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.