants applauded their efforts and were amazed at the fine and smooth nature of final product…

I will also share these experiences with other countries during my trips and hopefully [the United Methodist Committee on Relief] and CTI could begin a good collaboration to explore the possibility of support for food processing in other countries too.”

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

20 Grinders to Ghana

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In February of this year CTI volunteers Dick Fulmer and Ed Galle visited Ghana to promote the use of CTI grinders in the moringa industry. As part of their efforts they made a presentation at the Radach Memorial Centre in Tamale, Ghana. This modern facility was conceived as a hospitality haven for people of all walks of life. The Centre provides training in Community Development, Christian Life and Volunteer Services through formal courses and seminars as well as self-study programs.

Dick and Ed made a presentation at the Centre for several dozen people as part of their Community Development programs. The Director of the Centre, Rev. Johnson Asare, immediately saw the value that our grinders could bring to the people that his Centre serves and began discussions with CTI on how we and his organization could work together. The concept would be for Johnson to identify a group of local farmers and entrepreneurs who would use our technology and grinders to produce moringa powder for their own consumption and for sale.

This concept was developed into a business plan during the summer when Johnson visited the CTI headquarters in St. Paul. Accordingly, a partnership was developed with Rev. Asare’s Radach Centre, The Well Church, Fresno, CA, Advancing Native Mission, Afton, VA and CTI. This group is joining together to get 20 Omega VI grinders to the Radach Centre in early 2009. When they arrive, Johnson will gather the trainers for each of the areas where the grinders will be assigned and Dick Fulmer and/or Ed Galle will conduct a series of “train the trainers” sessions at the Radach Centre.

CTI and our supporters should be very proud of the efforts Dick and Ed have made to make this happen! Many thanks Guys!

Monday, 15 September 2008

CTI Expands Work in Mali

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CTI activity in Mali, West Africa, is on the rise. As a result of the recommendation from Dr. Jeff Wilson, USDA pearl millet geneticist and USAID-funded INTSORMIL collaborator based in Georgia (US), ICRISAT has incorporated CTI into its Gates Foundation grant to improve the yields and profitability of rainfed cereals, especially pearl millet and sorghum, in West Africa with special emphasis on empowering women. This is a natural fit given ICRISAT’s focus on pre-harvest production improvements and CTI’s expertise in post-harvest food processing technologies (a role primarily played by women in Africa). Dr. Camille George, University of St. Thomas School of Engineering faculty member and CTI Board member, visited Mali in early summer to discuss the project first-hand with ICRISAT scientist Eva Weltzien and observe village-level millet threshing.

Based on positive peer review of CTI’s pearl millet threshing-cleaning design options by Dr. Wilson last spring as well as further tests currently underway by Dr. Lloyd Rooney at Texas A&M, CTI expects to conduct rigorous and participatory field tests of advanced prototypes, built by Ohio-based and new CTI partner Battelle Institute, in Mali in early 2009 with ICRISAT, Malian colleagues and local farmers. According to international millet scientists, CTI is emerging as the leader in developing post-harvest solutions for pearl millet.

CTI’s work in West Africa started several years ago in Mali, a land-locked country typical of the semi-arid tropical Sahelian zone immediately south of the Sahara and home to Timbuktu. Activity began with the introduction and field testing of CTI’s hand-powered peanut-grain grinders, thanks to collaboration with Iowa-based NGO Medicine for Mali (M4M). M4M distributed grinders as a revenue-generating service in eight villages. Despite occasional glitches, women users have validated the CTI mechanical grinder which they say produces a superior creamy peanut paste with less effort and in much less time compared to the traditional mortar-and-pestle system. It has also been shown to successfully grind other staple food crops in Mali such as millet, sorghum and cowpeas. Grinders are also being evaluated by colleagues at the Ag School, thanks to Belco Tamboura.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

CTI-Designed Devices Introduced in Mali

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Board member Camille George traveled to Mali last month to explore several projects that could utilize technologies developed by CTI. Working with Aissata Thera, a senior scientist at the Institute Economique Rurale, IER, (the Malian equivalent of the USDA) and Sidy Ba, a hydraulics professor at the Institute Polytechnic Rurale, IPR, (University of Bamako’s Institute of Agriculture), the simple pearl millet hand-stripping device developed by CTI volunteers Don Kuether, Erv Lentz and Rolfe Leary was demonstrated in two Malian villages. The women were genuinely interested in the simple time saving device and offered many constructive comments to help develop an even better design.

Camille also met with Dr. Eva Weltzien, Principal Investigator for ICRISAT. Dr. Weltzien is interested in developing new varieties of pearl millet and sorghum and in increasing the consumption of locally produced grains in Mali’s urban areas. Collaboration between ICRISAT/ Mali, IER, IPR, CTI and the University of St. Thomas’ Chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World, UST-ESW, is currently being explored.

A second project explored the possibility of growing seed potatoes in Mali. At this time, Mali imports all of its seed potatoes from Europe. IER will try CTI’s evaporative cooling potato storage technology this winter to store several varieties of seed potatoes through their dormant period. Growing seed potatoes would greatly increase Mali’s food security.