Living With Food Security

The increase in human population means a lot of hungry mouths to feed. Unfortunately, many people in the world starve, not because the world does not produce enough food, but because the distribution of food in space and time means that food is not available when and where it is required. Brad Plumer of the Washington Post has a post titled, How the world manages to waste half its food. Waste is one way to look at the challenge. Those who work in agriculture and food security know that humans are in competition with other living organisms for our food. Tiny bacteria, fungi and molds, worms, insects, birds and other mammals can all consume food that is produced for human consumption. Food security requires that we protect our food from these competitors.

It is impossible to protect 100 percent of our food from competing organisms. The best protection options are those that are convenient, have a reasonable cost and high efficacy. Advances in technology and materials can create new methods of food protection. One example of a technology that meets the standards of convenience, reasonable cost and high efficacy is the Purdue Improved CowPea Storage or PICS. Cowpeas are a staple food in parts of West Africa. However, much of the crop is destroyed in storage by cowpea weevil. The weevils enter cowpeas while they are growing in the field. When the cowpeas are stored, the weevils reproduce and can consume up to half of the stored cowpeas. Farmers lose food and a potential source of revenue.

Bill Gates displays a Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage bag

Bill Gates displays a Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage bag
Photo: Washington Examiner

The PICS programs uses simple technology that is widely available and affordable: plastic. Plastic is a barrier to oxygen. If the plastic is thick enough, weevils cannot chew through the plastic. The cowpeas are placed in a plastic PICS bag and sealed. The weevils consume the oxygen in the bag and die once the oxygen is consumed. This spares the cowpeas from weevil damage and allows them to be stored for the future. The bags are inexpensive and convenient for storage and transport. They can be produced locally. Adoption has been growing as farmers learn they can improve their income by up to 25%. The effort is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. As world population continues to increase, more advances in food storage technology will be needed.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in by jjneal, Food, Pest Management. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Living With Food Security

  1. Pingback: In Which I Eat Bugs, Win Second Place and Tackle a Friend in a Fountain – Roots Run Deep

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