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.