Ricker-Gilbert, associate professor of agricultural economics, serves as project
director for the Feed the Future Food
Processing and Post-Harvest Handling Innovation Lab (FPIL) at Purdue. FPIL
is a faculty-led, multidisciplinary project funded by USAID. It began in 2014 as a five-year, $5
million project and was renewed for another three years and $3 million earlier
in 2019. FPIL works to reduce food losses and enhance the value of foods in
The project’s overall
objective is to develop sustainable, market-driven value chains that reduce
food losses, improve food and nutrition security, and contribute to economic
growth for smallholder farmers and food processing entrepreneurs in Kenya and
Senegal. Six Purdue faculty researchers and seven from other universities and
national agricultural research organizations in Africa work to support and
strengthen crop “value chains,” the process by which crops go from farm to
market to fork.
Ricker-Gilbert led research during
the first phase of FPIL to identify the most cost-effective way to prevent
aflatoxin contamination and spread in the maize supply of rural subsistence
households in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is an important issue because poor
drying and storage conditions increase the risk of spoilage by insects, fungi
and other causes.
Several fungal species
produce aflatoxins, potent liver toxins associated with increased cancer risk
as well as negative effects on nutrition and immune systems in humans and
animals. Ricker-Gilbert’s team, which included Jonathan Bauchet, assistant
professor of consumer science, and Stacy Prieto, PhD student in agricultural
economics, set up a randomized intervention in the Vélingara Department of
The researchers conducted a
baseline survey in 209 villages (1,993 households) in May 2016. Just before the
next harvest in October 2016, they randomly assigned households to a control
group (group 1) and four treatment groups (groups 2-5).
collaboration with the Senegalese
Agricultural Research Institute (ISRA), the team
trained groups 2-5 (1,611 households) on improved drying and storage practices,
but provided no technologies.
• The team provided
hygrometers to groups 3-5 (1,217 households) as a low-cost grain moisture
verification tool to determine when their maize was dry enough for safe
• Groups 4-5
(819 households) received a 10m2 plastic sheet as a potential
alternative to drying their maize on dirt.
household in group 5 (409 households) also received one Purdue
Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bag as a means to prevent insect contamination
and limit fungal growth in stored maize. PICS bags hermetically seal the maize,
limiting oxygen and increasing carbon dioxide, which kills any insects on the
grain at the time of storage.
All households were surveyed
again in January/February and May 2017 to determine which implemented
recommended practices and to test the aflatoxin levels in their stored maize. Results
suggest that all treatments lowered mean aflatoxin levels compared to the
control group (figure 1). However, households that received training and all
technologies (group 5) had the lowest average aflatoxins levels at 12 parts per
These findings provide some
important insights. Group 5, which received the PICS bag, had the lowest mean
aflatoxin level, suggesting that drying and storage practices go together in the
mind of smallholder households. If smallholder farmers receive training about
best practices and a safe place to store maize, they may make efforts to find a
clean place to dry it before putting in a hermetic bag — leading to safer,
higher quality maize for consumption.
More information on the study
More information on the FPIL
innovation lab here.
An archive of previous Faculty and Staff Spolight features is available here.