Nutrition

Saving crops, saving lives

It’s a scorching hot day in the tiny village of Lankoue, Burkina Faso, where 10,000 people have gathered for an agricultural festival. With a cluster of fairgoers peeking out from behind him, Dieudonné Baributsa leans over to inspect the storage bags that are the focus of the celebration: PICS (Purdue Improved Crop Storage) bags, hermetically sealed sacks developed by Purdue researchers to keep grains fresh and insect-free for years without the use of insecticides. 

“Getting involved in the PICS program has been a big opportunity for me to give back to Africa and to contribute to food security among small farmers in several countries in Africa,” says Baributsa, an entomology research assistant professor and member of the Purdue Center for Global Food Security.

Growing up on a small farm in central Africa, Baributsa had hungered for a way to protect his own family’s crops from insects.  “I saw how my mother struggled to store grain to feed our family,” Baributsa says. “She used different chemicals, but most of the time they were ineffective.”

Then he discovered PICS, and in 2009, left a position at Michigan State University to join the program.

Simple and inexpensive, PICS bags were designed in the 1980s to protect cowpea grains, a protein-rich staple in West and Central Africa. Without the bags, farmers have to resort to insecticides, which often don’t work, or sell their crops immediately after harvest, when crop prices are lower. Since their introduction, more than 5 million PICS bags, at a cost of $2 to $3 each, have been sold for storing a variety of grains as well as seeds, increasing food security and saving thousands of lives.

“When farmers can produce 200 kg, 300 kg and 400 kg, and be able to store them in a PICS bag until they feel comfortable selling the grain, and they are not worried about insect damage, that’s a real impact,” Baributsa says. “I know I’m making a difference.”

Based on a series of articles by Tom Campbell originally appearing in Connections magazine by Purdue Agricultural Communication: http://bit.ly/1VpYvGm

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