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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs