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."