Monday, March 26, 2012

"It is good." -- Ethiopian women react to Pepper Eater prototype

By Roger Wilson, CTI volunteer project lead

Roger Wilson in Ethiopia testing a new prototype technology, the Pepper Eater. An estimated 400,000 women in Ethiopia process peppers by hand; a laborious procedure that turns peppers into higher-value products of dried flakes, seeds, and powder. The Pepper Eater (featured in National Geographic) is a device in development that mills dried peppers with a hand-crank much faster and safer than the traditional method of flaking peppers by hand. The Pepper Eater concept was developed by students at Stanford University, and was recently redesigned in a collaboration between CTI engineers and the Stanford team. CTI volunteer Roger Wilson and the Stanford team are in Ethiopia meeting with women who are evaluating the new Pepper Eater prototype.  

We set up today with the table across the street from the Encino Berbere market (Berbere is a pepper, or spice mixture that is a staple ingredient in Ethiopian cuisine). The crowd was instant. It took some work to get the children and men back far enough to let the women look and try the Pepper Eater (here called the Berbere Machine) and the grinder. I am working on trying to get shades of grey in the translation of the responses of the women because what I am getting is, “It is good.” I think that means it is fine; yes I can use the product, whether it be from the Pepper Eater or the grinder. So the Pepper Eater was liked. We did grind some of the Berbere that we had flakes with smiles and yes it was good.

To demonstrate the grinder we not only ground Berbere, but used CTI's prototype poly burr to break the husk and split peas, which were then winnowed by hand and we ground the split pea as normal with the metal burrs. The beans we cracked with metal burrs, winnowed, and then ground. The shiro (powder) produced by both the peas and beans caused eyes to light up and the comment, “That sure is easier than pounding!” One woman was excited and immediately wanted a grind with a motor; she had big plans quickly.

Aschalech Jemal, a University Grad in Agriculture who's working with me, said that word of mouth will transmit what the women say quickly so the demo will be pretty widely talked about. Another component she picked up on is that the success of introducing either of these technologies is dependent on Ethiopians making it happen. She has the vision that this does provide business opportunities in several different ways and venues.

So far, our health has been good. The tomato crop is yielding well and thankfully the Project Mercy cook's know how to make a safe and delicious salad that is often nearly half tomatoes. Just for fun they throw in the occasional Mitmita bit (Thai like hot pepper.) The locals seem to know pretty well when this are dry enough to work. Yesterday in the market was interesting because Asfew turned down many vendors because the Berbere was too flexible, i.e. washed and still too wet. We bought them at the Butajira market because the administrator here said the merchants were less flexible at the other markets and there was a choice here, which seemed to be true.

At the end of the trip today, I asked that we stop in Butajira at the hotel so I could buy a drink for the five people that went to Encino. It cost a whole 25 Birr for 5 machiato (like espresso with steamed/foamed milk); mine was delicious. There is nowhere in the Twin Cities that I could get a coffee like that for myself for the $1.50, much less five people. So there are some good things lighten the rest of the work.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

79,698 Reasons to celebrate on World Water Day

If you're reading this, chances are you're just a few feet away from a source of clean, safe water. But if you lived in rural Nicaragua, you and your family would likely have no choice but to drink polluted water collected from local rivers and lakes.

In a small village in rural Nicaragua, contaminated drinking water was making everyone extremely ill. Children were dying, their small bodies unable to handle the intensive dehydration caused by severe intestinal diseases.
Then CTI's water team stepped in and helped the village build a simple water chlorination system, and now the children are healthy, attending school regularly and enjoying life. 

CTI's water chlorination system is now in place in 126 communities, serving 79,698 people. The Water Chlorinators are built from PVC pipes and valves costing just $100. Villagers maintain the systems and pay to replace their chlorine tablets. The chlorine kills the bacteria, so the water is  safe to drink.

Every child deserves clean drinking water. We are setting a goal of providing clean water to 250,000 Nicaraguans by June 2014.

But we need your help to get there. A donation, in any amount, will help communities gain a sustainable source of water, and will help us give tens of thousands of children a better hope for the future.    

Monday, March 12, 2012

CTI Volunteer Heads to Ethiopia

By Roger Wilson, CTI Volunteer Project Lead

My name is Roger Wilson, and I've just arrived in Ethiopia, where I am volunteering on behalf of
Compatible Technology International (CTI). I am the volunteer project leader for an Ethiopian-focused project named the “Pepper Eater.”

The Pepper Eater is new device in development that flakes dried Berbere peppers into pieces—an essential step in making the Berbere powder blend that is the staple hot additive for most Ethiopian foods. This flaking is now often done by hand or in a mortar and pestle, which exposes women to harmful pepper dust, causing them to suffer mentally and physically in the days following the processing. 

While in Ethiopia, I will be joined by two engineers who  developed the concept of the Pepper Eater 
during their time at Stanford University. After designing the initial Pepper Eater in Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability class, the students brought the concept to CTI to develop a production version. We will conduct field trials of two prototypes versions of the Pepper Eater in order to inform our final design. We will be hosted by non-profit Project Mercy at their community development site in Yetebon, Ethiopia.

Much of the daily food used in Ethiopia has to be ground: teff (grain staple), peppers & blends, dried legumes, etc. I am going work with the Yetebon staff to evaluate the CTI Ewing IV grinder for the grinding of many of the foodstuffs and its cultural and functional fit in the community. It does take time and effort to grind, but the women now have to either pound to powder in mortar or carry their items to be ground 8-15 miles (one way) to leave at the miller for pickup a couple weeks later. So my hope is that we will be able to enable women to process peppers without the worst of the health problems and be able to reclaim time that can be better spent on other family tasks by using the grinder. And for some, these technologies might provide a core for a micro-enterprise earning them money