Profitable chemical-free cowpea storage technology for smallholder farmers in Africa: opportunities and challenges
AbstractCowpea is the most economically and nutritionally important indigenous African grain legume, grown by millions of resource-poor farmers. It is a key cash crop in areas too dry to grow cotton or other export crops. Most of the over 3 million t of cowpea grain produced annually in West and Central Africa is grown on small farms. Storage is often identified as the key challenge for small scale cowpea growers. Many farmers sell cowpea grain at low harvest time prices rather than risk losses by bruchids during storage. Some traditional methods are effective for small quantities (e.g., 10 kg), but are difficult to scale up. Some effective storage chemicals are available, but they are regularly misused by farmers and merchants. The Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS) Project is addressing these problems through promotion of hermetic storage in triple layer sacks which have an outer layer of woven polypropylene and two liners of 80 μ high-density polyethylene. Village demonstrations with more than 45, 000 PICS sacks have shown the technology to be effective. Good quality affordable sacks have been produced by manufacturers in Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Mali. Over the past three years more than one million sacks have been produced and sold. Despite the success with the outreach activities and the farmer adoption, the challenge remains to develop sustainable sack distribution networks. Issues identified include reluctance of wholesalers to order sacks due to risk associated with a new product, inability of wholesalers to develop effective distribution networks due to difficulties with enforcing contracts, and limited access to capital. The PICS project is exploring new ways to address some of these issues, including using non-traditional distribution systems for PICS sacks such as agro-dealers networks, and adapting distribution systems that have worked for cell phones and other products.
Keywords: Cowpea, Bruchids, Hermetic storage, Supply chain, West and Central Africa
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