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Meet Kemal Ababulgo, a member of Sunto Farmers’ Cooperative, part of Limu Enara Farmers’ Cooperative Union located in Oromia region, Ethiopia

Kemal’s cooperative supplies maize to the Union which in turn sells it to the World Food Programme (WFP). Since the requirements of WFP are high, Kemal was very much concerned about the quality of his produce and wished he knew some miracle to minimise the threat posed by weevils on his maize.

Cooperatives for Change (C4C), a project implemented by SNV in partnership with Agriterra, connected with Shayashone Consultants for the promotion and use of an improved crop storage bag – PICS (Purdue Improved Crop Storage). The bag consists of two layers of polyethylene and a third layer of woven polypropylene. Each sack needs to be closed and tied separately, one after the other, to create an air-tight environment inside, kill insects from lack of oxygen and prevent grain from rotting. The bags are produced by local industries and although their price is higher than that of the traditional bags, farmers consider it a worthwhile investment given the gains in volume and quality of the produce.

“I put chemically treated maize in one bag and untreated maize in a PICS bag. After three months, I found out that the untreated maize had not been affected by either insects or black spot. Moreover, all the weevils were dead. I’m happy that this project has solved my problem” said Kemal. 

To date, Kemal has bought 10 PICS bags for storage and with advice from the market facilitators as well as through his personal experience, he managed to store clean and thoroughly dried grain and prevent grain rot.

As Assefa Kebede, Cooperative Coach at SNV Ethiopia, said, “C4C facilitates and improves market access for smallholder farmers. The project has shared costs with the Union to enable the farmers to deliver quality product to the market, fetch a good price and earn additional income.”

The project promotes the PICS bag technology in partnership with selected cooperative unions in Amhara and Oromia regions. Four unions are engaged in the promotion and distribution of the bags in these regions. Together, the unions have sold more than 3,200 PICS bags (each with holding capacity of 100kg) to their member farmers.

Alemayehu Ayele, representative of Limu Enara Union, said “It is a solution for farmers to store the produce until it reaches a high market value or when it is time for the Limu Union to supply to WFP. It thus enables the Union to deliver maize in time with the required quality.” 

Shayashone and the partnering unions are promoting the PICS bag through text messages (SMS), radio, Bag Opening Ceremonies, and in various interpersonal communication channels. And yet there are still lots of farmers who do not have information on the existence and the benefits of the technology.

“We have to think of other promotion strategies such as for instance network marketing, in which farmers get an incentive for promoting and selling the PICS bag to their neighbours. Incentives could be financial or in-kind (for example, for every 10 bags sold to neighbours, the ‘promotion’ farmer gets one bag for free). It is also very important to engage women in the promotion of the bags, as they are the guardians at home for keeping the stored grain in good conditions and for preparing healthy meals free of chemical use” remarked Quirin Laumans, C4C Project Manager at SNV Ethiopia.

C4C provides capacity and skills development in the form of advisory and financial support and brokering services for local and international market linkages for cooperatives. The project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is implemented in Amhara and Oromia Regional States in close collaboration with government institutions such as the Federal Cooperative Agency, the Regional Cooperative Promotion Agencies, Bureaus of Agriculture as well as the Agricultural Transformation Agency.