Monday, November 28, 2011

In search of rice in Vietnam

By Steve Laible, CTI Volunteer, Vietnam

As part of our project work with CTI, we have been involved with the development of a device that uses rice hulls as a "feedstock" and converts the rice hulls into a cooking fuel. The rice hull makes up about 20% by weight of the rice kernel. The goal of our current work in Vietnam is to gain an understanding of where rice milling is taking place so we know where rice hulls are available in great abundance. If conditions and supply are appropriate, there may be an opportunity to introduce a rice hull production device into the area.
CTI Volunteers Steve and Nancy Laible in rice growing area of Vietnam
After visiting a rice farm, we travel a few miles to a local rice mill. Because we are between harvest seasons, the mill is not active. There is a "watchman" (actually a watch woman) on duty in the small office. Our guide, Dai Tran, strikes up a conversation with her and we are able to ask a few questions. As the mill lady warms to our presence, she offers to give us a tour of the rice mill. It is clear that the equipment in the mill is very old, but functional. This particular mill serves a local market. Thus, much of the rice is sold in the area after processing.

A portion of the rice hull by-product is used as fuel in large cook stoves where the function is to maintain a hot fire for long periods of time. The stoves used to burn bulk rice hulls are very similar to the "cook stoves" used in the USA some 80 to100 years ago when it was common to burn corn cobs in farming areas. The cook stoves are able to use the energy value of some of the rice hulls, but the large stoves and the bulk fuel is not practical for home use. We have gained useful information from this visit. We say farewell to our hostess and continue or quest for a more modern mill and more information about using rice hulls as fuel.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Let it be

By Andrea Brovold, CTI Program Manager, Senegal

When I summitted Kilimanjaro on October 12th, I cried. And last night, as we drove through the fields of West Africa, I cried. I did not cry because of what I saw, but rather, what I had not felt until last night. It's funny how something can trigger your every emotion, and last night the Beatles resonated. "There is still a light that shines...There will be an answer, let it be"

The answer came in the form of a call from our host in Senegal. Because of the visibility that we have gained demonstrating CTI's prototype grain processing tools, we have been asked to double the amount of villages we visit each day that we are here.

Last night, as I gazed out the car window of the passing fields, and saw the women and girls still pounding traditionally in their mortars and pestles to process that evening's meals, I thought, I cannot simply wait, watch and "Let it be."

Compatible Technology International (CTI) creates simple and practical hand-operated post-harvest processing tools for developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. It is unconscionable to me that women like Coumba and her 14 year old daughter must wake at 4:30am to work in the fields, and still be there at 6:00pm, when we are pulling away at night. After working into the evening, Coumbia and her daughter then have to walk kilometers home to begin cooking the night's meal. This is her life, all day, everyday for the rest of her life.

"There will be an answer..." That answer is CTI, when the large processing machines don't show up in the villages for months, when 80% of those in West Africa will only have enough food for 5 months and then have to resort to purchasing pearl millet at a high cost. With CTI's new grain processing equipment, women like Coumbia and her daughter can significantly reduce their post-harvest waste, and can process their crops in a fraction of the time--putting more food on the table, and giving mothers the opportunity to send their kids and start businesses.

If I can ask you to do one thing this holiday season, it is to help us diffuse these technologies and spread the word of the important work CTI is doing. This Thanksgiving, while you are around the dinner table surrounded by family and friends, with excess and abundance, think about Coumba, about Fatou, about Ramadou; this dawn-til dusk ritual does not have to be, WE don't have to "Let it be." 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Peanut Harvesting: Powered by Oxen!

By Tiffanie Stone, CTI Intern

Rural farmers in Africa probably don’t have access to a tractor of any kind. However, they might have access to oxen. Sometimes farmers own them individually and other times a pair is shared by the whole village.

We were able to test accessible peanut harvesting technologies using oxen thanks to Oliver Kelley farm, a historical landmark. They provided the pair of oxen and three different plows to test. We did this so that the engineers from CTI could get an idea about the most useful design for peanut harvesting. These simple plows were used to cut the tap root and tip the peanut plant so the peanuts were sticking up. None of the plows worked perfectly but there was one that was clearly better than the other two. This is a good starting point for the engineers to work from. By tweaking the design here, the plow will be more suited for peanut digging in Africa. While there, other factors will need to be addressed such as the different soil types and the moisture of both the plants and the peanuts themselves. 

It was very exciting to be able to plow using a team of oxen. I do not recall ever seeing oxen before so seeing them respond to signals and being able to lead animals that large was very fun. The next day pictures appeared in the Pioneer Press.

Aside from oxen pulled technology CTI engineers are also working on a hand held prototype for farmers that do not have access to oxen. Currently, two prototypes have been tested and adjusted. The most important part about peanut harvesting is getting the tap root cut. After that the peanuts which all lie directly under that plant will come up pretty easily.

The weather is getting colder as this growing season is coming to a close. So far five bags of finger millet have been harvested. This is done by hand because most of the finger millet remained sterile. We will continue to harvest this until the killing frost. There is a bumper crop of amaranth. So far about 200 heads are being stored in the University of Minnesota seed house. I hope to increase this to 300 by next weekend.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Michigan Tech & CTI Collaborate on Ag-Waste Fuel Program

CTI volunteers Nancy and Steve Laible recently met with the student design team and faculty advisors at Michigan Technological University. The design team is working on improvements to the rice hull cooking fuel production device. The team is making great progress and expects to have a working model completed by the first week of December, 2011. The plan is to seek support for implementation for field testing of the improved device in Bangladesh and possible installation at prospective sites in Vietnam and Tanzania.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Crops of Africa Attracts More Than Just Media Attention

By Tiffanie Stone, CTI Intern

This has been a very exciting week for everyone at CTI. We were on the front page of the Star Tribune which included a picture of Tom and me harvesting tef by hand. We were not sure if the tef was ready to harvest until we got the go ahead from a friend of Paul Porter who has had experience with tef. The one clue we had that it might be ready was the fact that the birds had found it and began pecking away. As soon as we got the go ahead we began to harvest. At first by hand but also with a small machine (a grain binder that cuts plants and ties them into small bundles) that Dr. Vern Cardwell was kind enough to bring and operate for us. However, hand harvesting ended up being the quickest, cleanest and most effective way to harvest. The tef was too lodged and biomass was too wet to make mechanical harvest effective.

Dr. Cardwell brought his honors freshman seminar titled “By the Harvest You Shall Live” in to help harvest tef. Small groups of students harvested 100 square feet putting the plant into bundles. The students then threshed and winnowed about a fourth of the grain in order gain perspective on the amount of seed they truly harvested.

The experience was a great one for everyone involved. It will be a couple weeks before we start harvesting the rest of the crops. I will be sure to let everyone know when we pick the dates because when you’re harvesting by hand, the more the merrier.

Birds and an early frost are the biggest concerns at the moment. All the crops except the Malawian variety of finger millet are filling seeds but we will need a moderate fall in order to insure the plants make it to maturity before the frost. 

Pearl Millet growing at CTI's Lost Crops of Africa Plot
A more immediate pressing issue is that of birds. There are hundreds, and I really mean hundreds of sparrows enjoying our African grains every single day. They especially love the pearl millet and the sorghum but we have seen them in every crop except for the peanuts and the finger millet. We have covered many areas of the plants with netting. Even with the netting the birds can still manage to get under it in order to eat the filling grain. We are trying to let the netting hang quite low in order to keep the birds out. Even so, they can peck through the top of the nets which means a small amount of damage will be done instead of the usual decimation which would occur if the nets were not there. Several weeks ago we set up a noise maker that sounds like a predator and a bird in distress. This kept the birds away for a total of zero days. 

They are fearless and we have begun to call the noise maker their entertainment. I find birds perching on sorghum right above it almost every time I visit the field.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Visit to Cargill School in Vietnam

By Steve Laible, Volunteer Project Leader, Vietnam

My first night at the Thuan Thien Hotel is a bit restless. The 12 hour time change and the long plane ride has managed to mess up my "sleep clock". I wake up about an hour before my scheduled wake up call. I enjoy soup with noodles as part of the breakfast. Since my body clock is on dinner time, the fact that I'm eating a full meal with soup, fried rice, steamed vegetables and sweet bananas seems perfectly appropriate.

The car and my guide for the day meet me on time at 8:00 AM. The two hour car ride to Ben Tre province is different than I expected. The roads are modern and the traffic has a degree of sanity to it. The motor bikes are numerous and act like small flocks of birds darting everywhere. There are not many traffic control signs, but there is an interesting form of self regulation. The motor bikes bunch up at intersections when they lack an opening. When a break in the traffic flow occurs, the motor bikes scoot across the intersection forming a moving fence that halts the other direction of traffic. When a space occurs in the moving direction, the new bunch of waiting motor bikes takes over. The resulting traffic flow creates waves of bikes with gaps in between moving in perpendicular directions. The main road to Ben Tre takes us over a very beautiful bridge across a main channel of the Mekong River and into the delta region.

Our destination is a school project that has been sponsored by Minnesota-based Cargill Corporation. The "Cargill Cares" project has been operating for a number of years in Vietnam and about 45 school facilities have been built. We meet the cheerful school Director and tour a lovely facility with three large classrooms and an administration building. There are only a few children on hand as the school is on "rainy season" break. The school offers a half day program at this time of the year for the children who are able to participate or who need a "head start".

The government commitment to elementary education is impressive. Organized school starts at age three. Thus, parents are able to have public day care, play group and learning experiences for their children at an early age. There are 20 to 30 children registered in each of three classrooms with two teachers in each room. The school operating expenses are government funded making school a very affordable experience for all families.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Adventures at Customs

By Steve Laible, CTI Volunteer Project Leader, Vietnam

The international airport at Ho Chi Minh City is very modern and efficient. Most of the planes at the gateways are from Asian countries as Vietnam has become a significant trade partner in this part of the world. It is obvious that Vietnam is making a real effort at tourism as well as commercial trade. I ask the flight attendant for the immigration form and customs declaration form that is standard procedure in most countries. The flight attendant responds with a surprised look and says, "oh, we don't use the forms any longer - just your passport". I think to myself, "how efficient and streamlined". I would change my mind, however, within the next 30 minutes.

The immigration center is large, clean and well lit. There are six staffed immigration booths waiting to check through the 20 passengers. The wait time is about 3 minutes. The friendly official takes my passport, quickly finds the entry visa and scans the document. A quick stamp, stamp and I'm through. Now, will the baggage claim be as efficient? By the time I find the correct carousel and get a luggage cart I see the first of my two bags. This is going to be easy, I think. WRONG! I gather my second bag and get in line to have my bags scanned. As I see my bag with the two Ewing IV grinders emerge through the other side of the scanner, the belt stops. The scanner attendant gets out of his chair and I'm starting to lose my confidence. Then the attendant says the dreaded words - "Please open". He looks at the open boxes of grinders and parts in amazement. He then looks at me with equal amazement. "Do you have any documents?” he asks.

I give him my copy of the “Bert Rivers standard letter” asking the nice custom officials to please allow import of the equipment for charitable purposes at no import duty. He asks me to "wait" as he walks to another station. He returns and informs me that I must speak with another person.

Then the real questions start. What is this? I think for a moment about getting George Ewing out of bed at 1:00 AM Minneapolis time so George can explain the history and function of the grinder he designed. I think better of this plan. I try my best to explain a Ewing grinder to a man whose English is only slightly better than my non-existent Vietnamese. I struggle through more questions.

Where is this going? Are you leaving it here? Are you starting a business? Are you a teacher? Are you working here? I see pitfalls to any and all of the questions. Finally, he declares that he must keep the equipment and it will be sent to another office. He will provide the address and I can return the next day and pay any import duty. So much for the efficient streamlined process.
I tell the man that the situation presents many hardships for me. I do not have transportation, I don't know my way around the city and I am on a schedule to leave the city. I also tell him about our plans to help the children of farmers and improve life for the poor in Vietnam. At some point in my pleading the tide turns and there is a ray of hope. He says, "Maybe I can help you. Maybe you can pay the duty here and then you can leave with the equipment." It's late at night and I am sleep deprived, but I think I know the answer when he concludes his new plan with the final question, "Do you understand?" Then it's my turn for a question: "Do I get to decide the amount of the import duty?" I ask. He shrugs his shoulders and turns to one of the other officers to give me a moment to think. I quickly decide that a 5% import duty seems fair and a $20 bill finds its way into an envelope that I leave on the desk. I quickly return to my bags and walk to the exit door before a full audit is completed. I don't look back, but feel very certain that the self-imposed import duty will find its way into the official records of the customs office. Ya, right!

My frustration quickly turns to joy as I emerge into the general waiting area and spot a young man holding a sign with "Mr. Laible" spelled correctly. The ride into town is pleasant and the check-in at the hotel is simple. I hand the clerk my passport, which he keeps, and he hands me a key. Once again, no paperwork. I take a quick shower in cold water and hop into a clean bed at a modest 3:00 AM local time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Volunteer Departs for Vietnam

By Steve Laible, CTI Volunteer Project Leader, Vietnam

An eleven hour plane ride provides ample time for reflection and I have been reflecting on my experiences as a volunteer with Compatible Technology International (CTI). I became a volunteer for CTI in 2005 when I helped Don Moran establish a CTI presence in Bangladesh. CTI has been providing innovative post-harvest processing solutions for 30 years. The processing tools and initiatives related to clean water have enabled hundreds of volunteers to help thousands of people living in poverty in all parts of the world. Most of the benefits relate to food security, nutrition and healthier lives. CTI is a relatively small non profit organization based in Saint Paul, Minnesota that has made a large impact in several developing countries.

Today, I am flying to Vietnam as part of an initiative to help Vietnamese cocoa farmers who work and live in the southern regions of Vietnam. My plane ride from Minneapolis to Tokyo was uneventful (and that's a good thing). I was able to navigate the bus ride from terminal 1 to terminal 2 for my next flight on Vietnam Airlines. As I step aboard a very new and very pristine Airbus, I'm struck by the irony of transporting a basic hand operated grinder on such a sleek high technology flying machine. The Airbus has a capacity of over 200 passengers, but today there are only about 20 of us on the plane. The light passenger load is probably a bad thing for the emerging tourism industry in Vietnam, but for me it means lots of space and a row to myself. During the six hour flight from Tokyo I am able to get a couple of hours of decent sleep. I arrive safely in Ho Chi Minh City.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Triggering Finger Millet to Flower

By Tiffanie Stone, CTI Intern

Now that summer is coming to a close weeding has become less of a priority. Most of the crops are already setting seed. However, there is still one plant that has not even begun to flower. Finger millet has been at about the same height and state for quite a few weeks now. For a while Tom Frantz and I thought that the plants had begun to flower. What we were seeing turned out to be none other than our good friend barnyard grass. Barnyard grass and assorted other weeds grew within the rows and within the bunches of plants themselves. In our plot we are growing two varieties of finger millet. One variety was brought back from Malawi with Steve Clarke. The other variety was from Dr. P.V.V. Prasad who grew it at Kansas State. After we realized that none of the finger millet had begun to flower we were briefly puzzled until we remembered something that came up many months before. 

Whilst planning for this project we read that a few of the plants may have photoperiod sensitivity. This means that if the plant is exposed to too much light it will not begin to flower. Steve Clarke went back to the Lost Crops of Africa book which confirmed that finger millet is a short-day plant with 12-hours being the optimum amount of sun exposure for most varieties. We decided to start our trial immediately. We figured that we may be able to trigger the finger millet flowering in 7 to 10 days. Paul Porter had access to a large tarp and Dick Wenkel found 6 large tubs that were not being used right on campus. Tom Frantz and I with assistance from Bert Rivers, Steve Clarke and Paul Porter have been setting up the coverings for the plants at 8 pm. We have been uncovering them by 8:30 am. This insures the plants get the full 12 hours of darkness. We started the trial on the night of Thursday the 11th. We have seen a few plants of the Kansas variety begin to flower thus far. We continued to cover the same section for the full 10 day trial. On Monday the 22nd we moved the tarp and will try to trigger flowering on another section of plants.

I would like to say a special thank you to Tom Frantz who has been a huge help with this project from the moment he heard about it. He a new volunteer at CTI and has put in countless hours weeding. He has been instrumental in this trial. This whole project has been a learning experience. Thus far, the project has been going well but we will continue to improve our methods for even more success next year.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lost Crops of Africa: African Crops (and Weeds) Thriving

Groundnuts (peanuts) growing at the CTI/UMN plot
By Tiffanie Stone, CTI Intern

verything is growing and thriving, including the weed population. From day one, we knew that weeds would be the biggest obstacle to overcome with this project. Most of the crops were planted in 30 inch rows which can be cultivated. The only weeds we need to worry about with these are within the rows, thanks to Dick Winkel and his cultivator. Watching Dick handle this one- row cultivator is like watching a master at work.

The teff varieties and the amaranth were planted in 6 inch rows which makes it impossible to cultivate and difficult to hand weed. To help control the weeds we used herbicides. We sprayed Select on the amaranth two weeks ago which killed all the grass weeds. It took several days for Select to kick in, but it kicked all the grasses effectively. Now the biggest problems are the many off types and red root pigweeds that need to be pulled by hand. This week we sprayed the teff with a broad leaf herbicide called Arctic 3.2. It worked like a charm; the effects could be seen the very next day. Hopefully, they will kill the broad leaf weeds completely. Grasses, especially barn yard grass still needs to be pulled out from the teff, but the herbicide was a huge help.

Due to the warm weather we had quite a leaf hopper population in the groundnuts (peanuts). Leaf hoppers are partial to legumes, so only the groundnuts were infested. They were just starting to show signs of distress. Thankfully, we were able to diagnose and spray with an insecticide to take care of the problem. The peanuts may need to be sprayed every two weeks. We will spray on at an as needed basis.

Having the support of the many great people at the U of M and at CTI has been invaluable. I don’t believe in magic elves, so I know some of you are weeding when I am not here. I see the evidences all the time. You are all making this project possible. I want to end with a big thank you to all who have contributed to the project in any way, shape or form. I so appreciate it!

Friday, July 8, 2011

CTI Technology at Work - Dodoma, Tanzania

Mrs. Grace Daudi, head of the Mpito Women's Group
in Dodoma, Tanzania. Grace recently acquired a CTI grinder,
which her group uses to produce peanut butter for their business.
“Mrs. Grace Daudi is doing well with her Ewing 4 grinder and she has managed to increase her peanut butter production. Mrs. Daudi said that in less than an hour she can process 10 kilograms of groundnuts into peanut butter.”  - Elias, CTI's technician in Tanzania

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rescuing the Lost Crops of Africa

For the second time in just three years, we are facing a global food crisis as a result of rapidly rising food prices. In developing countries, where individuals often spend half of their income on food, record high food prices have pushed 44 million people into extreme poverty and hunger since June of 2010. As the world’s population grows, spikes in food prices are expected to continue, and important safety nets such as emergency food aid will not be able to keep up.

CTI is committed to creating inventive, sustainable solutions to address these challenges. 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.

In our Saint Paul workshop, CTI’s engineers have developed a prototype grain processing system that significantly reduces post-harvest losses, essentially doubling the amount of pearl millet grain farmers can produce. Though we are thrilled with the results, gaining access to pearl millet grain for testing prototypes has been a challenge. Pearl millet may feed 500 million people in Africa and Asia, but you won’t find freshly harvested pearl millet to test in Minnesota. While some grain stocks have been made available from generous donors such as USDA in Georgia, without ready access to pearl millet and other African crops, CTI’s engineers often have to send even initial prototypes oversees for testing during harvest seasons — a costly, slow process and a barrier to innovation.

The Lost Crops of Africa project is a collaboration between CTI and the University of Minnesota (UMN) to grow seven African crops on one acre of land at UMN’s Saint Paul campus. With assistance from Professor Paul Porter and student assistant Tiffanie Stone, CTI will grow tef, finger millet, sorghum, fonio, pearl millet, grain amaranth, and groundnuts for processing. Although these crops are often unheard of by those living in more developed countries, they are commonly grown in different parts of Africa, where millions of people depend on them for their daily sustenance.

CTI will use the harvested African crops to develop and test post-harvest farming devices and tools for subsistence farmers. Growing the crops so close to home will allow our engineers to more easily refine new equipment to suit a particular crop. This way, when CTI brings new prototypes to Africa, we can minimize last minute “surprises” and reduce the time needed to reach user-acceptable solutions. Ultimately, this means CTI will be able to deliver more appropriate technologies faster and at a lower cost to our donors and our end-users.

In addition to the one acre plot of land, UMN has generously provided a student assistant to help oversee the Lost Crops of Africa program. Tiffanie Stone is studying Applied Plant Science and International Agriculture at UMN. Tiffanie will be contributing to CTI’s blog, where she’ll write updates on the challenges and triumphs that are thrown our way.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

International Day of the African Child

By Andrea Brovold, CTI Program Manager

Today is International Day of the African Child, a day commemorated every year on June 16, when in 1991 thousands of South African children marched and hundreds died in Soweto demanding the right to be taught in their own language. This year, on the 20th anniversary of that tragedy, the African Union is calling attention to the 30 million “street children” who live across the continent.

Westerners who have traveled to developing countries have probably encountered child beggars on the streets. "Street Kids" are plentiful in Senegal and Mali, around every corner you turn. These children end up on the streets because they were never given a chance for a childhood or an education. Some street kids are recruited by terrorist organizations; they are required to bring back 50 CFA daily, and if they don't bring back their daily allotment, they are beaten.

Since returning from West Africa this past winter, these are the beautiful faces both haunt me and push me to do the work we do at Compatible Technology International. Though many of Africa’s children are born into poverty, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have every opportunity to flourish.

While providing grinder training in Senegal last November, I met Roykia, a bright eyed energetic 11 year old girl. Though many of the other villagers were hesitant to use what must have looked like an odd, foreign machine, Roykia jumped right in and instructed the others, “We want finer flour, tighten the wing nut!” The grinder in that village is now used daily, allowing women to easily produce fine flour and peanut paste. The women are able to grind in 5 minutes what would have taken them traditionally in a mortar and pestle 45 minutes. Roykia’s community now have the opportunity to spend their free time and extra income pursuing educations or starting businesses—all because of the initiative of an 11 year old girl. I look forward to returning to her community on behalf of NCBA/USAID again this winter to continue our efforts in West Africa.

When you think of African children, it would be easy to conjure images of desperate, malnourished children with swollen bellies—the images we’ve all seen on television. But on this day, I will remember the beautiful, strong, determined children who should be proud to be Africa’s future.

Friday, June 10, 2011

CTI team in Haiti finds extensive E. coli contamination in water samples

By Sam Usem, CTI Volunteer, Haiti

Over the last three days here in Cap-Haitien we have been testing the “Water Aqualyser”, a prototype water treatment device that CTI volunteers from the University of St. Thomas have spent the last year creating. After finding positive results of E. coli in 10 of 15 samples of well water, we decided to test the worst cases using our device. The town of Cap-Haitien, located in North Haiti, is facing high E.coli contamination, making it an ideal location for conducting proof-of-concept tests. 

We gathered contaminated water into a 5 gallon bucket and added 5 grams of salt. The Water Aqualyser uses electrolyzed metal plates to convert the salt into chlorine, which kills bacteria and harmful pathogens commonly present in untreated drinking water water. Today, we tested 4 different plate set-ups and tomorrow we will test the salt concentration. The goal is identify a design which will be low cost and require minimal operation time. The samples that have been run through the Water Aqualyser prototype will go into an incubator and be analyzed by the team. Field testing has allowed the team to ask locals about the device and how they believe it may be received.

The CTI team uses pedal power to run the Water Aqualyser Prototype
One of the most important pieces of the project is to gain user feedback from Haitian communities. In the North of Haiti most people drink ground water accessed by hand pumps. The hand pumps are plentiful, and at first look the water appears clean, so the communities have no qualms drinking the water. Here it is evident that the Aqualyser unit will have to be retrofit to the pump itself. In other places in the world we will have to design the unit around local lifestyles on order to ensure that the technology is truly compatible.

Today, the team is testing a hand pump that is used within a school community in Limonade. Of all of the samples we took, this pump produced the most badly contaminated water. It contained the over 100 colonies of E. coli as well as over 100 colonies of other bacteria. The ground water around the pump was also highly contaminated. Small children were drinking this water not knowing what harmful bacteria they were putting into their bodies.

Throughout our time here, the team will continue to test sites that were highly contaminated and gain user feedback. Look back to the blog next and soon for a final report.

Monday, June 6, 2011

CTI tests Water Aqualyser prototype in Haiti

By Sam Usem, CTI Volunteer, Haiti

Over 1 billion people on the planet lack access to clean water. Furthermore, they lack access to the means to create clean water systems. CTI and senior engineering students at the University of St. Thomas have created a new prototype device that can hopefully purify 5 gallons of water in less than 20 minutes. The device, or "Water Aqualyser" as it is known, sends an electrical current through salted water, converting the salt into chlorine that kills bacteria. The device has worked in Minnesota flawlessly but now it is time for testing in the field.

CTI volunteers test well water for bacteria in Haiti
Two volunteers from CTI, Dr. Murali and Sam Usem, have accompanied 3 students from the University of St. Thomas to Cap-Haitian in the North of Haiti to test the Water Aqualyser in local communities. They are being helped by the Haitian nonprofit Sonje Ayiti and the Texas-based nonprofit Living Waters International to identify contaminated wells that are being used on a daily basis. The group arrived to Haiti on June 5th and is already hard at work testing and identifying contaminated wells that they can test the new equipment on.

The team has tested 24 well sites, and already found signs of that bacteria and E coli are present. In the next few days the team will start to test the Water Aqualyser equipment under different parameters to try to cut down the time needed to purify the water. The end goal is a system that costs less than $50 dollars and takes less than 20 minutes to purify 5 gallons of water. More importantly, we are trying to development technologies that are appropriate and thus will be used by the local populations, so the team has been taking extensive notes with the local population on what has and has not worked in the past. As the unit is tested they will have local Haitians try the unit out themselves and give user feedback.

Now that the wells have been found, testing of the equipment itself begins tomorrow, so check back soon for more updates from the field.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Maya Nuts in Managua

By Nancy Wagner, CTI Director of Development Programs

I learned something new and wonderful today at a gathering of Nicaraguan mission groups: there is a truly healthy “chocolate” in the world. It’s cleverly disguised as a Maya Nut or Ojoche and is extremely high in Fiber, Calcium, Potassium, Folate, Iron, Zinc, Protein and Vitamins A, E, C and B. A wonderful Nicaraguan woman roasted up some of these glorious nuts and then we ground them in the brand new Ewing IV grinder (coming in April!) and you would swear you were looking at and smelling the finest of cocoa powders. The Ewing IV did such a fabulous job on the nuts that the woman grinding grinned and said, “I want one of these!” Making maya nut powder to sell is a great microenterprise opportunity and CTI’s grinders will process the nuts quickly and efficiently. 

After the demonstration we were all served drinks made from the maya nut powder, milk and a little sugar and it was delightfully, healthfully delicious. I’m told the powder makes amazing chocolate flavored cookies as well as soups, cakes, breads and other tasty treats.

Homemade corn tortillas cooked on a highly efficient wood burning stove with a wide assortment of fillings was today’s lunch/feast. Nicaraguans are some of the warmest, kindest people I have ever met and their food is terrific. Great food, great company, great sustainable development work. Tomorrow we will visit two of Fabretto’s sites, looking forward to seeing the kids.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Readin’, Ritin’, ‘Rithmetic and Agriculture?

Young Ag Experts

By Nancy Wagner, CTI Director of Developing Programs

Managua, Nicaragua is a city of extremes. Extreme beauty, filth, luxury, poverty and humanity. A tent city filled with the poorest of the poor just down from a sparkling McDonald’s. Mercedes Benz’ and BMW’s at a stop light where a mother holding her beautiful toddler begs for a few coins. Men, women, teens, toddlers and the precious little ones, I try to see them all as we travel along the well maintained streets of Managua. No potholes (Minnesotans will appreciate this)! 

Yesterday we traveled up into the San Ysidro community where we shared the road with horses, cattle, people, people and more people and some really deep, long potholes…the shocks on our Toyota truck got a great workout and performed like champs. 

We were visiting the rural school run by the Fabretto Children’s Foundation and were absolutely blown away by the teens we met. The school is unlike any I’ve ever seen or heard of. These bright, poised, confident students stood in front of a group of soybean farmers from Illinois, Michigan and South Dakota along with folks from the National Soy Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, World Soy Foundation folks and my Feed My Starving Children travel mates, Hilary Autry and Matt Muraski and me and reported on the agricultural projects that they were running. From raising bees (African bees are best suited to this area, the eloquent 17 year old told us) to raising chickens and hogs (this project was run by a five foot nothing 15 year old girl who wants to go to medical school and my money’s on her!) to growing avocados, plantains and other local produce, these kids are getting an education that no one could put a price tag on. These are kids from very poor rural families who are embracing their education, their projects and their futures. They are not only learning valuable skills, they are providing food for the school and selling the excess.

Leo, Future Agronomist
Fabretto is looking at using CTI grinders to process locally grown maize (corn) combined with dried, ground moringa leaves (like a natural green multivitamin) to make highly nutritious tortillas. Add a side of frijoles (beans) and fresh fruit and they will have a “field to fork” school lunch. We’ll be grinding and cooking on Monday so check in here to find out how it went. 

At the end of our visit we asked the teens what they wanted to do after graduation. They all aspired to go on for more education but Leo got the biggest smiles and loudest applause from the farmers. What does he want to be? “An agronomist”. And no doubt that’s exactly what he will be. Leo already has his Bachelor’s degree in my book.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

By Sam Usem, CTI Volunteer, Haiti

It's hard to believe that over a week has passed since we
first arrived in Haiti. An important piece of the core of CTI is how much of our budget (more than 85%!) we devote towards projects which directly affect people. We are able to do this because of our network of partners around the world. Here in Haiti we've been meeting with current and potential partners every day--an essential part of expanding our network and ultimately the number of individuals that we are able to reach. 

In order for us to help our end users obtain our devices we have forged a working relationship with HOPE International, a group that builds micro-lending and savings/credit associations around the world. We met this week with Esperanza, a micro-credit group in the north of Haiti that is being counseled by HOPE. Our partner Sonje Ayiti is also providing micro-credit projects in a nearby area so it was great that CTI would facilitate a meeting between the two groups. We discussed similarities between projects and geographic areas of overlap so that the two institutions can more effective deliver financial opportunities. It is our goal that by establishing good micro-finance partners we will be able to provide more ways to get CTI equipment into the hands of the people that need it most.

From up here in Cap-Haitien we are about to travel west to meet with some very cool groups. Outside the Bowl is an organization that feeds thousands of people out of a super kitchen in Port de Paix. We hope to help them increase their food supply by purchasing crops from local farmers. After that we will be heading to the rural Northwest to meet with the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission (NWHCM). Over the last year NWHCM’s Neighbors Project has been placing CTI grinders with rural co-ops.

CTI’s devices can not only increase the available food supply by reducing waste, they can be excellent engines of small business growth as well. However, we recognize that for many of our end users, purchasing our equipment at full price in cash is out of reach. At the same time, many of our partner organizations recognize that they cannot provide relief assistance forever. It was with this in mind that we’ve spent the last year partnering with organizations in Haiti to inspire sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Growing Haiti's future one partnership at a time

By Sam Usem, CTI Volunteer, Haiti

Judging from the temperatures back in Minnesota we picked a great time to head down to Haiti. Of course the need for quality professional volunteers in the aid field in Haiti is never truly fulfilled, so our timing seems apt no matter the temperature. 

It has been a very busy few days for us in the area around Cap-Haitien. You probably wouldn't guess is it, but much of our work down here is spent going from meeting to meeting. It's not something that sounds very glamorous at first, but let me explain.

Volunteer Sam Usem meets with the RAFAVAL women's co-op in Limonade, Haiti
Our morning yesterday started with a meeting at the offices of USAID (United States Association for International Development). For the 13 months since the earthquake struck Port Au Prince there has been something called the HRI (Haiti Recovery Initiative). Much of the money that the U.S. Gov't donated at the time of the quake is still being handed out, and we along with some of our partners have applied for some of the funds to start projects that will get people back to work quickly.

It is with this backdrop that we spent 3 hours with Ragine, a development officer from USAID, to put together proposals for 4 different grants that all revolve around
Sonje Ayiti's agricultural activities. These activities range from cocoa processing using CTI’s Ewing Grinders to exporting sorghum flour--which will also utilize CTI equipment.

From there we headed out to the town of Limonade where Sonje Ayiti works to visit one of our most successful projects in Haiti. Sonje Ayiti has been supporting a women’s co-op called RAFAVAL that has over 400 members in and around the community. Immediately following the quake, CTI
donated two Ewing grinders to the co-op so that their cocoa factory could jump-start production. With the added income the women were able to pay for much needed food to support survivors of the quake staying with them.

A year later, the start-up business that CTI equipment enabled has provided close to full-time jobs for many of the women. They now boast of being able to send their children to school and being able to pay for it without the help of others. Simple things that many of us take for granted, like being able to pay for the funeral of a loved one, was out of reach for many members of the co-op before the cocoa project. With two Ewing grinders helping to make the co-op business idea a reality, they now have the credibility to apply for and receive a grant worth $100,000 from USAID. The funds will be put toward building a small factory, upgrading their current CTI equipment, and purchasing new equipment. Without the first donation of CTI equipment, this project wouldn't have happened.

We spent most of the afternoon talking with the RAFAVAL members about what has worked and what hasn't as their business moves along. Only by taking the time to listen to our end users can we further innovate and develop our technologies so that we may reach more people and reach them faster.

From there we headed back towards Cap-Haitian and met with
MFK, (Meds and Food for Kids), the partner we have been with the longest in Haiti. MFK is a St. Louis based NGO that works in the field of child malnutrition and produces Medika Mamba, or RUTF (Ready to Use Therapeutic Food), a peanut paste that is fed to malnourished children to bring them back to weight. Over the years CTI has helped to build the original equipment used in the RUTF factory, and as the years have gone on and MFK has grown, we have continued to consult on equipment scale-ups. Recently, CTI has provided MFK with customized equipment and consulting services, which has allowed them to dramatically increase the production of their life-saving peanut paste medicine.

Both of these projects in Haiti showcase one very important theme and that is the importance of staying with partners as they grow. CTI technologies can be implemented quickly but also allow for a great business idea to take root and grow.

Thanks for sticking with us as we work in Haiti. Each day we are meeting with more partners to develop projects that put CTI equipment into the hands of those that need it most.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Remember Haiti

Americas committee Vice chair Sam Usem and photography/marketing volunteer Craig Condon are in Haiti for the next two weeks. They are starting up in Cap-Haitien in the north meeting with multiple CTI partners for the week. During the second week they will be traveling west to St. Louis de Nord and then down to Port au Prince before heading back to snowy Minnesota. Along the way Sam will be focused on collecting information and expanding CTI's operations in the country and Craig will be shooting photo and video so that they can share CTI's success stories with all of our supporters. 

Greetings from Cap-Haitien in the north of Haiti. Craig and I arrived here on Sunday minus all of our luggage from states. Our checked bags were lost in the states and once we got to Haiti, the small puddle jumper that we took up to the north was too small to carry our carry ons (kind of ironic). But such is life. We figure that the worst of our luck is behind us and we are looking forward to a very fruitful trip.

We are staying with one of our partner organizations in the country, Sonje Ayiti which means “Remember Haiti” in creole. Sonje Ayiti works in and around Limonade on economic development projects that range from goat farming to horticultural farming and cocoa/fruit processing. Their projects touch all of the citizens in Limonade in some way either through creating jobs, providing goods to sell/buy in the community or through their micro-lending program which jump starts small business enterprise that both create jobs and food.

CTI is involved with two major projects through Sonje Ayiti. The first is consulting on future farm plans. CTI's extensive knowledge about which crops are both profitable financially and nutritionally has helped to guide Sonje Ayiti as it choose which direction to take its farm in. The other project is helping to build a cocoa factory that is owned by the RAFAVAL women’s co-op which is supported by Sonje Ayiti. Immediately following the earthquake, CTI donated two Ewing III grinders to the co-op which allowed them to instantly ramp up production. The new revenues paid for much needed supplies for all of the victims of the quake that had moved to Limonade from Port Au Prince.

Now it has been over a year and we are looking to move this from a start-up project to a full on business that will employing close to 50 people in Limonade and also purchases product from local farmers. Gabrielle Vincent and I are up late tonight working on a grant proposal to do just that, and we will be submitting the proposal to USAID officials in Haiti tomorrow. We also spent time this afternoon visiting with Mr. Moise Jean Charles, who is a Senator of the Northern District. Just like back home, things don't get done unless you know the right people and this is why we partner with organizations on the ground.

After meeting with USAID officials tomorrow morning we will visit the Sonje Ayiti farm and then interview members of the RAFAVAL women’s coop to see how the grinders have helped their households and the economy in Limonade. Stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Looking Back: Peanut Processing with CTI Grinders in Guyana

Thirty years ago, CTI was started by a group of missionaries, research engineers, and General Mills food scientists. Throughout our history, our goal has remained the same: to alleviate hunger and poverty in the developing world by designing and distributing simple, life-changing food and water technologies. 

As we look back over the years, we're reminded of how simple technology, creative solutions, and passionate volunteers can make a difference around the world.


In 2002, USAID awarded a grant to the Peanut Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP) project in Guyana. The goal of the project was to increase peanut production and increase income at the village level in Region 9 - 26,000 sq. miles known as the Rupununi. Peanut CRSP was immensely successful - by its third year of operation, peanut production in the Rupununi more than tripled. However, the increase in peanut production resulted in a "peanut market crash" and local Amerindian farmers were drowning in unsold peanuts. 

To address the peanut surplus, a Guyanese NGO and the Guyana Ministry of Education (MOE) implemented a school snack program in seven villages across the Rupununi in 2005. In each village, Amerindian women organized themselves and initiated processing activities in groups called "cottage industries." 

The cottage industries purchase raw materials (peanuts, cassava and fruit) from local farmers and use CTI Omega VI grinders to make peanut butter. They serve peanut butter/cassava bread sandwiches with a fruit drink to an average of 1,400 nursery and primary school students every day. The women in the cottage industries are paid for their work by the MOE. 

By using local products to create snacks consumed in local schools, this innovative project created a sustainable program that improved the lives of 200 farmers who now have better markets, created jobs for 50 women employed in the cottage industries, and improved the nutrition and learning capacity of 1,400 schoolchildren.

Recent Developments
In January 2010, the Guyana MOE signed an agreement with the Society for Sustainable Operational Strategies (SSOS) to expand the snack program to a total of 33 villages in the Rupununi, increasing the number of nursery and primary school students to 3,000. By December 2010, the program was active in 41 villages, surpassing its goal.

On January 6, 2011, the MOE and SSOS signed a new agreement to expand and consolidate this program to 47 villages with a target of 3,500 students.

CTI volunteers Hank Garwick and Dave Elton recently attended the annual Georgia Peanut Tour and during their visit, they interviewed Robert Kemerait - a University of Georgia professor involved with Peanut CRSP - about the school snack program.

Kemerait reported that the snack project has been "unbelievably successful. The children love the cassava bread sandwiches with peanut butter [and] the famers are getting a better value." 

"[The Omega VI grinder] has allowed the women to be employed, it has given them the opportunity - for most of them to have the first opportunity - in their lives to earn money and to have some income to put towards their family's needs," Kemerait added. 

This project, like all our projects, couldn't have been successful without CTI supporters and volunteers. Here's to another 30 years of success stories like this one.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sharing Food and Water Tools with Burkina Faso Peace Corps

For nearly 30 years CTI volunteers have been sharing their time, compassion, and professional skills to help impoverished families in developing countries find a sustainable way out of hunger and poverty. 

CTI Africa Committee volunteers James Megivern and Julie Ryan have dedicated the next two years of their lives to serve in the Peace Corps and share their knowledge with struggling farmers in Burkina Faso. 

After James and Julie arrived in Burkina Faso, they asked a local carpenter to make the CTI Corn Sheller for local villagers to try. The sheller is a simple construction of wood and screws that can easily shuck dry corn with a simple twist, providing an opportunity for farmers to bring a higher quality grain to the market with much less time and effort. 

At a recent meeting with the Food Security Committee of the Peace Corps Burkina Faso, James and Julie shared their experience with the corn sheller and described how simple post-harvest food technologies can dramatically increase the quality and quantity of farmers' food production.

Follow James and Julie’s blog here.