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Cereal banks empower women and fight famine in Africa's Sahel region

Groups such as the World Food Program and Care are joining forces to create all-women-managed cereal banks in villages throughout the drought-prone Sahel region of Africa. They help protect against famine, but also empower women.

By Caitlin AylwardNourishing the Planet / June 6, 2013

Women in Niger beat stems of millet in Salewa village, about 250 miles from the capital Niamey. Aid groups have begun women-run cereal banks to help ensure steady grain supplies year round in the drought-prone Sahel region of Africa.

Samuel de Jaegere/Reuters/File

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Drought and high food prices in 2012 threatened the food security of more than 18 million people in the Sahel region of Africa, which includes parts of Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambia, Cameroon, and northern Nigeria.

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The Sahel is prone to drought, and is becoming increasingly so with climate change. Consequently the people in this region are experiencing more frequent bouts of food insecurity and malnutrition.

Fortunately, organizations such as the World Food Program (WFP) and Care are joining forces to create all-women-managed cereal banks in villages throughout the Sahel that not only help protect against seasonal famine, but also empower women as agents of food security in their communities.

Cereal banks are community-led grain distribution projects that store grain after harvests and then loan grain when food is scarce during what is known as the "lean season."

In 2009, WFP and Care established exclusively women-operated cereal banks to help ensure the availability of grain supplies year round. These community cereal banks loan grain below market price, helping protect against market speculation and enabling even the poorest women to purchase food for their families during times of scarcity. The women are expected to repay the loans, but at very low interest rates and only after they have harvested their own crops.

WFP and Care also fund educational enrichment programs that give lessons to women in arithmetic, reading, and writing, which give women the skills needed to manage the village granaries, including bookkeeping, monitoring stocks, and administering loans.

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