|Volunteers Sharing Food Technology  |
Sustain’s Volunteers – Expertise In Food Technology Can Reduce Malnutrition And Poverty
Navigate below to learn more about a few of our volunteers:
From Hunger to Abundance: Using Solar Panels
Village farmers in Burkina Faso had a big problem. Each February, they coaxed enough potatoes from the Saharan soil to keep themselves well stocked with food til the next harvest, six months later. But each year, just three months after the potato harvest, these same farmers were flirting with starvation. The reason? Their potatoes had rotted in storage, a victim of the hot Saharan climate. Villagers went hungry.
Burkina Faso's largest farmers' cooperative -- Federation des Unions de Groupements NAAM (FUGN) -- was desperate for a solution. It contacted USAID, who contacted SUSTAIN in Washington. Searching its databank of expert volunteers, the SUSTAIN staff contacted Roy L. Shaw, Jr. in Ashland, Oregon. Shaw, a pre-eminent, 40-year specialist in potato processing and storage (including 13 years as director of the Red River Valley Potato Research Center in East Grand Forks, MN), reviewed the Burkina Faso situation and hit on a possible solution. With logistical and coordination help from SUSTAIN's Washington staff, Shaw made several trips to Burkina Faso as a SUSTAIN volunteer, giving a total of two months of his time to setting up a model potato storage facility there. The method Shaw helped design ingeniously combines a simple set of solar panels with a lot of common sense by harnessing both the energy of the local environment and the industriousness of the local people.
"What you have in Burkina Faso is a lot of sunshine in a very dry climate," says Shaw. "And you have a motivated bunch of people who are willing to work hard to improve their lives. All they lack is the information to help them do it."
And information is what Shaw provided. At a village in central Burkina Faso, farmers from 20 communities volunteered to meet with Shaw to construct a community storage facility made of thick adobe walls. Once completed, Shaw carefully showed the farmers how to set up and maintain a simple set of solar panels to create a reliable desert "air conditioner." One solar panel powers a pump which sprays water into the storage building. A second panel powers a fan which pushes the water through a filter and into a room containing the stored potatoes. This evaporation process, which drops the daytime temperature inside from 100 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, reduces spoilage to virtually nil. The dramatic leap in storage quality means not only year-round food for families, but usually plenty of potatoes left over to send to market, further boosting family incomes.
"With this method," says Shaw, "there's no reason why anybody in all of Saharan Africa should go hungry for even one day a year. Better storage means people eat better -- and earn money."
Shaw, who made five trips to Burkina Faso as part of this project, developed a great respect and affection for the local people. He ate the local cuisine of rice and potatoes, and visited joyous village gatherings featuring local music and dance.
"These are very, very friendly people. And they want to work," says Shaw. "You show them something and then you just get out of the way and they do it."
The farmers who worked with Shaw have now returned to their own villages to build similar community storage facilities with follow up help from the FUGN cooperative. The goal is to eventually have such facilities in all 1200 villages served by FUGN.
"This is my payback," says Shaw, explaining why he works as a SUSTAIN volunteer. "I've had a good life of work in the United States. Now I can give something back to people who can benefit from what I know."
"I've had a good life of work in the United States. Now I can give
something back to people who can benefit from what I know."
The potato storage method Roy Shaw helped design as a SUSTAIN volunteer ingeniously combines a simple set of solar panels with a lot of common sense.
A Great Career Means Helping People Along the Way
Theresa Volpe believes her successful career in the American food industry just wouldn't be complete if she didn't pause to
help other people along the way. What kind of help? Well, she still gets letters from the small-scale baker in Guatemala whose products she helped improve as a SUSTAIN volunteer.
"This baker writes me once or twice a year with specific questions," says Volpe, who served as an executive in Manufacturing Development at Nabisco. "Recently, he wrote asking the best way to use vegetable oil in his baked goods. It's nice to remember he's making products that are good for his customers -- and you have a hand in it."
Volpe has had a hand in improving lots of lives as a SUSTAIN volunteer. In 1994, at the request of the Institute for Nutrition in Central America and Panama (INCAP), she toured five Guatemalan bakeries making fortified biscuits for hundreds of thousands of school children. The bakeries ranged in sophistication from simple hearth ovens to fully automated facilities.
At each site, Volpe used her nearly three decades of experience in the American baking industry to troubleshoot and find ways to improve the school biscuits. She repeatedly encouraged bakers to use greater caution in measuring the right amounts of fortified flour, sugar, and oil, since only the right mix of all three provides the combination of vitamins and minerals school children need.
"If children don't get the right nutrients in their food, their ability to learn, to concentrate, is diminished," says Volpe. "It's a serious matter."
Volpe has also led several workshops for Guatemalan bakers on baking safer, more nutritious, and better-tasting products. That's how she met Peter Dominique, the man who still writes her regularly. One of the challenges Volpe faces in these workshops is the belief among many Guatemalans that food fortification -- using vitamin A-enriched sugar, for example -- lessens the flavor of a product.
"So in the workshops we bake goods with enriched flour and then do a taste test," says Volpe. "It's all clear after that."
Volpe vividly remembers visiting Dominique's bakery in Guatemala City. It was a small lean-to structure extending from a detached garage with a corrugated tin roof. Not exactly an ideal facility. But inside, Volpe showed Dominique how to make better cookies by baking them faster, and discussed effective sanitary practices to avoid potential food safety problems. Now Dominique still writes her for technical help.
"It's fun to see people being exposed to new learning," says Volpe, explaining why she serves repeatedly as a SUSTAIN volunteer. "I'm a child of the '60s and I believe in social responsibility and giving something back. Being a volunteer, I also get a lot in return. I grow personally and professionally. It's a very rewarding exchange."
"I'm a child of the '60s and I believe in social responsibility
and giving something back. Being a volunteer, I grow personally and professionally,
too. It's a nice exchange."
Food Safety Means Better Health, More Jobs
Why did one of the founders of America's largest food testing laboratory travel to Central America seven times in three years offering food-safety workshops--for free? And spend ten days in Nepal evaluating opportunities for establishing that country's first independent private-sector food testing laboratory--also as a volunteer?
Damien Gabis, who served as the CEO for Silliker Laboratories Group, Inc., had two reasons for serving as a SUSTAIN volunteer in these capacities, both hinging on the enormous benefits that improved food quality and safety offer to at-risk populations. First there's the health of children. Every year, millions of the world's children die from severe diarrhea, a majority sickened by contaminated water and food. Many such deaths could be prevented through improved sanitation and hygiene in food plants.
Also motivating Gabis, was the realization that increased capacity to produce safe, high quality foods could help create jobs and fuel growth in developing regions of the world, where economies typically hinge on agricultural enterprise. As food markets have become increasingly global, assuring product safety and competitive quality assumes even more importance.
As Gabis put it:
When SUSTAIN's partner organizations in Central America requested help in training regional food manufacturers on safety practices and standards, SUSTAIN contacted Silliker Laboratories in Chicago Heights, Illinois, a hugely successful firm that got its start in the 1960s combating salmonella outbreaks in the United States. On SUSTAIN's behalf, Gabis, a senior scientist at the firm, and several of his colleagues researched and designed--at company expense--all the curricula for a series of food safety workshops in Central America, with Gabis acting as lead workshop presenter.
Gabis offered seven food safety workshops between 1995 and 1997 in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Each drew large numbers of food-industry participants representing small local businesses, multinationals like Pepsico, as well as government regulators and university instructors. Issues covered included sanitation and hygiene in food plants, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP).
The emphasis was on participatory learning. Gabis explained: "We break up into groups and give each group a specific problem to solve--how to clean a certain plant, how to inspect a plant, how to set up a HACCP program--and come back and report solutions as a group. The emphasis is on applying what (participants) are learning." The several hundred workshop participants returned to their food-industry positions with new skills directly relevant to producing better and safer foods for local consumers--and more attractive products for export.
Like many Central American countries, Nepal is a developing nation with a strongly agricultural base. Nepalese products destined for regional export must compete with products from India, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore. The delivery of safe, high quality foods is thus critical to their success. Nepal is also is home to one of Asia's most impoverished populations, who suffer high levels of infectious disease. Yet ten years ago Nepal lacked even one reliable full service private-sector food-testing laboratory to serve food processors.
SUSTAIN arranged Gabis' 1992 assignment in Nepal at the invitation of USAID's Nepal Mission in cooperation with Chemonics, a USAID-funded contractor working with the Nepal Agroenterprise Center. During his visit Gabis identified and explored opportunities for Nepalese scientists and food enterprises to establish a central lab for testing the safety and quality of the country's food products--a far more cost-effective and feasible option for food companies than creating and maintaining their own in-house facilities. He also determined that training food processors in the use of GMPs and hygiene represented a fundamental need of Nepal's food processing sector. As awareness of this need grows, laboratory testing will become essential as a measure of progress toward safer, higher quality products.
So what really motivated Damien Gabis to volunteer for SUSTAIN? He spoke
for himself, and captured the essence of SUSTAIN's mission when he said:
"There is a great satisfaction in knowing you're adding to the technical
base of knowledge of people who are making great strides in food safety.
That, along with the rich cultural experience, is a great reward."
How One SUSTAIN Volunteer Sparked
Nothing quite prepared Dr. Rahmat Attaie for his trip to El Salvador in the spring of 1996. As a SUSTAIN expert volunteer with extensive expertise in goat milk products, Attaie had been invited by the Salvadoran government to give a
workshop on boosting production for goat farmers and interested government officials.
But on the first day of his visit, Attaie toured a creamery at El Salvador's National Agriculture School (ENA) and
discovered something truly shocking: The creamery was not pasteurizing any of the milk it sold throughout the country. Nor, for that matter, were other major producers of milk in El Salvador -- cow or goat -- pasteurizing their products. Attaie, a noted Texas research scientist, was deeply concerned. Raw milk poses an enormous threat of tuberculosis and salmonellosis to consumers, especially children and the elderly. Few countries, even developing nations, fail to pasteurize.
"But for some reason in El Salvador," says Attaie, "I found a general unawareness of the dangers of unpasteurized products. I realized then what the message of my visit should be: Pasteurization is essential for good health. It's not an optional step in the process. "
Showing the versatility of many SUSTAIN volunteers, Attaie immediately altered his trip agenda. He counseled urgently with university and government officials on the importance of pasteurization, and helped identify pasteurization equipment for use at ENA. In his hotel room that night, he altered the curriculum of his four-day workshop to include pasteurization education as well as techniques for boosting goat milk production and improving cheese making.
"I kept thinking about the tragic health problems and loss of life from the widespread lack of pasteurization in the past," says Attaie. "The impact and magnitude of this problem on El Salvador's national economy is enormous in terms of medical costs, days of work lost, and loss of human life. It is a pressing problem that really needed immediate attention."
Thankfully, as a direct result of Attaie's work as a SUSTAIN volunteer, the National Agriculture School in El Salvador now pasteurizes all of its milk and teaches its students the importance of pasteurization. Attaie's work has also helped bring awareness of the need for pasteurization to government officials and important milk producers throughout the country, potentially saving thousands of lives.
"It was a very gratifying volunteer experience for me," says Attaie of his trip to El Salvador. "I was teaching something that I knew people would benefit from immediately."
Attaie, who teaches at Prairie View A&M University, is typical of university researchers and teachers who, as SUSTAIN volunteers, impart immediately useful knowledge to people in developing countries.
Attaie learned about SUSTAIN after a colleague gave him a brochure about the organization. Attaie filled out the brochure application, listing his goat milk expertise. A year later, SUSTAIN called saying the government of El Salvador was requesting a person matching exactly his qualifications. The mountainous conditions in El Salvador are particularly well-suited for raising goats, whose milk and cheese are high in protein and vitamins beneficial to mothers and children. SUSTAIN's Washington staff organized Attaie's highly successful trip, coordinating with university officials in El Salvador and tending to all logistical and other support matters.
As a direct result of Dr. Rahmat Attaie's work as a SUSTAIN volunteer, the National Agriculture School in El Salvador now pasteurizes all of its milk and teaches its students the importance of pasteurization.
Showing the versatility of SUSTAIN's expert volunteers, Dr. Rahmat Attaie immediately altered his trip agenda to focus on a public health crisis he found after arriving in El Salvador.
"It was a very gratifying volunteer experience for me. I was
teaching something that I knew people would benefit from immediately."