The Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS) project was launched in 2007 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The project was designed to help farmers access low-cost and chemical-free cowpea storage technology designed to store their cowpeas at harvest affordably, with minimal loss, in order to take advantage of seasonal price variability. One of the specific objectives was to develop supply chains for triple-layer plastic bags to make the technology available to farmers and provide opportunities to local businesses. To achieve the supply chain objective, the project has been pioneering investments in the development of factory-to-farm distribution systems across West and Central Africa. While notable progress has been made, project interventions have evolved over time, and experiences across the PICS countries have been uneven. This study provides an overview of the supply chain experience by country and some of the key lessons learned including: 1) PICS bags are well adapted to the storage needs of smallholder farmers, but not as well accepted by large scale grain traders; 2) the PICS incremental rollout strategy over five years allowed for learning in the early years to be incorporated in subsequent countries; 3) risk sharing strategies are needed for manufacturers and distributors of PICS bags; 4) agro-dealers are some of the best PICS vendors, but cell phone vendors and other entrepreneurs can be effective PICS retailers; 5) public sector institutions like national extension services are not well suited to sales of PICS bags, but individual public sector employees can be good vendors as a supplementary activity; 6) credit is not a key constraint for most PICS vendors, but low profitability and risk are; 7) first year reference price programs have substantial negative effects on market development in subsequent years; 8) crop forecasts are key to timely availability of PICS bags; 9) trademarking the PICS logo was a useful step, but it is not a substitute for patent protection; and 10) PICS project business consultants played a key role in market development which should be gradually shifted to the private sector.


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