One of the largest problems for agricultural production is protecting crops from pests. Typically, this problem is addressed with chemical pesticides, but farmers who cannot afford pesticides or chose (or are under contract) not to use them can lose up to half their harvests to the buggers. This problem is especially pronounced when the crops are in storage, which is why Purdue University has collaborated with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a storage bag with African farmers that is sure to keep pests out and keep the crops within fresh for up to a year.
Currently the project – dubbed the Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) project – is focused on spreading the bags throughout Western and Central Africa, across 28,000 villages in 10 different countries. Additionally, the project is establishing the supply chain in Africa to manufacture the bags domestically, shortening the supply chain and creating new industries.
“There are two very important aspects of the project aside from being successful storage containers,” according to Larry Murdock, Purdue professor of entomology and lead developer for the project. “One, that the bags are manufactured in Africa, creating various spin-off jobs; and two, that costs are kept low. We’ve been successful at both so far.”
The bags get their success from the triple-layer, plastic design that hermetically seals the crops – so far only compels (or black eyed peas, as I know them) – and can be used three to five times before they’re spent. For just $3 each, the bags provide farmers with not only safe storage for their crops, but also peace of mind that they will have crops to sell when times are not so good, “allowing them to sell it over the course of the year.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just awarded the project with a $10 million grant to expand the project, now in its third stage, to dry grains and other crops such as maize, wheat, peanuts, sorghum, and more. The project also educates farmers on best practices for successfully using the bags to ensure that they maximize their benefits.
What do you think? Can this bag really have the big impact these researchers are hoping for?
Photography by Dieudonnê Baributsa, Purdue University.