Innovation of the Week: Investing in Better Food Storage in Africa

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PICS protect cowpeas throughout the year, preventing oxygen and pests from contaminating them. (Photo credit: Purdue University)

PICS protect cowpeas throughout the year, preventing contamination from oxygen and pests. (Photo credit: Purdue University)

Cow peas are an important staple in Western Africa, providing protein to millions of people. Unlike maize, cow peas are indigenous to the region and have adapted to local growing conditions, making them an ideal source of food.

Making sure that the crops make it from the field to farmers’ bowls (or bols), however, is a real challenge in Niger and other countries (see Innovation of the Week: Reducing Food Waste). Cow peas only grow a few months a year and storing large amounts of the crop can be difficult because of pests. But that’s changing, thanks to a storage bag developed by Purdue University. The bags, called Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage, or PICS, are hermetically sealed, preventing oxygen and pests from contaminating the cowpeas. According to Purdue President Martin C. Jischke, “The method is simple, safe, inexpensive and very effective, which means that getting the right information to these people will reap tremendous benefits.”

With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the PICS project hopes to reach 28,000 villages in not only Niger, but Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Chad, and Togo by 2011. And while many farmers are at first skeptical the large storage bags will protect cow peas throughout the year, seeing is believing— in each village bags are filled with cowpeas and then 4 to 6 months later PICS has an Open-the-Bag event, allowing the farmers to see that the cowpeas are undamaged and ready-to-eat. In addition to protecting the cowpea from pests, the PICS bags also save farmers money on expensive pesticides.

Stay tuned for more on PICS bags when we head to Western Africa in a few months.

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