Originally invented by WFP in Guatemala and rolled out in several countries, the Blue Box was originally...blue. Since then, it has evolved into a lightweight aluminum container that is....well, silver in colour. WFP prefers to think of it simply as 'the magic box'.
The aim of the Blue Box is to enable farmers to test the quality of their product prior to selling to private sector companies or organizations such as WFP.
It contains a set of lab equipment for field quality testing and screening, with visual and written instructions for the users. The tools included in the box allow small farmers to perform grading of maize, grains, grading of beans, moisture determination and aflatoxin determination. The box also includes equipment to conduct sampling exercises in accordance with international standards, regular sampling or sampling for micro-biological testing.
“The Blue Box is almost magical in that is gives farmers something they have never had before – control over the quality and consequently the market price of their goods", says WFP Country Director for Mozambique, Lola Castro. "Once farmers know the grade of their stock, they can either increase the grade quality prior to selling, or control the quality more effectively in the coming season”.
This month, WFP Mozambique is donating 10 Blue Boxes to farmers' associations which work and provide food to WFP through its Purchase for Progress programme in the provinces of Tete, Manica and Zambezia. In each association, a certain number of farmers will be trained to use the testing kits effectively, making them proficient in controlling the quality of more than 5,000 farmers’ produce. If, for example, a farmer tests his maize or beans and finds the moisture content too high, he can dry the maize for a longer period in the sun prior to selling it, thus ensuring a higher price for the product.
In Mozambique, laboratory testing and quality grading of commodities is only available in the larger cities, making it difficult and expensive for farmers to access. The Blue Box, however, is stored in the farmers' association warehouse and is accessible at all times, making it much easier for rural farmers to use it on a regular basis.
In collaboration with the regional commodity testing company, Intertek, the Blue Box has evolved into a highly sophisticated, versatile and easy-to-use tool to improve the quality of smallholders’ produce.