Drs. Larry L. Murdock, D. Layne Coppock and Getachew Gebru received the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD) Scientific Award for Excellence in a Feed the Future Innovation Lab on October 21, 2015. The Awards were given at the BIFAD public meeting held at Purdue University. The Scientific Excellence awards consider work conducted worldwide under the auspices of over 20 current USAID-supported Feed the Future programs covering a wide array of themes concerning crop and livestock agriculture, poverty mitigation, food security, and the environment.
Dr. Murdock, Distinguished Professor of Entomology at Purdue University, has focused his research for many years on cowpea (black-eyed pea) production and storage intended to help millions of resource-poor farmers in Africa. From that work evolved the hermetic three-bag storage technology now in widespread use in Africa, known as the Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage, or PICS, bag.
The impact of Dr. Murdock’s innovation has been significant. For the millions of people using PICS bags, the technology has cut weevil damage losses virtually to zero, increased grain value, eliminated pesticide risks and created new micro-credit markets with the grain as collateral.
The average monetary benefit of this technology has been estimated at about $150 per household per season – doubling the income of most small-holder farmers. For cowpea alone, it is estimated that the PICS bags increased the cash flow for West African farmers by about $34 million in the 2012-13 storage year.
Dr. Murdock is currently leading a research effort to adapt the PICS (now known and Purdue Improved Crop Storage) hermetic storage idea for other grains and crop products.
Dr. D. Layne Coppock of Utah State University and Dr. Getachew Gebru of MARIL PLC, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, also received the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD) 2015 Scientific Award for Excellence in a USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab. Coppock and Gebru represented an eight-member team from the U.S., Ethiopia, and Kenya that orchestrated an action-oriented research project to diversify livelihoods, increase incomes, and improve food security among poverty-stricken pastoralists in drought- and conflict-prone southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. The team was directed by Coppock, the lead principal investigator for the project. This is the first time that BIFAD has given this award to a team.
Beginning in 1997, the Pastoral Risk Management (PARIMA) Project focused on ways to help diversify income, assets, and improve access to information among destitute pastoralists. Funds for outreach and community training to accompany the research were provided by the USAID Mission to Ethiopia. The team members recognized by BIFAD were the architects and implementers of a “Pastoral Women’s Collective Action” effort founded on principles of community engagement during the period 1999 to 2009.
A multi-step, capacity-building model was created by the team that was founded on peer-to-peer learning, self-help in a collective-action framework, micro-finance, instilling small-business management training, and linking empowered women’s groups to market opportunities. Thousands of penniless, illiterate women volunteers were transformed into highly diversified, self-sufficient and confident entrepreneurs in less than three years at a very low cost per person. Their husbands quickly learned that supporting their wives in this endeavor was a wise thing to do, and entire households thus adjusted to this new reality.
By 2005 the spread of the women-led collective action groups across Ethiopia’s Borana Plateau was pervasive. A total of 59 groups had been created with over 2,300 founding members. The equivalent of about $650,000 had been extended in 5,400 micro-loans over several years with a 96% repayment rate. Entrepreneurial activities were carefully thought out and managed; for example, one remarkable effort was by a woman who turned a vacated termite mound into a large, wood-fired oven in support of her new bakery.
The impact of the project has continued to grow. The women who were so carefully trained on the project have been implicated as catalysts in today’s expansion of various types of producer cooperatives across Ethiopia; today the number of groups is at 795 with 87,000 participants (74% women), and over $28 million dollars in working capital that has been accumulated, in large measure, via grassroots savings and credit programs. A smaller version of the Ethiopian effort was piloted in Baringo District in Kenya’s Rift Valley in 2006, and this component has been sustained and expanded as well.
Besides Coppock and Gebru, the other team members recognized, but unable to attend the ceremony at Purdue, include Dr. Solomon Desta, Mr. Seyoum Tezera, and Ms. Azeb Yonas from Ethiopia as well as Prof. Abdillahi Aboud, Dr. Mark Mutinda, and Dr. Stellamaris Muthoka from Kenya.
BIFAD is a presidentially-appointed board that advises the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Members of BIFAD are Brady Deaton, Chairman; Pamela K. Anderson, James Ash, Waded Cruzado, Gebisa Ejeta, Cary Fowler, and Harold Martin. For more information on BIFAD, contact the Executive Director, Susan Owens of USAID at (202)712-0218. (https://usaid.gov/bifad)
BIFAD was established for the purpose of advising the United States Agency for International Development on ways that universities can help the agency achieve its goals for agricultural development. APLU serves as a vital link between USAID, BIFAD and the university community.
Photo, left to right: Dr. Larry L. Murdock, Dr. Getachew Gebru, Amb. Alfonso Lenhardt (Acting Administrator of USAID), and Dr. D. Layne Coppock.