Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, has announced an $11.4 million grant to its school of agriculture from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a five-year project to help people in ten African nations safely store cowpeas, an important food and cash crop in those countries.
Even though crop yields are low, cowpeas, better known in the United States as black-eyed peas, are one of the few grain crops that can be profitably exported by farmers in dry, resource-poor areas and are grown and marketed by an estimated 3.4 million African households. But a pest called the cowpea weevil is a constant threat to cowpeas stored on farms. With a one-time cost estimated at a little more than $3 per household, farmers in the west and central Africa nations of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo will be taught a better way of storing their cowpea harvest, enabling them to increase their household income by as much as $150 a year.
First pioneered by Purdue entomologist Larry Murdock more than twenty years ago and proven effective in pilot projects, the low-cost hermetic storage method involves triple bagging the cowpeas in plastic and sealing them tight. Purdue will work with partners in Africa to recruit and train technicians who will travel from village to village to educate local populations about the improved storage method. In addition, the Purdue team will work with manufacturers and suppliers in the region to ensure that good-quality plastic bags are available. The project's goal is to have 50 percent of the cowpeas stored on farms in the region kept in triple-layer plastic bags within five years.
"Through a simple, low-cost, and environmentally friendly technology, Purdue will work with African organizations and program managers to reach more than three million households with information and tools to prevent post-harvest losses, a key lever for small farmers to gain access to agricultural markets," said Dr. Rajiv Shah, director of agricultural development for the Gates Foundation. "This in turn increases their incomes, allowing them to build a better life for themselves and their families."