Farming in Nigeria is done on a seasonal basis. There is a rainy season and a dry season, and unless a farmer is living near a water source such as the river, the bulk of the food for the family comes from the harvest of crops planted during the rainy season. From September to December, the harvesting of certain crops takes place as they ripen. While harvesting can be very hard work because for the peasant farmer, it is done mainly by hand, it is also a time of joy because people see the fruits of their labor.
However, this can also be a time of poor management. At times the harvest is used to pay off loans taken out during the dry season. It is used for feasting and even offerings given in worship services. Because food is seen to be abundant, ample (and more) food is prepared to satisfy everyone. Many times the crops are taken to market and sold in order to buy other goods. By January already, much of the harvest has been depleted. By as early as April and May, and into the rainy months, the granaries are already empty, and the family suffers from food shortage.
Reflecting on this, it can be noted that when the grain is sold soon after harvest, because there is an abundance of grain at that time, prices are low. If the food of those crops has to be bought to assist the family during the dry season, then the prices are higher. The shortage affects not only the physical wellbeing of the family, but also the psychological wellbeing because when food is not available, tension arises and this leads to unhappy family life.
The cereal banking program is an effort to address that problem. A group of people (perhaps around 20) come together and place their crops in a common store. They may store as much as they wish, but they know that the rule is that they will not be able to remove anything from the store (except in emergency) until the date which the group had earlier fixed, usually around the beginning of June. When the ‘bank’ is opened, they can retrieve their grain and do with it whatever they wish – sell it, give it away, use it for an occasion, etc.
Each cereal bank is independent, but there is a set of rules to guide operations. This has allowed for people of other communities to consider whether they also would like to engage in cereal banking.
Does this actually work, that people do not touch their grain until June?
Yes, it does because it is the people themselves who decide when they will open the store, and each bank has its own officials who enforce their rules and decisions.
Does it make their situation better for the members?
Yes, it does, because they report that they do not ever have to worry about having food as the year progresses. In addition, the ‘bank’ will often buy grains to store, and that grain is later sold for a profit. This is then used according to the decision of the members, and many times that means that the members get a little extra cash, especially around the end of the year.
What type of crops do the farmers store in a cereal bank?
They can store any non-perishable crops such as soybeans, maize, guinea corn, cowpeas, etc.
Do the crops not spoil or become infested when they are stored for so long?
Someone is in charge of the cereal bank, and is mandated to regularly check and take measres to deal with pests and rodents.
Besides having some rules, how does the bank actually operate? Who makes decisions?
There are officials for each bank, elected by the members. Meetings are held regularly to discuss any issues that may arise.