The Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS) is a simple, low-cost, and effective technology that enables low-resource farmers to preserve their cowpea grain after harvest with minimal losses to storage insects. PICS technology, which involves triple bagging of the grain in plastic bags, is (1) low cost, (2) eliminates insecticide use, (3) enables farmers to store their grain after harvest instead of selling it at harvest when the price is at the low point of the year, and (4) ensures a supply of clean grain for consumption or sale for many months after harvest.
As the technology has spread across Africa and beyond, farmers naturally started trying PICS bags on other crops and crop-derived products. The question they asked: “Will PICS bags work for other crops and other insect storage pests?”. To bring systematic research to bear on the problem, the Purdue PICS team proposed new studies of the triple bagging technology for crops other than cowpea. In 2011, the Purdue University scientists received $1.1 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to determine whether storage technology developed for cowpea (now widely used by farmers in sub-Saharan Africa) will work and be economical for other crops. The award builds on the earlier $11.8 million cowpea-focused Gates-funded PICS project. PICS activities have engaged millions of farmers in more than 30,000 villages in 10 countries in West and Central Africa.
The Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS2) project carries out research to explore the usefulness and value of PICS triple bags for controlling storage insect pests of other crops including maize, sorghum, wheat, rice, peanut, common bean, hibiscus seed, mung bean, pigeon pea and bambara groundnut. In addition, PICS bag are being evaluated to determine whether they maintain the viability of the seed for planting and if they minimize mold growth and accumulation of mycotoxins. If PICS bags prove technically effective for other crops they must also be economically feasible and thus likely to achieve widespread adoption and impact. Economic research under PICS2 will assess the cost-effectiveness of PICS triple-layer bags for promising crops. Preliminary economic analyses will be also conducted to estimate the benefits of the technology compared to returns on other storage options and to other investments available in rural areas.
The PICS2 project aims to:
- Identify agricultural commodities or other food products that suffer losses to insects during storage in developing nations for which PICS technology – in the current or modified form – might serve to prevent losses, reduce insecticide use, and add value.
- Test the technology through collaborative projects with scientists in developing nations, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Implement economic analyses to estimate the benefits that might accrue if the technology were optimized for the commodity in question and manufactured and adopted.
- Develop plans to disseminate the technology for those commodities where effectiveness and economic feasibility are evident.
Dissemination will focus on grains, grain legumes, oilseeds and other crop products shown to have high potential to benefit from PICS technology. Potential agribusiness partners will include agricultural input suppliers, sack vendors, millers, food processors and grain traders. Extension partners will include NGOs, national extension services, women’s groups and farmer associations.