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Inventive Tools For Developing Countries
In North America we take electric food processing machines that peel, slice and dice for granted. In developing countries, where there may be no electricity, harvesting and processing crops is tedious and laborious. A volunteer organization of retired engineers, scientists, farmers and other professionals have been making those tasks easier since 1981.
  “Our purpose is to create practical food and water tools - to provide simple technology,” says Roger Salway, executive director of the non-profit Compatible Technology International (CTI) based in St. Paul, Minn. “Groups come to us with a problem, and we come up with a solution.”
  Volunteers first came together to work on a potato storage problem in India. Missionaries were concerned because growers had no way to store their crop, and prices were so low at harvest that some farmers were committing suicide because they couldn’t cover the cost of seed for the next year.
  Volunteer engineers collaborated and came up with a simple passive cooling system. A ventilated storage structure is built over a pool of water, which evaporates and cools the air about 20 degrees lower than air temperature. The longer shelf life gives the producer time to process the potatoes with a hand-powered peeler and slicer that CTI volunteers also developed. Chips and potato cakes increased incomes by 300 percent.
  FARM SHOW readers will appreciate the simple design of the many devices CTI designers have made out of basic materials. Design simplicity makes it possible for people in developing worlds to build the equipment themselves.
  In Nicaragua, bad water from gravity supply systems was an issue. Engineers created a water chlorinator out of pvc pipe that delivers a controlled dosage of chlorine tablets.
  “We provided the technology and training, and they make the devices themselves,” Salway says. Chlorinators have provided safe drinking water for about 90,000 people so far.
  “Our grain grinder is another real workhorse,” he says, noting that the grinders are made of cast aluminum or heat-treated steel. Burr mills have durable, heat-treated burrs that don’t flake off metal and contaminate food. CTI currently has three models designed to grind nuts, grains, dried breadfruit, seeds, coffee, dried fish and a variety of other crops.
  Engineers are close to finishing a grain processor that threshes and winnows grain for women in Africa who do it all by hand. The device has been tested on pearl millet and sorghum. They capture 90 percent of the harvest; a big improvement over traditional methods where up to 50 percent of the crop can be lost.
  Other works in progress include a breadfruit processing system to shred, dry and grind it into flour; a peanut and ground nut stripper and sheller so Malawi and Tanzanian women don’t have to do it by hand; a pepper mill that grinds fresh peppers grown in Ethiopia into flakes, seeds and powders; a device that turns waste rice hulls in Bangladesh into fuel sticks; and rice hulling burrs for grinders for farmers in Africa and Asia.
  Though based in St. Paul, Salway points out that volunteers live all over the U.S., and they collaborate with students at universities including Stanford, Michigan Technological University, University of St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota. Volunteers come from many different backgrounds.
  CTI’s biggest challenge is attracting funding for research and development, which involves travel to countries to determine needs and to see what resources are available to make devices that are compatible with the culture. With more than 100 unpaid volunteers, 88 percent of the budget goes directly to programs. Donors include foundations, corporations, civic and faith-based organizations, but individuals are the dominant supporters, Salway says.
  For groups interested in the devices for emerging countries, the CTI website includes a device request form. CTI staff ask questions to find the best tool for each need. Equipment is not given away, Salway says, as experience proves people take care of things they pay for. When possible, CTI helps set up manufacturing in countries where their equipment will be used.
  “We’re really open to anyone who wants to volunteer from anywhere,” says Salway, who is retired from John Deere with senior management experience. “We’re particularly open to farmers who could travel and bring knowledge to another country.”
  To donate or volunteer, contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Compatible Technology International, 800 Transfer Rd., Suite 6, Saint Paul, Minn. 55114 (ph 651 632-3912; www.compatibletechnology.org).

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2012 - Volume #36, Issue #3