Some 30 years after inspiration struck to create an economical way to prevent post-harvest losses from insects, a specially-designed bag system has reached the global commercialization stage. Purdue Improved Crop Storage bags were invented by College of Agriculture professor Larry Murdock following a trip to Africa in the late-1980s. Murdock, associate professor Dieudonné Baributsa and a former Ph.D. student, Laurie Kitch, launched PICS Global Inc. to produce a chemical-free, low-cost solution to make food more available throughout the world. In 2007, PICS took off with a $12 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish the project in 10 West and Central African countries.
During a 2016 interview for our Life Sciences Indiana e-newsletter, Murdock said the bags have far-reaching effects. "It’s not beyond imagination," he said, "Africa might be a good market for American products, including products made here in Indiana. You know, 40 years ago if you’d have said that about China, you’d say ‘China? You can’t be serious.’ Well, it’s very possible that Africa will develop and become a very important trading partner for us."
PICS received two more Gates Foundation grants that helped expand its use in crops like maize, sorghum, wheat, rice, peanut, common bean, hibiscus seed, mung bean, pigeon pea and Bambara groundnut, as well as boost commercialization efforts in seven Sub-Saharan Africa countries.
"The potential for the number of bags to be sold is much larger than what we’ve been able to reach so far," Baributsa says. "Of the seven countries we are currently in, there is a potential to sell 8 million bags per year. Last year, more than 3.8 million bags were sold around the world. We started this company to reach that potential and increase access to these bags for farmers in different areas of the world, not just Africa. (Establishing) PICS Global will allow us to reorganize, strengthen and improve the supply chain so the bags are produced in large quantities and the distribution process is more efficient."
The next steps for the technology that is licensed through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization involve exploring the consolidation of manufacturing and establishing subsidiaries in specific regions for licensing, distribution and manufacturing purposes.
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Purdue Improved Crop Storage bag inventor Larry Murdock said the bags have far-reaching effects.