Enhancing food security using PICS bags

• An agric extension agent educating farmers on the use of PICS bags in Ejura, Ashanti Region.

Effective storage of grains such as maize, beans, cowpea, groundnuts and rice has always been a major challenge to smallholder farmers, not only in the country, but the rest of Africa. Grains are mostly destroyed by pests and insects within three months of storage due to the lack of proper storage methods for farmers and food dealers.

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It is for this reason that Purdue University in the United States of America must be commended for introducing a new technology called, “Purdue Improved Crop Storage” (PICS) bags to provide a simple, effective low-cost method of reducing post-harvest losses in cereal crops due to insect infestations in West and Central Africa.

PICS

A PICS bag consists of two layers of polyethylene bags surrounded by a third layer of woven polypropylene. This oxygen-deprived environment proves fatal to insects and pests and therefore prevents them from causing harm to stored grains.

Origin

PICS technology was developed in the late 1980s by Professor Larry Murdock of Purdue University with support from partners in Cameroon and funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).


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With further support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the technology was introduced into Africa in 2007 with the focus on the storage of cowpea.

This initial phase of the project covered ten countries across West and Central Africa, including Ghana. It was later established that the technology was as effective in controlling pests and insects from other cereal crops as it had been for cowpea.

Benefits

In an interview with the Daily Graphic, the PICS media consultant in Ghana, David Babayara, said using the PICS bags to store foodstuff also reduced the incidents of food poisoning.

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“This is because PICS bags employ the hermetic system of storage, hence food stored in them does not need to be treated with chemicals before storage,” Mr Babayara stated.

He added that the PICS bags were also effective in preventing weevil infestation in all types of grains, especially cowpea, beans and maize.

“According to statistics from various market surveys we have conducted in the Ashanti, Brong Ahafo and the three northern regions, farmers and market women now make profit from the use of the PICS bags to store their produce for up to six months after harvest,” he indicated.

Another significant advantage of using PICS, Mr Babayara further indicated, was “it is relatively cheaper as compared to other methods of food storage and can also be re-used once the inner lining has not been punctured.”

Ghana

According to him, since its introduction into the country in 2010, the PICS bags have helped to prevent post-harvest losses by farmers and food dealers.

During the first phase of its implementation, the project covered over 31,000 communities across the Northern, Upper East, Upper West, Brong Ahafo and Ashanti regions benefiting over 300,000 smallholder farmers engaged in cowpea production.

Dealers

He said apart from the project providing thousands of bags to be used on experimental bases by the farmers in beneficiary regions, Purdue University also provided patent rights to some producers in each implementing country to produce the bags on commercial basis for sale to vendors and other agro input dealers.

Presently, there are over 50 input dealers across Ghana who retail PICS bags to farmers and other resellers in very deprived communities in the country.

“Considering the effectiveness of the PICS bag since its introduction into Ghana, it is the hope that policy makers will take the necessary steps to recommend the use of the bag for state agencies such as the National Buffer Stock Company, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and its agencies, senior high schools and other institutions which store food in large quantities to prevent losses,” Mr Babayara said.