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Removing Plastic from Surplus Grain across Africa with Mobile Utility Storage

World Food Program and others Development agencies often recommend African growers use plastic cable ties and bags to store surplus grain.

Photo of William Lanier
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Currently, the World Food Program Global Postharvest Knowledge (WFP) center and other pioneering Development agencies apply plastic to the problem of storing surplus grain in Africa. The plastic storage solution is the result of limited scientific rigor like that of MIT Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (attached) 

We like the CITE approach, however no stored grain entomologists or mobile storage was involved. So it is impossible to compare small format plastic cable ties that seal plastic bags to other systems that scale up from grower daily needs, to school meal programs and then process Net yield (Net benefit). 

At first Hermetic storage seems good for daily needs. However, scientific assessment soon illuminates how daily use discards one-time plastic cable ties (small format plastic) that seal Hermetic bags (large format plastic). Soon the tough cable ties wear and tear the soft plastic neck, the Hermetic seal degrades and thus is not effective, given all the problems involved with maintaining a low oxygen environment. Sometimes an the absence of cable ties, zippers or knotting offer a compromise. Zippers soon wear and tear and knotting reduces the capacity of the bag. Once oxygen enters the bag, pests flourish.

While sealed steel cans allow fumigation (the FAO/SDC confirm hermetic fails) and have a major advantage over plastic ties and bags or jute sacks, condensation dictates that any sealed storage be located indoors on a raised bench. Stacks of plastic bags or steel cans on raised benches inside, take room that has other more productive use. Container quality issues, either artisan or mass produced, are considerable when fumigation is indoors. 

That the WFP has limited evaluation to mere family needs will disrupt Net benefit, as the scaling of hermetic storage at Postharvest loss like aflatoxin control points is limited by small and large format plastic and the infrastructure (benches and roofs) that the typical tenure-insecure grower needs to build and maintain. 

For example, if the MacArthur foundation awards HarvestPlus a single $100 million grant Biofortified grains could be stored in plastic as other more sustainable systems and significant Postharvest loss have been ignored. HarvestPlus, proposes that 100 million people will have access to bio-fortified food by 2030. However, if African Postharvest and input loss like aflatoxin estimates are correct adequate storage does not exist. And so the HarvestPlus proposal lists sealed plastic sacks (1m * 1m) that require triple bagging for every approximately 50 kg of grain. Cable ties are one-time use and plastic wears during daily opening and closing not to mention chewing rats and insects that bore in and must be replaced every 2 - 3 seasons. For discussion, if each person consumes one 50 kg of grain per season, it would mean between +300 and 150 milllion cable ties (small format plastic) 150 and 75 million (150,000 - 75,000 sq. hectares) plastic bags would be discarded or need recycling. 

If stationary infrastructure does not mitigate condensation and offer effective pest management for tenure-insecure growers at Postharvest Loss like aflatoxin control points, what is the Net benefit of biofortification and recycled or discarded plastic  (HarvestPllus)?

Cardwell(2015) presents the hard Postharvest Loss reality might be that, "growers whose scale of operation is too small to be able to produce SAFE FOOD, are too small to farm maize (or any aflatoxin sensitive staple)." Does common sense also suggest small holders should not use plastic as it offers limited Net benefit?

- Should tenure-insecure growers storing surplus grain be limited by recycling or discarding acres of plastic? 

- Is it the Donor's intention to perpetuate 100s of thousands of small growers, degradation of the rural environment and poor health in this way? 


Net benefit design and materials that eliminate the need for non-recyclable small-format packaging altogether.  

To explore grain grower net benefit, a pilot navigated through Ghana’s agricultural business environment and observed adaptive learning that suggested mobile metal Grain Distribution Logisitcal Infrastructure (GDLI) addresses the needs of tenure-insecure growers at Postharvest loss control points. Initially mobile GDLI can be leased to offset end-user-cost, then at harvest it breathes to mitigate condensation, rises above rats and groundwater so storing is optimal and reduces the hard labor, wear and tear that discards plastic during primary processing at markets. GDLI with mobility to scale is optimal for tenure-insecure SSA growers and soon the net benefit of inputs, micro finance, biofortification and marketing quality surplus compensate for the lease or purchase price without +300 and 150 million cable ties (small format plastic) @150 to 75 million discarded plastic bags/season.

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

Scaling storage assets to meet tenure-insecure grower needs eliminates plastic from the supply chain while maintaining the quality and longevity of surplus grain. Spreading control of storage assets to disadvantaged growers decrease the negative influence of short sighted-patriarchs, opportunistic traders and technocrats who control stationary warehouse bottle necks (WB/Ferris, 2013). Democratic food supply chain decisions likely impact the environment in sustainable ways.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

Not all agricultural products grown on the Drylands of Africa are created equal and it is impossible to lump all harvested food products under one set of best practices (Devex, 2016). However, for discussion some Postharvest loss is of wet fruits, vegetables and meat (densely nutritious) and some is dry, high calorie grains. When properly dried and stored, high calorie grain, feeds most of the human labor and animal power needed to produce densely nutritious food. Healthy calories are basic.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Piloting: You have started to implement your solution as a whole with a first set of real users. You may have started to develop a business model for your idea, including identifying key customer segments, relevant partnerships, go-to-market strategy, and draft financials.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

Working with the New Plastics Economy Accelerator Program will help accelerate the Mobile utility solution to eliminate small and large-format surplus grain packaging and align the interests of customers, companies, and the environment to recognize "Stationary Sack Warehouse Prejudice" and democratize grain supply chains in Africa.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

William Lanier became a Ghana resident and registered NeverIdle Farms and Consulting (Ghana) after 1 year as a District Food Security analysis with the Minister of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) Ghana, 18 years' experience with Montana State University Extension, a B.S of Soils and M.S. in Agricultural and Technology Education, and managing a Southern Alberta (Canada) production agriculture family farm.

Tell us about your work experience

William Thomas Lanier <www.linkedin.com/in/williamthomaslanier>

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

NeverIdle Farms and Consulting (Ghana) Ltd is a LLC registered with Ghana Investment and Promotion Center.

7 comments

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Photo of Eduardo
Team

Hi William,
Let me sugest you to chek "www.flaptie.com".
BstRgds.

Photo of Troy Gardner
Team

I read through this as a coffee importer understand the goal but I really find it hard to see your proposed solution.., I suggest rework it to fit in a single sentence or paragraph not referencing anything other that what you'd need to tell a 10 year old or grandma in an elevator pitch.

e.g. PROBLEM: single use, twist ties are made by the ton and then thrown away, and or render the bag leaky subjecting it to moisture when then forms mold rendering it useless.

SOLUTION: with $$ we as a bag manufacturer, can make self sealing bags that are single material for easy recycleability, are strong enough for several resuses, have integrated industrial like zip lock like zipper/tension to solve the freshness issue.

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi William,

It is great to see you in the challenge. This challenge is focused more on small-format plastic packaging that larger scale plastic bags/sacks. Do you have any ideas around small-format plastic packaging?

The Challenge Brief is here - https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/circular-design/brief

Photo of William Lanier
Team

Hello Kate Rushton,
Thank you for helping me clarify how cable ties (small format plastic) is discarded when used to store surplus grain in Africa. I have updated "Removing Plastic from Surplus Grain across Africa with Mobile Utility Storage" with pictures and text.
For example, if the MacArthur foundation awards HarvestPlus a single $100 million grant, biofortified grains would be stored in plastic as other more sustainable systems and significant Postharvest loss have been ignored. HarvestPlus, proposes that 100 million people will have access to bio-fortified food by 2030. However, if African Postharvest and input loss like aflatoxin estimates are correct adequate storage does not exist.
The HarvestPlus proposal lists mere sealed plastic sacks (1m * 1m) that require cable ties and triple bagging for every approximately 50 kg of grain. Cable ties are one-time use and plastic bags wears during daily opening and closing not to mention chewing rats and insects that bore in and bags must be replaced every 2 - 3 seasons. For discussion, if each person consumes one 50 kg of grain per season, it would mean between +300 and 150 million cable ties (small format plastic) 150 and 75 million (150,000 - 75,000 sq. hectares) plastic bags (large format plastic) would be discarded or need recycling.
Questions and comments welcome.
Regards,
Willliam

Photo of Lauren Ito
Team

William Lanier thanks for participating in the challenge. The challenge brief attached by Kate Rushton (https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/circular-design/brief) outlines the criteria for the challenge --including use cases that are in-scope and the grant prizes we are awarding to challenge winners. The funding tiers are as follows:

Early-Stage Ideas – $10,000 (up to ten awards of $10,000 each)
Mid-Stage Ideas – $100,000 (up to three awards of $100,000 each)
Advanced Ideas – $200,000 (up to three awards of $200,000 each)

Please refer back to the challenge brief for more details. Another helpful resource may be our Circular Design Guide: circulardesignguide.com

Looking forward to seeing an idea from you that aligns with your expertise and addresses challenge criteria in the small-format plastics space!

Photo of William Lanier
Team

Hello Lauren Ito and Kate Rushton,
Thank you for the challenge brief.
I am glad I noticed the "Surprise Us" Idea option.
Do you think it is relevant that the MacAurthur foundation seems unaware how on one hand MacAurther supports initiatives like "Let's fundamentally rethink the way we make, use and re-use plastics so that they don’t become waste in the first place", when on the other hand by promoting HarvestPlus biofortified grain without addressing the lack of adequate grain storage MacAurther promotes needless plastic waste (not to mention aflatoxin <www.agrilinks.org/aflatoxin>), by ignoring already available fundamental solutions that eliminate non-recyclable small-format and large format plastic waste.
For example, even though it might seem large packaging items like the plastic bags used to store surplus grain in Africa are already widely recycled,
- in Africa small format and large plastic containers are not recycled, they are burned or left to decompose everywhere.
- everywhere but Australia, the idea that grain storage can be as dynamic as the problems it solves is new and unique.
- the solution is human centered poised to make grain more nutritious and lives spent doing tedious primary processing easier.
- the solution can be accelerated, cost-effectively with leases and scaled up and down to control real local problems on the ground like environmental and food degradation.

Comments and suggestions welcome,
William

Photo of William Lanier
Team

Hello Lauren Ito and Kate Rushton,
Thank you for the challenge brief.
I am glad I noticed the "Surprise Us" Idea option.
Do you think it is relevant that the MacAurthur foundation seems unaware how on one hand MacAurther supports initiatives like "Let's fundamentally rethink the way we make, use and re-use plastics so that they don’t become waste in the first place", when on the other hand by promoting HarvestPlus biofortified grain without addressing the lack of adequate grain storage MacAurther promotes needless plastic waste (not to mention aflatoxin <www.agrilinks.org/aflatoxin>), by ignoring already available fundamental solutions that eliminate non-recyclable small-format and large format plastic waste.
For example, even though it might seem large packaging items like the plastic bags used to store surplus grain in Africa are already widely recycled,
- in Africa small format and large plastic containers are not recycled, they are burned or left to decompose everywhere.
- everywhere but Australia, the idea that grain storage can be as dynamic as the problems it solves is new and unique.
- the solution is human centered poised to make grain more nutritious and lives spent doing tedious primary processing easier.
- the solution can be accelerated, cost-effectively with leases and scaled up and down to control real local problems on the ground like environmental and food degradation.

Comments and suggestions welcome,
William