Thursday, April 28, 2016

Smallholder Farmers Adopt Use of PICS Bags

Smallholder farmers in 197 communities in 10 districts of the Northern Region have adopted the use of a new storage technology called “Purdue Improved Crop Storage bags (PICS bags) aimed at eliminating post-harvest losses for an enhance food security and poverty reduction.

The PICS bag which is produced by the Purdue University in the United States of America, was introduced to the smallholder farmers by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA Ghana), a local partner of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria. 

The use of the bag is now seen by agricultural experts and the farmers as one of the most cost effective but trusted ways of storing grains such as maize, beans, cowpea, groundnuts and rice to eliminate post-harvest loses, which has been a major challenge facing smallholder farmers in Ghana and the rest of Africa.

The beneficiary districts include; West Mamprusi, West Gonja, Central Gonja, East Gonja, Mion, Yendi Municipal, Zabzugu, Tatale, Bole and Sawla-Tuna-Kalba all in the Northern Region.

Statistics indicate that close to 70 percent of grains harvested from the farm are mostly destroyed by weevils or bruchids within the first three months of storage. Even though the crops are stored or preserved with certain chemicals, they still do not stand the test of time. 

It was against this backdrop, that the Purdue University in the United States of America introduced the PICS bags to provide a simple, effective low-cost method of reducing post-harvest losses in cereals due to insect infestations in west and central Africa.

The PICS bag is made of two layers of polyethylene bags surrounded by a third layer of woven polypropylene, thereby creating a hermetically sealed environment in which harvested crops are stored. This oxygen-deprived environment proves fatal for insects and bruchids and prevents them from causing harm to the stored grains.

The Bag can store grains for more years because there is no air space for the survival of the weevils to cause damage to the produce. 

However, at a well attended durbar of chiefs and people of Bugyakura near Walewale in the West Mamprusi District to showcase the effectiveness of the PICS bags called “Open the Bag Ceremony”, some of the numerous farmers who had benefited from the technology voluntarily shared their testimonies. 

Mrs. Stella Aduayiri, a farmer and food seller confirmed the efficacy of the PICS bag after she and other farmers who had used the bags to store their foodstuff for over six months saw the results when they finally opened their bags at the ceremony.

“Normally, “if you store maize or beans without any chemicals, it will not even reach two months and all the foodstuffs are completely destroyed by the weevils. Sometimes, even if you put chemicals they (weevils) will still destroy some of the food after some time but am really surprised to see that we stored this food without any chemicals for over six months now yet the maize and cowpea are all looking as new as they were first stored. I am very delighted to see this.”

According to Mrs. Aduayiri, she has been farming maize and cowpea for over twenty years and her major constraint over the years has been how to effectively store her produce. But the PICS bags she said seemed to bring answers to her problems.

She also indicated that, as a “waakye’ seller, she had always recorded low patronage from her customers who usually complained of unpleasant smell in her food anytime she had used chemicals to store her beans. The weevils she said also produce unpleasant stench when they attacked the grains.  

On the other hand, because the PICS bags do not involve the use of chemicals for storage it will always give her clean and neat beans for cooking, and that the good taste for her “waakye’ was assured for her customers.

She therefore appealed to the stakeholders involved in the production and distribution of the bags to ensure that the bags will continue to be in supply and will be accessible to farmers in remote areas so that other farmers too will benefit from this new technology.

Two other farmers who spoke to this paper, Baba Sulemana and Christiana Mahama all farmers in Bugyakura said that they used to experience post-harvest losses even with the use of chemicals for the storage of their produce. 

“The Difference between this bag and the use of chemical is that with this bag, you can easily open it and fetch at anytime you are in need of some of the produce stored to feed your family and cover it again. But when you store with the chemical it takes a very long time before you can eat any of the produced store, because if you joke you will die,” Christiana Mahama explained. 

They complained that with the use of the chemicals the farmers still experience a lot of losses from weevil attacks. 

Traditional Silos for Storage
The Country Director of ADRA Ghana, Mr. William Y.K. Brown said that the PICS bag was a must have for every grain farmer to ensure maximum profit. 

He said that the bags would help sustain the gains in the agricultural sector and also ensure national food security.

The Project Manager of ADRA Ghana, Mr. Isaac Kankam Boadu said that his outfit had already demonstrated the PICS bags in 114 communities in the Northern Region. He said that ADRA had also supported the smallholder farmers in the beneficiary districts with improved maize, soya, rice and groundnut seeds for cultivation under the Integrated Agricultural Productivity Improvement and Marketing Project of the organization.

Mr. Kankam Boadu said that the farmers had also been trained on soil management, best agronomic practices, harvesting and post-harvest technologies among others.

The District Chief Executive for West Mamprusi, Mr. David Wuni who graced the occasion was surprised about the result after the bags were opened. 

He encouraged all the farmers in the district to adopt the PICS bags to avoid the excessive use of chemicals which he said sometimes put the lives of the farmers and their households in danger.

PICS technology was developed in the late 1980s by Prof. Larry Murdock of Purdue University with support from partners in northern Cameroon with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the technology was introduced into Africa in 2007 with efforts under the initial PICS program focusing on using the technology to store only cowpea. This initial phase of the project covered ten countries across west and central Africa including Ghana. However, research presently shows that the technology is as effective in all other cereal crops as it has been for cowpea hence the reintroduction of the project to ensure that all other cereal crops are saved during storage from weevil infestation.

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