Moving Towards A Better Storage Solution, One Farmer At A Time
Doctoral student Nileshwari R. Yewle always had a feeling the jute bags used for generations to store turmeric in India were not the best option to help farmers safely preserve their crops. There was too much turmeric lost to insects and compromised by chemicals. As a scientist, however, feelings were not enough. Nileshwari wanted proof, and she had an idea of how to find it. A new article published in Elsevier’s Journal of Stored Products Research contains the results Nileshwari and a team of scientists found after more than a year of research. It is data she hopes will help influence production of the most essential crop in her country, and—just as importantly—in her family.
Nileshwari’s father is a turmeric farmer who used jute bags to store his crops after harvest. The bags were inexpensive, which seemed at first glance to be good for the bottom line. There was a problem, however: cigarette beetles could easily infest the jute bags and could cause up to 20 percent crop loss. So, her father used chemical fumigants which impacted the quality and taste of the spice, and which cost money. It was a constant difficult balance between preserving turmeric quantity as long as possible to sell the most at the best prices and preserving turmeric quality for the sake of the farmer’s health, safety, and livelihood. Nileshwari decided to take a closer look at storage methods in the laboratory to see if her research could determine best practices for a farm.
Nileshwari and her team evaluated traditional Polypropylene (PP) woven bags and jute bags, as well as GrainPro, Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS), Savegrain and Ecotact bags. Researchers selected freshly polished ‘Selam’ variety turmeric rhizome and mixed it with ten pairs of adult cigarette beetles and two insect-damaged rhizomes in each bag. The bags were put on wooden pallets, and each month for eleven months, researchers checked parameters like oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, moisture, insect damage, curcumin, and weight loss of turmeric rhizomes.
The research team says study results were clear. The published article states, “Hermetic bags are the superior storage technology compared to traditional bag storage to preserve the consistence and nutritional properties of the turmeric rhizomes.” The study found moisture content was higher and insect damage was lower in hermetic bags. Nileshwari says that is important because the better results happened without using insecticides. Among hermetic storage bags, the study found test results for PICS and Ecotact bags were slightly lower than GrainPro bags, in part due to observed insect punctures made in inner PICS bags which were more frequent after nine to ten months of storage.
The study’s final sentence reads: “Hermetic bags are the best solution to avoid reduction in weight and quality of turmeric rhizomes.” Nileshwari hopes that final sentence is the beginning of a new approach to storage, pointing out that her home country of India accounts for about 80 percent of the world’s turmeric production. She would also like to apply the research to products like chili and almonds.
Nileshwari says, “I aspire to be an academic and entrepreneur who can help farmers change the way they think and work.” She believes hermetic bags which make using post-harvest insecticides unnecessary will improve health and then improve the economy. She admits many farmers are worried about the potential cost of new products, and she knows proof comes from seeing results. She hopes her research helps to convince one farmer, who convinces another.
That chain of advocacy begins with Nileshwari and her father. Nileshwari says she showed him her research, and estimated using hermetic storage could save him the equivalent of about $500-$600 USD because he would not have to use chemicals to help preserve his turmeric. It was the proof he needed. Nileshwari says her father is now transitioning to using hermetic storage technology, won over by his daughter and her data which showed him a better way to work.