Sustainability Pathways

PICS Bags to Reduce Food Losses

Type of practice Reduce
Name of practice PICS Bags to Reduce Food Losses
Name of main actor Purdue University and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Type of actor(s) Research institution
Location Nigeria
Stage of implementation Storage, Transport
Year of implementation 2008
What was/is being done? In Nigeria, the use of polyethylene plastic bags for transportation – instead of sacks and bamboo baskets – has been shown to prevent food loss during transport due to compression and puncture. A PICS (Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage) bag consists of three bags nested within each other, with the inner most bag holding the crop being stored. The PICS bag was introduced by Purdue University, with assistance from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2008 into Nigeria as a pilot project in 4 states (Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, and Plateau) to address cowpea storage problems without the use of chemicals. PICS bags allow the crop to remain in storage for many months without degradation in quality due to pests. After filling, each bag is tied tightly so as to form an airtight seal. Once the bag is tied, any pests remaining in the bag have a finite amount of oxygen to draw upon. As oxygen is depleted, the insects stop feeding on the cowpeas and become inactive, eventually drying-out entirely and dying. The bags may also be useful for other crops, such as maize, although use to date has primarily focused on cowpeas. Despite all this, a number of barriers to widespread use of PICS bags exist. Limited availability of PICS bags is the main constraint in many countries, due to an insufficiently dense network of agricultural input retailers. A study led by Research Into Use (RIU) in Nigeria in 2009 distributed PICS bags to approximately 600 000 farmers in an effort to introduce a commercially viable, non-toxic method of storing cowpeas.
Outcomes and impacts Before distributing any bags, RIU conducted a survey to assess awareness levels among farmers in the study areas. They found that only about half of surveyed farmers were even aware of improved storage techniques, such as PICS bags, while only about 25 percent were making use of improved storage techniques. However, after the bags were distributed, farmers who used the PICS bags saw an increase in cowpea-related income of 48 percent on average. The bags have proven popular enough that Lela Agro, the manufacturer of PICS bags in Nigeria, produced half a million PICS bags in 2012