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

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs