Wednesday, January 30, 2013

CTI's blog has moved!

CTI's blog has moved to:

Please visit us at our new location for updates on our work!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Baking with Breadfruit in Haiti

CTI volunteers Camille and Natalie George
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.

Baking sans Power 

What I take advantage of in my everyday life is the sheer luxury of electricity. It seems so normal to have a fridge that works all the time, and a light switch that turns on no matter what, however in Haiti things do not work the same way as they do in wealthier countries.

In Haiti, the government rations the use of electricity, and though every day varies, on average it will turn off around 9 AM and back on again around 7 PM. Some people have personal generators that they use to keep it on, and bigger companies, like our hotel, have some sort of deal with the government that allows them to use a small amount during the power outages. But overall, the average Haitian does not get any electric power within those hours.

So when we lost power the first day we began experimenting with recipe's in the bakery, we had to think on our feet. Not content to sit around twiddling my thumbs, I put on my leadership pants and rallied up the few of people left in the bakery (which quickly grew into a group spectacle) and we figured out how to get the propane working in the stove and oven, so we embarked our next quest.

Haitian Rum Cake

After some time of fiddling around with the propane stove, it was time to bake, and we decide on baking the Haitian cake, which includes rum and raisins. The recipe and baking turned out to be a GREAT success! They mini cakes were SUPER delicious and we all felt like we were some official top chef bakers (or maybe just me…). I didn’t want to stop there, especially since we had a few hours to kill AND a working stove. So, I decide that we should make another pizzelle batter and then try making cookies out of it.

Haitian Rum cake made
with breadfruit flour
With my new found baking confidence, I start mixing away and completely get ahead of myself and put in ¼ cup of salt instead of ¼ tsp of salt… needless to say the Haitian women helping me thought it was hilarious and they started scooping it out. Those magic makers were able to save the batter and we continued on our cookie quest. The cookies were too hot to taste right away, so we decided to let those cool while we made another batch of the Haitian rum cake.  This time, we added molasses to see if it would taste sweeter since the first batch some people commented that it still contained the “breadfruit taste” which is a strange bitterness. Again, a great success!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tending to Orphan Crops of the World

By Laura Dorle, Intern

Peanut's harvested from UMN plot in 2011
Last summer, CTI and the University of Minnesota (UMN) collaborated in growing six “Orphan Crops”: tef, finger millet, pearl millet, sorghum, grain amaranth, and groundnuts (peanuts).

Orphan crops are important food crops for subsistence farmers in many African as well as Asian and South American communities, as they have a strong cultural importance, and are often more nutritious and drought resistant than many of the large commodity crops.

Most agricultural research has focused on increasing the yields of commodity crops, such as wheat or corn. However, simply growing more food is not enough—not when between 15-50% of crops are lost after harvest, often due to post-harvest spoilage and inefficient processing methods. That is why CTI is committed to filling some of the gaps in the research by working on orphan crops, focusing on the post-harvest side of the value chain helping bring rural farmers out of subsistence living while improving their livelihoods.

Tiffanie Stone, a recent graduate of the University, was the student intern on the St. Paul Campus plot last year with the guidance of Agronomy Professor Paul Porter and other UMN and CTI colleagues.

This year, we are at it again, and I’ve joined the team, along with many of the great folks from CTI and UMN who originated the project.  I’m Laura Dorle, student intern with the Orphan Crops project and a junior in the Environmental Science, Policy, and Management Program at the U. With a particular interest in food, agriculture, and international development, and a great desire to learn a lot more in those areas, this project was the perfect opportunity to do so.

The plot has been off to a good start thus far. The crops were planted in late May. In addition to the crops from last year, we also planted cowpeas, fonio, quinoa, mung beans, and Bambara groundnuts. Most have been doing very well, despite heavy rains early and intense heat. As usual, there is group of stealthy weeds that are thriving right along with them, and a lot of volunteers have been out there working hard to battle them, the leafhoppers, and Japanese beetles.

When the crops begin to mature at the end of the summer through the fall, we’ll be able to use them to do field tests of CTI’s post-harvest equipment including prototypes of groundnut processing technologies that are being developed for a program in Malawi and Tanzania funded by the McKnight Foundation. We will also be testing CTI’s new pearl millet processing suite on additional grains.

I’m really excited to be working on this project. Be sure to stay tuned. More updates to come as the process continues! And we’ll be organizing some field visits starting in mid-August!


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Volunteers help Haitians find a local solution to hunger: Breadfruit flour

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

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.

Day 1

Breadfruit Bakery
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.

The bakery itself is a lot larger than I expected it to be. We walk in and meet the staff and start working away. We decide to try the chocolate pizzelle recipe and it does not work as planned. We didn’t have any oil spray so the batter kept sticking to the iron which resulted in some ugly chocolate bits. We try a variety of things such as putting butter on it, putting oil on a rag and then rubbing it on but nothing seemed to work. So we decide to try a new approach and then… the power runs out.

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

Monday, March 26, 2012

"It is good." -- Ethiopian women react to Pepper Eater prototype

By Roger Wilson, CTI volunteer project lead

Roger Wilson in Ethiopia testing a new prototype technology, the Pepper Eater. An estimated 400,000 women in Ethiopia process peppers by hand; a laborious procedure that turns peppers into higher-value products of dried flakes, seeds, and powder. The Pepper Eater (featured in National Geographic) is a device in development that mills dried peppers with a hand-crank much faster and safer than the traditional method of flaking peppers by hand. The Pepper Eater concept was developed by students at Stanford University, and was recently redesigned in a collaboration between CTI engineers and the Stanford team. CTI volunteer Roger Wilson and the Stanford team are in Ethiopia meeting with women who are evaluating the new Pepper Eater prototype.  

We set up today with the table across the street from the Encino Berbere market (Berbere is a pepper, or spice mixture that is a staple ingredient in Ethiopian cuisine). The crowd was instant. It took some work to get the children and men back far enough to let the women look and try the Pepper Eater (here called the Berbere Machine) and the grinder. I am working on trying to get shades of grey in the translation of the responses of the women because what I am getting is, “It is good.” I think that means it is fine; yes I can use the product, whether it be from the Pepper Eater or the grinder. So the Pepper Eater was liked. We did grind some of the Berbere that we had flakes with smiles and yes it was good.

To demonstrate the grinder we not only ground Berbere, but used CTI's prototype poly burr to break the husk and split peas, which were then winnowed by hand and we ground the split pea as normal with the metal burrs. The beans we cracked with metal burrs, winnowed, and then ground. The shiro (powder) produced by both the peas and beans caused eyes to light up and the comment, “That sure is easier than pounding!” One woman was excited and immediately wanted a grind with a motor; she had big plans quickly.

Aschalech Jemal, a University Grad in Agriculture who's working with me, said that word of mouth will transmit what the women say quickly so the demo will be pretty widely talked about. Another component she picked up on is that the success of introducing either of these technologies is dependent on Ethiopians making it happen. She has the vision that this does provide business opportunities in several different ways and venues.

So far, our health has been good. The tomato crop is yielding well and thankfully the Project Mercy cook's know how to make a safe and delicious salad that is often nearly half tomatoes. Just for fun they throw in the occasional Mitmita bit (Thai like hot pepper.) The locals seem to know pretty well when this are dry enough to work. Yesterday in the market was interesting because Asfew turned down many vendors because the Berbere was too flexible, i.e. washed and still too wet. We bought them at the Butajira market because the administrator here said the merchants were less flexible at the other markets and there was a choice here, which seemed to be true.

At the end of the trip today, I asked that we stop in Butajira at the hotel so I could buy a drink for the five people that went to Encino. It cost a whole 25 Birr for 5 machiato (like espresso with steamed/foamed milk); mine was delicious. There is nowhere in the Twin Cities that I could get a coffee like that for myself for the $1.50, much less five people. So there are some good things lighten the rest of the work.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

79,698 Reasons to celebrate on World Water Day

If you're reading this, chances are you're just a few feet away from a source of clean, safe water. But if you lived in rural Nicaragua, you and your family would likely have no choice but to drink polluted water collected from local rivers and lakes.

In a small village in rural Nicaragua, contaminated drinking water was making everyone extremely ill. Children were dying, their small bodies unable to handle the intensive dehydration caused by severe intestinal diseases.
Then CTI's water team stepped in and helped the village build a simple water chlorination system, and now the children are healthy, attending school regularly and enjoying life. 

CTI's water chlorination system is now in place in 126 communities, serving 79,698 people. The Water Chlorinators are built from PVC pipes and valves costing just $100. Villagers maintain the systems and pay to replace their chlorine tablets. The chlorine kills the bacteria, so the water is  safe to drink.

Every child deserves clean drinking water. We are setting a goal of providing clean water to 250,000 Nicaraguans by June 2014.

But we need your help to get there. A donation, in any amount, will help communities gain a sustainable source of water, and will help us give tens of thousands of children a better hope for the future.    

Monday, March 12, 2012

CTI Volunteer Heads to Ethiopia

By Roger Wilson, CTI Volunteer Project Lead

My name is Roger Wilson, and I've just arrived in Ethiopia, where I am volunteering on behalf of
Compatible Technology International (CTI). I am the volunteer project leader for an Ethiopian-focused project named the “Pepper Eater.”

The Pepper Eater is new device in development that flakes dried Berbere peppers into pieces—an essential step in making the Berbere powder blend that is the staple hot additive for most Ethiopian foods. This flaking is now often done by hand or in a mortar and pestle, which exposes women to harmful pepper dust, causing them to suffer mentally and physically in the days following the processing. 

While in Ethiopia, I will be joined by two engineers who  developed the concept of the Pepper Eater 
during their time at Stanford University. After designing the initial Pepper Eater in Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability class, the students brought the concept to CTI to develop a production version. We will conduct field trials of two prototypes versions of the Pepper Eater in order to inform our final design. We will be hosted by non-profit Project Mercy at their community development site in Yetebon, Ethiopia.

Much of the daily food used in Ethiopia has to be ground: teff (grain staple), peppers & blends, dried legumes, etc. I am going work with the Yetebon staff to evaluate the CTI Ewing IV grinder for the grinding of many of the foodstuffs and its cultural and functional fit in the community. It does take time and effort to grind, but the women now have to either pound to powder in mortar or carry their items to be ground 8-15 miles (one way) to leave at the miller for pickup a couple weeks later. So my hope is that we will be able to enable women to process peppers without the worst of the health problems and be able to reclaim time that can be better spent on other family tasks by using the grinder. And for some, these technologies might provide a core for a micro-enterprise earning them money