Necessity is often the mother of invention, and Purdue University hopes its latest invention will fill a big need indeed. Thanks to a $10 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it will develop a program to get PICS bags to more farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
PICS, which stands for Purdue Improved Crop Storage, are hermetically triple-bagged units, giving farmers a chemical-free storage method. The bags will allow farmers to store a variety of crops for more than one year after harvest.
Without PICS, farmers either have sell crops soon after harvest or use insecticides that are often ineffective or unsafe due to improper use. Grain loss to insects has been estimated up to 20% in this region. Jay Akridge, the dean of Purdue Agriculture, says PICS is a simple, proven technology that can help millions of African farmers help mitigate these losses.
"In addition to putting this technology to work on more crops, this project will enable us to set up supply chains that will allow production and distribution of the PICS bags long after the grant funds are exhausted," he says.
PICS technology was first developed in the late 1980s by Purdue faculty, students and staff and partners in northern Cameroon to store cowpea (known in the U.S. as black-eyed pea). The bags were later used effectively in storing crops such as corn, common beans, wheat, peanuts, pigeon pea, mungbean and sorghum.
The newest project extends the use of the technology to dry grains. The project will be implemented in Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ghana in West Africa; Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia in East Africa; and Malawi in Southern Africa. Purdue is looking for funds from other donors to extend PICS technology through the rest of Africa and South Asia.
Project leaders are hoping for a cascade effect. First, the bags can boost income by giving farmers chances to market their crops for better prices rather than sell immediately after harvest. It may also provide business opportunities to local, private African countries to expand their manufacturing and distribution. This could even lead to job creation in manufacturing and retail in rural areas.
"By the end of the project, a sustainable system will be in place where the private sector will be well-equipped to continue developing profitable business in PICS bags," says project director Dieudonné Baributsa.