Home » Features, Issue 5

All about the bag

29 September 2010 6,734 views No Comment

Dieudonne Baributsa, dbaribut@purdue.edu

Women observing cowpea stored in PICS bags after the open-the-bag event. Photo from D. Baributsa, PICS.

Women observing cowpea stored in PICS bags after the open-the-bag event. Photo from D. Baributsa, PICS.

Farmers throughout West and Central Africa call it the “magic bag”—the triple layer bag developed by Purdue University and partners to control the cowpea bruchid Callosobruchus maculatus. The bag does not use any of the chemicals that are so often misused, or overused, causing the health hazard commonly referred to as “killer bean” in Nigeria. The technology is being widely adopted because it is simple, easy to use, effective, and profitable to farmers and other users.

Professor Larry Murdock led a team composed of the Purdue University faculty, students, and other partners to initiate the development of this technology in the late 1980s with funds from the Bean/Cowpea Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP). In 2007, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation under the Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS) project (http://www.ag.purdue.edu/ipia/pics), the technology was refined and is being disseminated in 10 countries in West and Central Africa: Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo, Bénin, Ghana, Cameroon, Chad, and Senegal.

The PICS project has two thrusts: outreach activities that are expected to reach around 28,000 villages, and supply chain development. The project has just entered its fourth year.

Outreach activities have been implemented in collaboration with IITA, World Vision International, National Institute for Agricultural Research of Niger (INRAN), National Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research (INERA) of Burkina Faso, Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD) of Cameroon, national extension systems in various countries, farmers’ associations, and NGOs. To date, the technology has reached more than 23,000 villages in Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, and Bénin. The project has recently launched activities in the four remaining countries (Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon, and Chad) with the completion of the training for field technicians.

Young men carrying cowpea in triple layer bags to their village, Lankoue, Burkina Faso. Photo from D. Baributsa, PICS.

Young men carrying cowpea in triple layer bags to their village, Lankoue, Burkina Faso. Photo from D. Baributsa, PICS.

The PICS project is also developing a supply chain system for the triple layer sacks in West and Central Africa. The development of this system is providing business opportunities for manufacturers of sacks, distributors, and vendors. The PICS project has worked with five manufacturers of plastics in five West African countries to produce over 1.25 million bags. In addition, Purdue has worked with local entrepreneurs to sell the storage technology through their distribution networks so that it is easily available to farmers.

More than 100,000 PICS bags have been used in village demonstrations. The technology has proved to be effective. Cowpea in all of the PICS bags were as good during the open-the-bag events (in April and May) as they were at harvest time (October and November), except for the occasional bag that had been damaged by rodents or accidentally pierced.

Communication has been a major part of the PICS efforts. Radio, print media, TV, and cell phone videos have been used to build awareness about the triple layer technology. Messages in local languages have been effective in communicating the technology to farmers and other users. Research by Purdue University has determined that the radio is key and effective in reinforcing the PICS technology message in rural villages. Print media, such as posters and flyers on “fiche techniques,” are also being disseminated in local languages. TV spots on the technology have been broadcast in some areas, but few in rural West and Central Africa have access to TV.

PICS poster, Wolof/Senegal

PICS poster, Wolof/Senegal

The PICS project is taking advantage of the use of cell phones with Bluetooth, a wireless communications technology that facilitates data transmission over short distances, in rural communities to disseminate video clips describing the use of the PICS technology.

Hermetic sealing is difficult to describe in words on the radio or in print, but many people immediately understand it if they see it demonstrated. To facilitate visual learning on the use of hermetic storage, the PICS project developed cell phone videos in Hausa (Niger and Nigeria), French (Niger and Cameroon), Fulfulde (Cameroon), and English (Nigeria). An assessment of the PICS cell phone video dissemination showed its potential as an effective means of conveying extension messages to farmers.

Women’s participation has also been at the forefront of PICS activities. A goal was set of 30% participation and this has significantly increased the number of women involved in both field staff training and village activities. Several strategies have been used to reach this goal, including recruiting female field technicians to conduct training for women in areas where mixed gender gatherings are not allowed, competitions for women about cowpea, and other approaches.

The PICS project is currently seeking ways to expand the use of the triple layer bag to store crops other than cowpea.

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