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Cereal banks, a weapon in the fight against food scarcity in Uganda
Vulnerable agro pastoral communities in the semi arid region of Karamoja in Uganda have resorted to cereal banking as a coping mechanism to their food security threats.
The idea of introducing cereal banking emerged as part of a Community Disaster Risk Reduction Action Plan development process within the framework of a regional drought risk reduction initiative supported by the European Commission, Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO). The initiative generates action plans that aim at increasing the resilience of the pastoral and agro pastoral communities.
Loyit Paul has been chosen by members of Natapaali Agro Pastoral Field School (APFS) in LolachatSubCounty, Nakapiripirit district in Karamoja region to negotiate selling their grain at a good price. He found a buyer who is willing to pay Ush 3,000 per kilogram and buy 50 kilos. Hearing the news, members of his group burst into singing and dancing. This will earn them a profit of Ush 2,000 per kilogram.
Lokir James is the first buyer of their sorghum, which has been stored in their cereal bank for over six months. Whereas a kilogram of sorghum in Karamoja goes for as low as Ush 1,000 during harvest time, it can more than double during the dry season due to scarcity.
With funds from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), FAO supported the group to construct four big granaries in which they stocked over 6,000 kilos of sorghum (over 1,500 kilos in each). For members of Natapaali APFS, cereal banks were identified as a solution to hunger, volatile food prices and scarcity during the dry season.
James Okoth, FAO’s National Programme Manager, said “the cereal banking system was identified as one of the most appropriate strategies to break the cycle of food scarcity, soaring market prices and dependency on food aid in the region.”
Despite the drawbacks of the dry spell experienced between May and July, there are good prospects that the anticipated harvest will boost the seed stocks which will in turn boost the operation of the cereal banks as FAO plans to support more farmer groups to adopt this system.
Although it is common for stocks of harvested cereals to run low between March and June, unpredictable weather and livestock diseases are making it harder for communities in Karamoja to produce, store or purchase enough food.
A cereal bank buys grain at its lowest price. It is then stocked and sold throughout the year with a small profit cushion to provide funds to restock the following year. At the same time, families that borrow food from the cereal bank can pay back in kind. Once the initial investment is made, the banks become self-supporting.
As a tradition, the Karimojong households have food storage banks, but they are smaller in size, each storing, on average, between 50 kilos to 500 kilos of grain. These granaries are also vulnerable to ravages of rodents and pests.
Members of the community received initial capital from FAO to buy up supplies from their colleagues and start cereal bank operations. The granaries are built by the farmer groups using locally available materials such as reeds and wood. They are placed in the centre of their respective Manyattas (settlements) to guarantee their safety. The cereal banks are raised off the ground and supported with strong poles and fitted with a strong water proof cover at the top.
Members who operate the cereal banks are trained in agronomy, post harvest handling and management, record keeping and marketing. Each group appoints a management team that is responsible for the control of all cereal bank operations; sales, stock replenishment, logistics, security, finance and administration.