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.