Thursday, July 8, 2010

Feeling grainy: a cereal bank in my village


Before: Day one of work on the cereal bank
In Mali the principle grains are millet, sorghum and rice.  With these grains women can make the staple dishes of Mali: toh (like firm mashed potatoes), siri (a porrdige) and rice dishes.  Cereal banks are constructed by villages and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to help ensure food security in places where the fluctuations in the grain market are most deeply felt (i.e. small villages where jobs, and therefore income, are scarce).  According to the USAID website “Food security means having, at all times, both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. A family is food secure when its members do not live in hunger or fear of hunger."  Food security are two big buzz words in Mali right now and millions of dollars from USAID and the United Nations pour into the country to combat the effects of food insecurity and help to provide food security.   
making progress!
The way a cereal bank should work is a family comes to the cereal bank council (selected by the chief of the village) and pays a joining fee in CFA (the currency in Mali) or with 20 kilos of grain.  Then, when hungry season arrives -typically from August-September – the family can take out 100 kilos of grain to get them through and pay the 100 kilos of grain back after harvest with interest i.e. 120 kilos of grain total.  Hungry season is the time of year when farmers work their hardest to tend to their fields but their personal grain banks empty before their own harvest is ready thus leaving the family without enough grain at a time when there is no money to buy more. 
 
These are what personal graineries look like.  (from Esayi and Annie's compound/yard)
In the fall of 2009 a group of 6 men including Esayi, the chief of the village and my host-dad, drafted a budget for our village's cereal bank.   The budget included requests for funds to cement the floor and walls, iron for the roof, a door with locks and forty-five, 100 kilogram sacks of millet (about 220 pounds each).  After the men drafted the budget I transferred the proposal to an Excel spreadsheet and filed the necessary paperwork to receive a Small Project Assistance (SPA) grant for close to one million CFA (about USD $2,000) from the Peace Corps.  SPA grants require a community contribution of at least 33% which our village contributed in the form of labor. The men hand-made the bricks, transported them to the building site and built the cereal bank for free. We also drafted a time-line for the construction and use of the cereal bank.
This bike is just a restin' its bones
The men took a few months to construct the cereal bank and finished it near the end of April after a ground-breaking in February.  After the completion of the bank an agriculture technician from our area came to deliver a 3-day training on how to manage the cereal bank and keep records of the debits and credits to the bank.  Esayi and I then spent a few week gridding and painting a map of the world onto the front of the bank. 

 
Breaking ground - I didn't last long!
The painting on the front of the cereal bank struck me at first as an incongruous location for a map of the world.  Perhaps it would have been better to paint a mural about nutrition or good farming techniques but I'm not an artist and there is nothing like seeing someone experience the vastness of the world through a map as I witness when villagers pass by and marvel at the distance and proximity of countries to one another.  What better way for Malians (and me!) to learn where the countries are they hear about most: the USA, Spain, France, Canada, China and other West African nations?  What better way to generate discussions about where all this development money is coming from to help ensure food security? The map on the cereal bank reminds me why I live in Mali and do what I do.  I live, and have stayed, in Mali because I have grown to love the people and I have grown to love the country.  The map on the cereal bank reminds of that and the grain inside also ensures that Annie, my host-mom, can make toh for me and her family all year.



Esayi seals up the cracks inside


the final product!
 
After: Esayi gives a tour in Bambara of the new cereal bank in our village.  He's a great host!


See more pictures from the process here!

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