The Purdue Improved Crop Storage is a three-bag, non-chemical hermetic storage system that limits the reproductive capacity of cowpea weevils that consumes grain after harvest. The system was developed by Purdue entomologist Larry Murdock and has been licensed to Kano, Nigeria-based Lela Agro Industries Nigeria Ltd.
The Purdue Improved Crop Storage is a three-bag, non-chemical hermetic storage system that limits the reproductive capacity of cowpea weevils that consumes grain after harvest. The system was developed by Purdue entomologist Larry Murdock and has been licensed to Kano, Nigeria-based Lela Agro Industries Nigeria Ltd.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Farmers in West and Central African nations could benefit economically, socially and nutritionally using a crop storage system developed by researchers at Purdue University and licensed to Kano-based Lela Agro Industries Nigeria Ltd.

The Purdue Improved Crop Storage system was developed by Larry L. Murdock, professor of entomology in the Purdue College of Agriculture, and scientists in Cameroon. The research was funded by a USAID program and supported by Purdue’s International Programs in Agriculture.

Murdock said PICS originally was developed to store cowpeas, or black-eyed peas, which are eaten in storage by cowpea weevils, an invasive insect. The system reduces the amount of damage the weevils inflict upon stored cowpeas.

“Cowpea weevils have an amazing reproductive capacity and can destroy any store of grain many times over in less than a year. A single female cowpea weevil can produce 60 male and female offspring in one month or less. In another month there are 1,800 cowpea weevils and 54,000 the month after that,” he said. “The numbers keep rising until everything edible is rendered worthless.”

Murdock said the system uses hermetically sealed bags, which means they have the quality of being airtight.

“The PICS bags are uninhabitable environments for cowpea weevils,” he said. “The keys to the success of PICS are that insect reproduction is essentially stopped quickly and most eventually die of dehydration.”

James “Jess” M. Lowenberg-DeBoer, associate dean in the College of Agriculture and director of International Programs in Agriculture, said PICS has been used throughout the world, with around 2.5 million bags being sold to date.

“PICS bags are used on a large scale in 10 African countries with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Tchad and Togo,” he said.

“The system also has been used in Rwanda, with funding from the USAID office in Kigali, as well as Afghanistan, Burundi, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Laos, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.”

Sani Moussa, who grows cowpeas in the Maradi Region of Niger, has used PICS since 2010. Before then, weevils destroyed the crops he stored.

“I remember storing three sacks of cowpeas, and after four months in storage there was nothing left,” he said. “Because I could not store grains for a long time, I had to sell them when prices were low. Consequently, the production could not cover daily needs, including socio-economic needs such as marriages and naming ceremonies.”

Using the PICS system allows Moussa to store more of the harvest for longer periods of time.

“With the arrival of the PICS bags, my storage increased three times that I had before because I had no fear of losses due to insect damage,” he said. “I can now wait to sell until the period when cowpea prices are high and increase my profits.”

Moussa Maman, who also grows cowpeas in the Maradi Region, has used PICS since 2009. Before then, he lost more than 50 percent of his grain in storage due to cowpea weevils. As a result, he had to sell his harvest when prices were low.

“Now that I use PICS, I can store two or three times the quantity that I could store before. My income also has increased two or three times,” he said.

Maman said there are fewer worries with the PICS system.

“One no longer has any worries about storing food. People gain a benefit from their production,” he said.

Hassan Fawaz, managing director at Lela Agro, said the company will manufacture more than one million PICS bags in 2013, selling most in Nigeria but exporting around 100,000 to neighboring countries. The company plans to expand production to more than 1.5 million bags in 2014.

“PICS bags are more effective than other bags because they are made of 80 micron-thick, high-density materials. They are more cost-effective hermetic containers for most uses than metal drums or plastic jugs,” Fawaz said. “PICS bags are easy to use, which makes them an improvement upon storage insecticides, which could be misused to harmful effect.”

Lela Agro also has licensed the trademarked PICS logo. Other companies have manufactured counterfeit bags they claim are PICS and have the same characteristics. These manufacturers will not have access to the PICS logo, which means farmers will be able to differentiate between them.

Tests have been conducted the last two years to determine if PICS is effective in stopping storage insects that attack other grains such as corn, wheat, rice, soybeans, sorghum, millet, chickpeas and hibiscus seed. This work is being done under the PICS2 grant funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We believe PICS will effectively control most insect pests of many commodities, as long as the commodities have low moisture contents when stored,” Murdock said.