Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An Open Mind and Heart

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." 

Andrea Brovold 
Africa Co-Chair/Volunteer

Monday, December 13, 2010

Final Dispatch from Mali

This post is from CTI Volunteer and Africa Committee Vice Chair, Andrea Brovold. Andrea and CTI's Executive Director, Roger Salway, are traveling through Senegal and Mali to demonstrate one of CTI's newest set of devices, the Thresher and Winnower. This new set of equipment can help subsistence farmers increase the quality of their grain and reduce waste--nearly doubling their grain yield.

We land in Mali on Friday, December 7th, and I find myself somewhat disenchanted upon arrival. Something I cannot quiet explain, but one I will try to elaborate on. I must be careful not to negate what Mali has to offer, its people, its hidden jewels, but from the moment I arrived there was a looming curtain and a literal wall of haze from the immense pollution ring around the capitol city. There was almost an offensive piquant odor about the bustling city due to the refuse, the smog, the dust and wind combined with the heat. I have not been able to shake this unexplainable feeling, yet everyone I have had the pleasure of meeting is simply delightful.

Looking back, it is curious, or rather disheartening to me the Mali is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and yet it has allocated to it some of the largest funding for development. The Chinese own the roads, and the Libyan’s own the hotels. 

While in Senegal, we visited a distributor of industrial agricultural equipment, dozens of machines, and hundreds of thousands invested going unused by the immediate populations that they are meant to support. It is a gross reality of development, and one at CTI that we work hard to avoid by working with our partners, distributors, stakeholders and instituting accountability on all fronts. No machine that is needed and wanted by women doing this work should ever be sitting in a machine graveyard. So it is because of this that the undertone of this blog has some resentment and negativity. It is unconscionable to me to have a simple task, feeding famine, which can be so skewed. In 25 days we have been able to accomplish, facilitate, and create a mass awareness and desire for a move from traditional to modernity. Whoever said one person cannot make a difference was sorrily mistaken.

Wednesday we spent all day driving parallel to the Niger River (downstream) it was a 8 hour drive where we passed through Segou for lunch which was a pleasant departure from the mass chaos of the city. Segou was a very well kept area, and one I would have liked to explore more had we had time. But we are on a mission to reach a close proximity to meet our ICRISAT partner Tom for the evening, so we push on. Eight hours after leaving Bamako, we arrive at San, and bunk up there for the night. It is here that Verizon FINALLY turns my phone back on...the FRAUD department had shut it off 7 days prior unbeknownst to me and my wonderful Mother Barb orchestrated the fixing on that due to the fact that they wanted me to CALL them to FIX it...HELLO?? Did you NOT shut off my phone in a 3rd world country? How would you like me to CALL??? Anyways, that snafu gets rectified, but then I suddenly have 120 emails that come through...not sure which is worse. So I forego dinner and tend to my emails, and try to go to bed in a somewhat questionable abode.

Thursday morning, I rise at 4:00am and do some work, don't dare shower or turn on the water, rather I had some bottled water left (which was my dinner) to splash on my face, and brush my teeth. This much is good. What are you thankful for??

Roger and I have a nice discussion over a piece of bread this morning. It had been looming over me how so many machines we'd seen were abandoned and unused, and our grinder needed a foster home with one of the partners we had made in country rather than the condition in which we found it. It was agreed that this is what would happen, and it was a very intelligent decision to leave it with the Tominian Hope village, and Tom from ICRISAT to get use in the field in return for data collection and reports back on logistics.

Both Tom, and the Tominian Village were inviting and helpful. Tom is a bit of a comedian and makes certain the visit is lively and enjoyable for all. Even what can sometimes be the long, but necessary pre-placement surveys. Rose was the resident spokeswoman, and one who clearly was respected by all in the village.

After the demonstration and with multiple hands on the machines, Tom, who is a Dutchman and lived in Mali for 6 years interpreted some of the feedback. At one point there was another woman who was traditionally crushing the pearl millet in the mortar and pestle while we were winnowing and threshing in the modern (earlier model prototype). While she finished about the same time, the comparison of the labor needed coupled with what the finished product looked like, our sample was clean and without “brokens” (which run the risk of rancidity) and her bowl had much debris, shafts from the panicle, and needed to be sorted/sifted through in order to make it acceptable to continue.

Next we tried the grinder to show how fine the flour can be from their grains, and while this was somewhat labor intensive initially, the product that it produced was unquestionably superior and in far less time than a woman could do in her traditional ways, or cost.

Rose had us come to her home where she showed us their storage units—very ingenious design, and also a thresher that had no water/oil in it so it smelled, looked, and sounded like a rocket ship ready to blast off...I thought the machine was going to levitate at one point! We were invited to sit and enjoy some peanuts with them, when the village's “mean dog” as Tom put it came waltzing in...I looked and finally saw a 4 pound pup (what looked like a tan/white spaniel of sorts) and I picked him up. Britt we will call him for short, nuzzled in close, was eager to give soft puppy kisses, and nearly fell asleep in my arms. The village young women giggled. “MEAN dog” nearly had a one way ticket to frigid Minnesota!

I would not call the ride smooth, but I am sitting here typing this on Saturday morning, so you know I have made the nearly month long journey. This did not happen alone, and not without the huge support and love from all those involved, the people I have met, the friendships I now have, the smiles and hugs I have been witness to and everlasting memories this has instilled in an already fortunate life.

Thank you for following this journey, for your love, support, and Taranga. It means “friendship” in Wolof.

Monday, December 6, 2010

As life throws curves your way...make it into a dance

This blog is currently being updated by CTI Volunteer and Africa Committee Vice Chair, Andrea Brovold. Andrea and CTI's Executive Director, Roger Salway, are traveling through Senegal and Mali to demonstrate one of CTI's newest set of devices, the Thresher and Winnower. This new set of equipment can help subsistence farmers increase the quality of their grain and reduce waste--nearly doubling their grain yield.

The first leg of our trip funded by NCBA/USAID proved to be more sweeping than the roads to Tambacouda or the sonsie of Manet's Le dejeuner sur l'herbe.

Emotions and purpose were at a elevated level, due to the nature of this project. Our project objectives that were pre-set for us by NCBA was to increase yields and incomes of the current 30 farmer's whose annual income combined was approximately $40,000. Combined.

The more villages and meetings we tended to, the more apparent the voices became. Meetings with directors of programs such as Action Aid, CARITAS, CLUSA, Counterpart, and the 4 villages we introduced to our technology to, and more importantly, our spirit to, will forever be changed. Through a mutual respect for cultural differences, and also a desire to transfer technology to a sustainable community is the basis of CTIs mission, and one I feel we were able to accomplish in many ways. I will not forget Rokyhah, a 12 year old girl at the Kuer Ali Guey village who needed very little coaxing, and began instructing others how to "tighten the burrs...we need finer flour." I was quick to have Bamba translate for me so I could instruct her how to clean and disassemble/reassemble the grinder. The village will be successful because of the hard working women I have met. Let us all celebrate these women for the intrinsic value they provide their communities.

Without the high level of organization set prior to our departure, as well as the preparedness of our in-country partner's in Yaguemar and Bamba, this project would have not been as successful as it was. Proudly, Roger (Executive Director), myself, and Bamba (our In-country partner) have decided to donate our current prototypes of CTI's thresher and winnower ( also made possible by collaboration with Thom and Reade from Battelle Institute in Columbus, Ohio) to complete the set of the grinder already purchased by USAID.

It was the voices and the faces of the women, men and children that resonate loudly in my thoughts. What we were able to accomplish in 5 minutes, would traditionally take a woman 40 minutes. Awa, who was the village leader at Kayemon, (a highly organized and populated location on the boarder of The Gambia and Senegal) spoke to the Heavens about how beneficial our equipment had proven to be to them-especially the women who, in order to get the children off to school in time, or the home prepared, and dinner served, would normally work from sun-up to sun-down. Another from the same village exclaimed "If you could visualize our interest in CTI's equipment, it would be as tall as a skyscraper!". So as we drudged our way though the trials and tribulations of each village visit, I was pleasantly reminded one morning that it truly is a dance we must create from all life has to offer. For dancing brings smiles to everyone.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Some things are left unspoken...

This blog is currently being updated by CTI Volunteer and Africa Committee Vice Chair, Andrea Brovold. Andrea and CTI's Executive Director, Roger Salway, are traveling through Senegal and Mali to demonstrate one of CTI's newest set of devices, the Thresher and Winnower. This new set of equipment can help subsistence farmers increase the quality of their grain and reduce waste--nearly doubling their grain yield. 

November 28, 2010

This Thanksgiving was spent visiting a village on the boarder of Senegal and The Gambia. This village was different in many ways but as Bamba pointed out--notice the square huts and the 4 homes that make up a larger square in the schematics of the village. The space, the culture and the patterns of organization are the underlying theme of this post. Who would have thought I would be using fractional geometry on this visit...all those years of tutoring DID pay off!

This morning Alfonse, Director of NCBA Farmer to Farmer project told us that our good work was not going unnoticed. The villages and the people were a buzz, and someone had been promoting us on the local radio station! We are famous. 

What is more validating however, is the immediate looks of astonishment when we are able to produce in 5 minutes what a woman with the traditional pestle and mortar could in 40. The smiles resonate loudly.

One such woman was Dougal Guey a 60 something year old woman, whom exclaimed to me "C'est bon!...you have a friend here in Kayemon" We then took a photo and she was gleaming with happiness.

Saturday evening we are picked up by Renee and Therese for a demonstration to Therese's association of 100+ women. She points to the back of the truck with pride, and there sits a freshly, almost deceased, TURKEY! She, Bamba and Renee went and found our Thanksgiving feast. From what I understand he was running around like a turkey with his head cut off, and hard to catch-sorry for he bad joke, but appetizers and dinner were manifique! We are escorted to the rooftop where wine, beer and spring rolls are shared among TARANGA--Wolof for friendships, and the bond that is unspoken. Before too long, the turkey has cooked, the smells resonate through the air and it smells just like home. We move downstairs to their dining area, and just as the prior visit, the power shuts off, so again, we eat by a 3 candle light. Before too long, it is time for us to go, Therese says to me (translated by Bamba of course) "I have left my heart with you". No translation needed. While there are language barriers, there is a common knowledge when a special friendship is made. This is no different, only more special.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I am Thankful...

This blog is currently being updated by CTI Volunteer and Africa Committee Vice Chair, Andrea Brovold. Andrea and CTI's Executive Director, Roger Salway, are traveling through Senegal and Mali to demonstrate one of CTI's newest set of devices, the Thresher and Winnower. This new set of equipment has been developed to help subsistence farmers increase the quality of their grain and reduce waste. Initial tests show this simple set of equipment can double the food supply of subsistence farmers. 

For many things in life, but this once in a lifetime opportunity that has been placed in front of my eyes has proved to be many things, on many levels, at many different times.

Tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, marks our 1 week point and during this week I have learned much about myself, about the culture, about the people, and been pleasantly surprised at how well I still understand French-after decades of a dry spell.

During our first week we had much to do, understand, and implement.

Tuesday marked our day at NCBA/USAID and introductions around the office. It was a pleasure to meet our host institution and Yaguemar, the director of our project, has been such a refreshing and essential and helpful part to the success of this project. Bamba, our 3rd in-country partner on the Farmer to Farmer project gathered preliminary results prior to our arrival. Bamba is a true leader, and on top of everything.

Next we drive an hour and a half to the village on roads that have not been repaired due to the contractors and government fighting over being cheated. The contractor was jailed for some time, and the roads therefore have not seen repair in ages. And we thought Minnesota pot holes were bad...

We drive into the village to thoughtful greetings and praise for our arrival. Many of the elders come to shake our hands and welcome us warmly. There are children peering around every corner to catch a glimpse at what is happening. We are seated under a Boboa tree in the shade and begin to have introductions and discussion on what their needs are, what they currently are using, how they process the harvest, crops they use among many laughs and praise. We are ushered to the truck and an eagerness to begin work is felt by all-despite the language barriers.

We arrive (after another roller coaster ride) at the village to children rushing to the same Beobub tree and the elders (men and women) gathered and ready to help. We setup the trio of machines in order: Thresher, Winnower, Omega Grinder and begin our work. I have taken post atop a plastic chair so I am able to record everything that is taking place. The children are beautiful, the women are stunning, and the men are grateful. Many of the women-and even some of the men-take turns at each piece of equipment, some shy away, but then warm up to it with Bamba's encouragement and openness. His demeanor with the people is unparelleled to anything I have seen. We spend nearly 7 hours, including lunch prepared for us at one of the elders homes, at the village, and the women are still bringing baskets to process, unfortunately it is our time to go, but will return the following day we tell them.

We get back to the hotel and I am so exhausted that I finish some follow up work and pass on dinner. I cannot even keep my eyes open and it is 7pm. That is really the only thing I have had a bit of strife with is the jet lag/time difference. Right about the time we are to get going, my body knows it is 2-4am and it is a hard thing to snap out of. Especially when we have a hypnotising 1.5 hour drive ahead of us. I reflect a bit before I turn in, and think to myself, I have gone without for one day, and many of the faces I have met today have gone without much of their lives. The time warp we have witnessed today is so dramatic that I am humbled and honored to be a guest in their home. 

We returned to the village today and many of the young women were present. It is generally around the age of 10-16 that many of the homestead responsibilities are passed on. However, the little wee ones are given tasks such as collecting water and peanuts. One by one, we were brought baskets of millet, sorghum, peanuts and each round I timed, logged the number of individuals it took, and the kilos produced. Once again, 2.5 kilos of similar grain can be processed in 10 minutes, which would normally take 2 hours of traditional means. After 6 rounds of various crops, I stepped in and Rokhaya, a 12 year old girl who was very smart and per Bamba's interpretation, was quickly instructing others to "Tighten the burrs...we want fine grain"...asked her to help me take apart the grinder and clean it, so that she would be able to assemble and disassemble it...and teach others the proper way She did a fine job.

Week one is coming to a close and there have been many lessons learned. I think the one that stands out the most in my mind is that Thankfulness is a universal language that needs no interpretation.

Thank you for your support and encouraging words.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Subsistence Rice Farming in Bangladesh---How simple tools can reduce waste and increase food security

By Steve Laible, CTI Volunteer

Rice is arguably the most important food crop in the world--it provides more than 1/5 of the world's total caloric intake.The vast majority of rice is produced by farmers in developing countries, but before rice becomes the ready-to-eat grain that you find in the supermarket, farmers have to perform several post-harvest processing steps including threshing, winnowing, drying, cleaning, storing, and hulling.

Farmers in developing countries lose 15-16% of their rice crop after harvest because they are dependent on rudimentary tools and inefficient processing methods. In some countries, post-harvest rice losses can be as high as 40-50%.

A week ago, my wife and I arrived in Parbatipur, in northwest Bangladesh, to test a new technology to help subsistence farmers improve the process of hulling rice. Rice hulls are a hard protective coating that needs to be removed from the rice grain before it is consumed. Many farmers in developing countries still hull their rice by beating their harvest against the ground or smashing it with a mortar and pestle (see video below). These traditional hulling methods are very inefficient and contribute greatly to farmers' post-harvest rice losses.

Over the next few days we will be field testing a new burr that has been developed to husk rice with CTI's grinder. I'm happy to report that our very small sample trial shows great promise. In initial tests, the new husking burr is able to able to remove the outer coating of  non-edible material.

The output from one pass through the grinder is a combination of rice with brown skin and the particles of husk combined. The next step is to winnow (or separate the rice from the non-edible material). The resulting "brown rice" can then be  prepared for eating, with all the nutritional value of brown rice intact. Or the brown rice can be passed through the grinder with adjusted setting to produce white rice.

We have more work to do to set up the essentials for the field test which has the major objective of testing the durability of the rice hulling burr. If the durability of the rice husking burr is demonstrated, I believe there are significant opportunities for practical application of the grinder and rice husking burr to places in the world that grow rice and depend on rice as a staple.

I also believe there are related opportunities to enhance the nutritional prospects for lots of people by supplementing the rice (brown or white) with protein and vitamins.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The story behind the photograph

"The picture of the man and the boy on the beach was taken in Mumbai. The high rises in the background are in the wealthy section of Mumbai.

I wasn't sure if the man was begging or greeting us he was almost too weak to raise his arm. There were no women in the immediate area so I don't know what the story is about the boy. There were other people on the beach looking for things that might have washed on to shore.I gave him a little money because he looked like he could use it and because I took his picture. He was friendly in a sad way." - Steve Laible, CTI Volunteer 

Don't forget that Dr. Shiv and Gale Murty have issued a challenge grant for CTI's
project to address Severe Acute Malnutrition in India. Total donations before December 31, 2010 up to $5,000 will be matched 100% by Shiv and Gale. Shiv, a project lead and long time volunteer with CTI, is a graduate of the India Institute of Technology - Bombay (a partner of this project) and a retired food scientist with General Mills.

Friday, October 15, 2010

World Food Day 2010 - Combating Severe Acute Malnutrition among Children in India

Saturday, October 16th is World Food Day, and in honor of the occasion, we are reflecting on the 8 million children in India suffering from severe malnutrition--innocents who were born in a country where 47% of children are malnourished.

Children in India don't just suffer from a lack of food, but a lack of a balanced diet including essential vitamins and minerals. In the worst cases, children will succumb to Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM)--malnutrition that is so severe, the body begins consuming its own tissues. If untreated, SAM results in death or permanent physical and mental stunting--perpetuating poverty and hunger for generations.

A Revolutionary New Treatment 

Until a few years ago, SAM was treated--rather unsuccessfully--by hospitalization or dry food therapy, and only 25-40% of children survived. Miraculously, there has been a recent revolution in the treatment of SAM with the development of vitamin fortified, energy-dense food formulations-Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTFs). RUTFs rapidly put weight on malnourished children and are typically comprised of a mixture of ground peanuts, powdered milk, sugar, vegetable oil, and vitamins and minerals. With an 85% patient recovery rate, RUTF treatment is simply the cheapest and most effective treatment in existence.

Now is the Time to Act

CTI engineers, nutritionists, and food scientists have developed an RUTF formulation composed of peanuts and other ingredients that can be found in India. With your support, CTI will establish pilot facilities in India to produce RUTF with local ingredients and local workers. The product will be distributed through the Sion Hospital Group in Mumbai for formal clinical trials under the direction of recognized pediatricians. Once operational, the process will be scaled-out and the RUTF will be offered to thousands of severely malnourished children in India.

Help us Save Lives

We can't continue this project without your help. Dr. Shiv and Gale Murty have issued a challenge grant for this project. Total donations before December 31, 2010 up to $5,000 will be matched 100% by Shiv and Gale. Shiv, a project lead and long time volunteer with CTI, is a graduate of the India Institute of Technology - Bombay (a partner of this project) and a retired food scientist with General Mills.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

UMN Students and CTI Inspire Young Entrepreneurs in Tanzania

By Kathleen Clonts, CTI Volunteer

Innovative thinking by students is putting two grinders provided by Compatible Technology International (CTI) to a vital new use in Tanzania.

Two University of Minnesota master’s students worked with students at a school run by Eden Prairie-based Peace House Africa west of Arusha, Tanzania, this summer to brainstorm business uses for two grinders donated by CTI.

The Minnesota students, Samuel Lee and Melanie Plucinski, instructed about 80 students at the Peace House Secondary School in the fundamentals of creating and running a business, from product development to market research. The students came up with an original product concept using the CTI grinders: corn flour that is fortified with moringa leaves, which provide a significant source of beta carotene, vitamin C, protein, calcium, iron and potassium. The flour will add flavor and important nutrients to porridge as well as the traditional Tanzanian corn-based staple called Ugali.

But first the students are raising money to grow moringa trees on the school campus. They hope to begin harvesting the leaves next year, grinding them and putting their business plan into action to create jobs and meet the nutritional needs of local people.

The CTI grinders were donated to Peace House Africa, which runs the school near Arusha for AIDS orphans and vulnerable children. The school’s goal is to build students’ problem-solving and entrepreneurial skills so they will help create a sustainable future for their homeland.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rebuilding Lives in Haiti

When the devastating earthquake hit Haiti in January, Madame Aliette Belizaire was among the millions whose lives were changed forever. In the aftermath of this horrific disaster, Madame Belizaire discovered that her daughter had been killed in the quake and her that husband was missing, leaving her with two grandchildren and eight remaining children of her own to look after. As days passed and the crisis continued, Madame Belizaire and her family made the heart-wrenching decision to leave Port-Au-Prince.

After traveling to the southwest city of Jeremie, Madame Belizaire and her family were provided a small home by the Haitian Health Foundation, where they began rebuilding their lives, growing corn and other crops to support their family. In May, Compatible Technology International (CTI) sent a food grinder to the Belizaire family. Within days of receiving this simple device, the whole family was processing crops into enough food to eat as well as to sell in the local market. The family began using the grinder to make Akasan, a corn-based porridge meal, and peanut butter, which is important for relieving malnourishment in the children of the area who have kwashiorkor - a severe protein deficiency. The family will use the grinder to feed themselves and to prepare peanut butter which they will continue to sell at the market. All of the children will be able to attend school with the money generated from these sales.

Although it's been seven months since the earthquake hit Port-Au-Prince, the extreme poverty that dictates the lives of 80% of the country continues, and the truth is, without addressing Haiti's chronic hunger and malnutrition, Haitians will continue to be vulnerable to the next earthquake, flood, or famine.

CTI is partnering with organizations in Haiti to identify communities and families that can use simple, post harvest technologies to produce more nutritious food and generate incomes. CTI needs help from supporters like you who are willing to step in when relief falls short. Donate now to contribute to CTI's efforts toward sustainable development in Haiti and around the world.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

CTI in Kenya

By Kathleen Graham, CTI Volunteer, Kenya

Beneath enormous African skies the rolling mountainsides of far Western Kenya are lush green with the spring rains. Farmers anxiously watch the crops they planted in February - will the rain be enough, erasing droughts of recent years; or too much, drowning the beautifully emerging fields of maize, soya beans, sorghum, and ground nuts? Too soon to tell, but hope is everywhere.

ICRISAT driver Daniel Kisavi confidently guides our four-wheel drive over deeply rutted dirt roads often reduced to one lane, from our base at Homa Bay, on the swampy shores of Lake Victoria. So far this week I have visited five of the seven farmers’ groups who sent a participant to the Ewing training session in February, 2009. CTI, with support from the Graham Service Fund (thank you to my relatives and friends), co-sponsored this event, along with ICRISAT (thank you Richard Jones), KARI (Kenya Agricultural Research Institute) and the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture. Richard introduced me to KARI and the Ag Ministry, who recruited the participants.

At the two-day training each participant learned to disassemble, assemble, and clean the Ewing grinders. And we each took a turn processing local crops - g-nuts, sorghum, finger millet, cow peas and “green gram,” learning to adjust the burrs so the final product would be just the right texture for local taste. And each participant was tested – could s/he stand up and teach the teachers what s/he had learned?? All passed, some barely. Would they be able to convey a few key Ewing principles to their farmer members?

This week is the real test. How have the six grinders that were loaned to the participants’ groups been used? More than half way through the week, even if nothing else positive comes to light, this pilot project exactly fulfills the CTI mission. The farmers in these groups live on agricultural land 40, 50, even 70 kilometers off the tarmac. They carry water from rivers or bore holes every day for family use. They eat what they grow, and little else. Their homes lack electricity, plumbing, and other “modern conveniences.” Yet they tend neat enclosures of chickens and 
goats, hand hoe a few acres of crops, are well-organized; they take advantage of improved seed from ICRISAT distributed by KARI, and they have used the grinders well, to improve nutrition and to generate small amounts of income, which they share. 

Two groups, the Helima Widow’s Self-Help Group and St. Florence’s Self Help Group, share a grinder. All 42 members have been taught to use the grinder. They use it EVERY DAY!! Before the grinder was delivered in February, 2009, most sold their ground nuts whole. A few made nut paste using a mortar and pestle, spreading the mash on flat stones, to be worked with another stone. Now all members use the grinder to make paste from their nuts, an
d sell the paste at the local market, where they report there is very strong demand for the high quality product they produce. They also use the paste in what I can only describe as “designer ugee”, a porridge made from sorghum, grain amaranth, finger millet, and cassava, flavored with a little citrus juice and sugar. They have tried to market this nutritious porridge, but it is more expensive than the ugee commonly produced, and people do not understand the value of the new product. For the time being, they feed the new ugee to their families, and take orders from others who want it. Interestingly, it is people with a family member in hospital who have ordered the new ugee, as they feel it is the best food for the sick.

We were served a cake made from soya flour, grain amaranth and nut paste – before the grinder provided the opportunity to make these “custom flours” easily, these groups never baked a cake!! They are experimenting, using sorghum and finger millet to make “finger rolls.” The regional KARI manager who was accompanying me, Nasambu Okoko, was visibly excited by these developments. She had them repeat the ingredients of the cake and the ugee, several times, noting repeatedly herself how nutritious and how novel these products are in this area.

The grinder has been a catalyst for these two groups, “boosting” their horizon and stimulating further activity. Several farmers have increased their ground nut plantings this season, spurred by the knowledge they can add value to the nuts before they go to market, and the profit will stay in their pockets.

Perhaps by the standards of entrepreneurship in the developed world the few extra dollars each farmer in these groups earns this year is paltry, but where we sit in Nyototo township the pride and excitement they share as we munch a newly baked cake is priceless.

It is late, and we are scheduled to leave for another group in the morning, although the ongoing downpour tonight might delay us, as we wait for the sun to dry the roads from slippery mud to navigable dirt. More later.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

San Salvador AgroExpo Day 4

By LeAnn Taylor, CTI Volunteer, El Salvador

It will be my 4th day at the AgroExpo today and I have made some very important contacts. There are currently 5 very interested people who want to both make and sell the grinders here, and two more who just want to manufacture them. I plan to visit at least three workshops tomorrow. One vendor had the idea of modifying the in-country burrs so they could be used on our bodies. Then the users could have our burrs for their dry goods and the local ones for making corn masa. It's a great idea because the local taste does not like the texture that our burrs make for masa and yet it's the most common food they grind here.

Another thing that has been very fun is: we have invited the skeptical inquirers to bring their product in for a test. As a result, we have had three people bring corn, hibiscis, and lemon grass. Of course, the grinder performed perfectly making both course pieces for tea and fine for products like soap. I think we'll have two sales from those. The spices smelled wonderful and the hibiscis turned everything on the grinder pink.

The Salvadorans are wonderfully warm and friendly and also very entrepreneurial. They really love the new business idea when they see it. I am feeling very optimistic about this project.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Arrival in San Salvador

Last year, CTI was contacted by CENTA (Center for Agrarian and Forest Technology), an arm of El Salvador’s Department of Agriculture, to help the organization promote the grinding of sorghum. Sorghum is a nutritious grain that grows in El Salvador in contrast with wheat, which is much more expensive, less nutritious, and has to be imported. There is a big demand for grinders in El Salvador to grind corn, wheat, and sorghum into flour, and although there are other grinders available in El Salvador, CTI’s devices are much better in quality and are even less expensive.

I traveled to El Salvador last summer to explore how CTI can help with sorghum grinding. I brought a wood grinder model, a new option that was developed by CTI so that manufacturers in El Salvador would be able to make the grinder body themselves, a lower-cost alternative. The response from locals was very enthusiastic. Many people wanted CTI’s grinders, but unfortunately, without an in-country distributor to supply and market the grinders, CTI’s equipment could only be exposed to a small number of people, and grinders would only be available by shipping them from our headquarters in Saint Paul, an expensive and slow process.

I am now returning to El Salvador to increase CTI’s visibility in the agricultural community and to look for a local distributor. I'm just getting in after a 10 hour day demonstrating CTI grinders at an AgroExpo in San Salvador, El Salvador. You can't believe how many people there are coming through that place; they say it's 100,000 per day. The Expo is is just like the Minnesota State Fair - a large campus with several buildings, animal corrals, and horses going through the crowd.

I made some good connections today and I think I've already sold the extra grinder I brought with me for demonstration. There was much interest in the wooden grinder, more than I would have expected, and I met at least 3 people who were sincerely interested in becoming vendors, maybe even manufacturers.

Vilma, my contact with CENTA, tells me that her organization will begin expanding its sorghum promotion into Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua within two months and she has the support of all of CENTA, even the Agriculture Minister, so that is looking very positive as well.

On Tuesday, I hope to visit a women's cooperative that wants a grinder, so it looks like I'll get into the field after all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Port Au Prince, Haiti - February 22, 2010

This is my first night in Port Au Prince, where the devastation for my reason coming occurred. But the longer I am here the more I realize that—earthquake or not—there’s been a desperate need for CTI and other NGOs like us all along. I have been doing most of my work over the past few days in the rural farming areas outside of the devastation where small technologies that save time and valuable crops have always been needed. Now with the influx to the regions of refugees from Port Au Prince they are all the more needed.

I have been working with an NGO that has been on the ground here in Haiti for years and thus knows the issues better than myself, Trees for the Future (www.plant-trees.org). They have connections with small communities through the rural mountain surrounding Port au Prince, that are planting trees in the hopes of restoring some of the soil that has been lost due to deforestation over the last 200 years. Along with planting trees for better soil, come needs to maintain more of the harvest to further pull themselves out of poverty.

I met with over 50 leaders of these communities over the last few days who all shared similar stories; they had walked long distances to pay someone to grind their maize, sorghum, millet or groundnuts and much of their harvest was lost in the process. If they did not have to travel, they would save food, time, and money. All of them expressed both hopes and doubts about me returning. Hope that I would bring the technologies that I said that we had, and doubt because so many NGOs have promised such things in the past.

They all expressed the same concerns about the current influx of aid into Haiti; that while immediate assistance is incredibly important to alleviate pain and suffering, there was no one coming to them to talk about ways to ensure a good harvest in three months. I think that we at CTI are in the right place and the right time. I hope that we can find partners in Haiti and other places to help us continue our work here.

A quick note, while the blog has been sporadic because of internet issues here the tweets have not. They do not offer the same in depth stories as the blog, but a constant reminder about CTI’s work. Please check them often and the CTI website for more.

Sam Usem
CTI Americas Committee Vice Chair

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Limonade, Haiti - February 15, 2010

By Sam Usem, CTI Volunteer, Haiti

It has been a few days that I have been here now. My first couple of days were spent ensuring the Meds & Food For Kids (mfkhaiti.org) had all of the support of CTI that they needed. Since then I have been establishing CTI within the existing NGO community, attending UN cluster and logistics meetings, and setting up sites to visit.

I have learned one thing for certain thus far. No matter what you have planned for you day in Haiti, it will change ten times over before it even begins. I have spent the last two days with Gabrielle, the country director of Sonje Ayiti (www.sonjeayiti.com) a non-profit based in Cap-Haitian that does everything from micro-financing and farming projects to immediate food aid and coordinating medical teams. On Monday I got to know the organization better and helped to ferry around medical teams while visiting different small subsistence farms along the drive. With limited resources at the moment one jumps at any chance they can for a free ride.

Today I spent the morning with the RAVAFAL women’s group in Limonade, about 8km east of Cap-Haitian. The co-op group has been making small chocolates for hot cocoa to sell in Haiti and is trying to begin an export business. When they hear through the grapevine about our grinders, it seemed to be a perfect fit. The Ewing III grinder has never been used for cocoa beans before, but the only way to know is to try. With about 15 women from the group in attendance we covered the maintenance on the grinder and then got right to work.

The grinder worked like magic, and before I knew it, the group had ground 10 kilos of cocoa beans. In the recipe includes nutmeg and cinnamon before they put the chocolate into a mold, freeze, and then into package it. The long term plans are to build a small factory based on CTI grinders and sell the hard cocoa candies to make hot chocolate in Haiti and the U.S.

After meeting with the co-op, I traveled to a few of the farming sites that Sonje Ayiti has in the community to see if other CTI technologies could be of use. They have over 60 acres that are owned by a co-op, and while at the moment they are only growing vegetables, grain is coming in the future and thus a place for CTI devices.
After returning to Cap-Haitian I visited the Meds & Food for Kids factory and helped load 1,000 kilos of Medika Mamba into the Sonje Ayiti truck to be taken to malnourished children in Leogane, an area just outside of Port Au Prince that hit hard by the quake.

In Haiti at the moment, most people are living second-by-second approaching each issue as they come up. While it is important to address these it is all the more important that we do not forget about the next couple of months. It is good to know that the day can start by building long term solutions and end by sending aid to where it is needed most. The rain has started and so I am off to my room, before another day of begins with the sun and changes as quickly as it moves.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Arrival in Cap Hatien - February 12, 2010

BY, Samuel Usem, CTI Volunteer, Haiti

For a while now I have thought of myself as somewhat of a seasoned traveler. Coming to expect that through the doors of each new international terminal the shock of the reality in front of me will be become less and less astounding. At some point in my life I began to see poverty through this lens as well. I have been asked for ‘one dollar’ by men without limbs, children without clothes and mothers with babes in their arms but each time they were alone. For some reason it seemed understandable in a way that an individual could be poor. Today however my conscience did not have this luxury.

It began with a multitude of young men who all jump at the chance to push your baggage through the door, young women who shove each other out of the way to graciously open the door for you and children that clamor over one another offering to pull your bags. I refuse each one, knowing I can’t possibly hand out charity to all whom expect it for such deeds, and try my best to hang onto my bags. I make it within 5 feet of the car but soon the mass of hands overwhelms me and they begin to pick up my bags to put them the truck with the hope that I will give them money not because I said I will but because now all they have is hope. Behind the throng of able bodied locals are those that do not have the energy to push and shove. They stare forward with glossy eyes that seem to wonder; if begging is too hard then what is left in a country that seems to offer little more at the moment. This is the poverty that immediately slaps you in the face as quickly as your eyes can take it in; forcing you to confront the reality of a humanity that includes this.

Only a couple of a hundred kilometers to the south, in Port Au Prince, is carnage that is beyond imaginable. The image of pancaked buildings with limbs stuck between the layers has been seared into all of our minds. We hear tales of bodies upon bodies that makes up a collection of faces with no names and cannot begin to imagine the reason for this horror. Yet we can take some solace in the fact that we did not create this earthquake. Earthquakes, tsunamis and the like occur on this tiny planet of ours by no fault of our own and we do our best to help in the immediacy after their occurrence. But Haiti’s other woes, those that existed before the quake, require us to recognize our shared humanity and our conscientiousness to aiding our fellow man.

I have to come to Haiti as a CTI volunteer to take partial responsibility of that fact. To help lay the groundwork of a future Haiti where its people do not have to look upon begging as a skill. This future can only be realized if we begin to understand that some aid must have an end goal. In Port au Prince there is a place for disaster relief and immediate medical and food aid, but here in the north it is important that we not forget that lasting sustainable aid is crucial to Haiti’s future. We cannot let the immediacy of this outpouring of aid go without shedding a light on the sustainable and lasting development that must happen if aid organizations are to ever leave this country.

Over the next two weeks I will work at building on existing relationships and creating new ones with those organization and individuals that share CTI’s vision of a world in which everyone has access to food and water, the basic building blocks of not only our economy but our humanity. The real work, as it always seems to, begins tomorrow.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

CTI Responds to Crisis in Haiti

“I‘ll take that grinder with me to Haiti tomorrow,” Janeil Owen, Executive Director of NW Haiti Christian Mission, told Nancy Wagner, Development Associate at CTI, on January 22, just 10 days after the devastating earthquake.  Nancy and the grinder were in Ft. Lauderdale introducing CTI to a group of 50 nonprofit organizations who are recipients of the food packets produced by Feed My Starving Children (FMSC).  Owen told Nancy that he had hungry kids to feed but their FMSC food was in Port au Prince and would not make it to his mission in the far NW corner of HaitiThe mission did, however, have on hand bags upon bags of corn but no way to grind it.  Needless to say, the CTI grinder went to NW Haiti the next day and was put to work immediately. 

CTI is not a “relief organization” in the normal sense, but the situation in Haiti has created a need for unique strategies to enable close to 3 million people throughout Haiti to be fed now and in the months and years to come.  Our Omega VI grinders are running at Meds & Food for Kids in Cap Haitien (northern Haiti) in order to produce large quantities of Medika Mamba, a peanut butter based ready-to-use therapeutic food, providing emergency nutrition for children and pregnant women.  A request just came in from another group that works in northern Haiti-they would like a grinder to process millet.  Another group said they could use several grinders to help feed the kids they serve.

Clearly, our post harvest technologies can make a difference in Haiti.  We would like to be able to offer grinders to any nonprofit organization in Haiti that could use them.  The immediate need is great and the long term need will be greater still.  In Port au Prince, government and aid officials are reporting a reverse migration of close to 500,000 people from the city to rural communities and outlying cities.  CTI can play a vital role in healing Haiti as we can deliver the technologies necessary to provide ongoing support as a sustainable solutions provider.

CTI has sent volunteer Sam Usem to Haiti to provide grinders and training to relief organizations and to reach out to organizations that may have a need for manually operated food processing equipment.

If you would like to make a donation toward this effort, please read the special message on our website, or call the office at 651-632-3912.