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

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.

Published in West Africa
Monday, 15 September 2008

CTI Expands Work in Mali

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.

Published in West Africa

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.

Published in West Africa