Innovative tech helps farmers save food
Grain and seed “cocoons” take a bite out of our global hunger problem.
Food scientists are making great progress increasing yields on the farm. But ask anyone from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and you'll hear concern about waste: about half the food we produce never gets eaten. It’s thrown out. And in developing countries, the story’s even harder to swallow: a big chunk of the food spoils before it leaves the farmers' fields.
A simple, inexpensive and ingenious solution for storing food was invented in the 1980s with Israeli and American inventors collaborating together. This solution is now saving food at the source, and changing lives in multiple ways.
Thirty-five years ago, Larry Simon, founder of U.S.-based GrainPro, and Shlomo Navarro, world-renowned agriculture scientist from Israel, put their minds together. They invented the GrainPro Cocoon, which is now working to save food and hundreds of thousands of lives in 107 countries around the world.
Used by the World Food Programme, crops under “wraps” thanks to the Cocoon include maize, beans, rice, seeds of all types, cacao, coffee and peanuts. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture organization has measured that the Cocoons have “improved rice storage to cut losses of that staple grain by 15%.”
Food is saved by putting dried goods in airtight tents. These Cocoons keep small mammals, bacteria, fungus and insects from causing damage. Even when insect eggs or fungal spores are on food in storage, the Cocoon doesn’t allow anything to breathe and grow – saving up to 24% of all harvested dried goods from spoiling.
Walter Zwick from the Don Bosco Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Cambodia, grows food to feed 600 schoolchildren twice a day, year-round. “We’ve had GrainPro Cocoons at our farms for two years. We use them to store seeds and rice. Rice beetles and molds do not survive," he says. "Hermetic storage is a remarkable way to avoid losses."
Most suited for hot and humid climates, the Cocoon is a welcome solution over fumigating crops with dangerous chemicals. It can keep crops safe for weeks, months and even years – until market prices change or the community needs to eat.
Americans are also reaping benefits from the Cocoon. It’s used to store rice on the West Coast, it’s enjoyed by Hawaiian coffee growers, and American customers include 100 boutique coffee roasters using it to keep their beans fresh. This is about 5% of GrainPro’s market.
The other 95% is spread throughout 106 countries, mainly developing ones that need to store grains. Philippe Villers, president of the company, says their success in Africa is evident in the numbers. “Where crop losses exceed 25%, we can reduce this to less than 1% per year.”
GrainPro, headquartered in Massachusetts, has hundreds of clients – ranging from tiny family outposts to large farms to national food reserves that store thousands of tons of grains and dried legumes.
Besides salvaging food, the second advantage to sealing dried goods this way means saving lives in other surprising ways, Villers tells From The Grapevine.
He explains that the Cocoon works to prevent food contamination by alfatoxins, a byproduct of mold. These toxins depress the immune system leading to stunted growth in children and increased risk of cancer or HIV in the developing world.
“The amount of aflatoxin in hot, humid climates goes up exponentially when storing food for multiple months,” says Villers. “We like to stabilize the problem and prevent further growth.”
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