News / Africa

Simple Bags Save the Harvest

Airtight sacks help farmers store crops and earn more income without using chemicals

Farmers in Burkina Faso haul their harvest stored in airtight bags.
Farmers in Burkina Faso haul their harvest stored in airtight bags.

Multimedia

Audio

Farmers around the world are discovering how airtight plastic bags can preserve their harvests and help them earn higher incomes. The simple, low-cost item can help protect crops in storage from pests, bacteria and fungi, all without the use of harmful chemicals.

As much as half of the food produced by developing-world farmers each year is ruined after harvest by pests, contamination or improper handling, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

It's a shocking figure considering that nearly a billion people in the world are chronically hungry.

Fast-breeding insects

In West Africa, for example, farmers can reap a bumper crop of cowpeas, only to lose much of it to an insect called a bruchid that multiplies while the crop is in storage.

Crop scientist Dieudonné Baributsa at Purdue University says each bruchid takes just a few weeks to go from egg to adult, which then lays another 40 to 60 eggs. In a matter of months, there are enough hungry bugs to decimate the stored crop.

Farmers usually have two choices. They can sell their crop immediately, before the infestation has spread too far. But at harvest time, everyone else is doing the same thing. Markets get flooded, prices plummet and farmers earn very little.

Killer beans

Or they can kill the bugs with pesticides. But many farmers do not know how to use the chemicals properly.

"They end up misusing or overusing the pesticide," Baributsa says, adding that poisonings and even deaths are disturbingly common. "They usually call them 'killer beans.'"

A PICS bag retailer in Mali
A PICS bag retailer in Mali

Baributsa is promoting a simple solution to "killer bean" poisonings and insect infestations: airtight plastic bags. Pour the cowpeas into one of these bags, seal it tightly, and any insects in it will soon use up the air and suffocate.

The bags are called PICS bags - short for Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage. They cost $2 each. Baributsa says that's about the same as pesticide treatment. And it's a fraction of what farmers can earn from an intact bag of cowpeas, especially when they can store them until after harvest time, when they can get a better price.

Not just any bag

But he cautions that not just any plastic bag will do. Liners for salt or sugar bags sold in African markets, for example, will not work.

"Those are low density, so they are very permeable to oxygen," Baributsa says. "So, if you put your cowpeas there, they will be destroyed because the insects will still access the air."

PICS bags, on the other hand, are completely airtight.

Building a sustainable market

And they are produced locally. Along with partners all over West Africa, Baributsa is working to create the entire supply chain for PICS bags, from manufacturers to retailers.

Building a market is critical, Baributsa says, because donor support for the project will not last forever.

"Many development projects give the farmers the bags," he says. "And then once the project ends, the farmer cannot find the bag on the market. We feel like that is not a sustainable approach to development."

A sustainable approach means building demand, too. So the project is advertising on the radio and through mobile phone videos in local languages.

Good for many crops

Around the developing world, from the Philippines to Nepal to Afghanistan, farmers are using bags like these to store rice, maize, cocoa, coffee and more. Because many bacteria and fungi need air to survive, the bags also help protect crops from spoiling.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is encouraging rice farmers in Southeast Asia to use the bags because they can increase total yields by about 10 percent. Plus, rice seed stored in these bags keep for six to 12 months longer than in other storage methods.

IRRI has teamed up with a U.S.-based company called GrainPro to market a version called Super Bags. GrainPro President Phil Villers says in addition to raising farmers' incomes, the bags can help fight world hunger.

"What doesn't get wasted means it's available to feed a hungry world," he says.

As the competition intensifies for resources to feed that hungry world, experts say it’s becoming increasingly urgent to preserve what farmers have already grown.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid