Community cereal bank: potential social food security net for the Far North Region of Cameroon, RELUFA.

In October 2016, RELUFA committed a work entitled : ” Banque de céréales communautaire : potentiel filet social de sécurité alimentaire pour la Région de l’Extrême-Nord du Cameroun “. The writing of this report was based on a project implemented by RELUFA, that of community cereal banks. Indeed, cereal banks are seen as a social safety net that can help communities become more resilient to climatic and economic upheavals.

From the outset, RELUFA presented the food insecurity situation in the Far North Region, accentuated by the massive arrival of refugees from Nigeria fleeing the atrocities of the terrorist group Boko Haram. This part of Cameroon is experiencing numerous food crises linked to low agricultural yields, largely due to climatic variations. These climatic and security hazards justify the adoption of strategies to combat poverty and food insecurity, such as the community cereal bank.

In response to the inefficiency of local food markets, manifested in the speculation affecting communities in this region, RELUFA has chosen cereal banks as a social safety net. In addition, the cereal bank system was chosen because of the seasonal nature of famine and the region’s susceptibility to disasters and other emergencies (floods, drought, Boko Haram incursions, etc.).

The operating system of RELUFA’s cereal banks, as described in the report, consists of purchasing off-season millet on local markets during the harvest period, with the aim of avoiding speculation and making cereals available during the lean season. These cereal banks are also characterized by a system of borrowing during the lean season and repayment with a small amount of interest in kind during the harvest period. The strategy of the community cereal banks is to meet cereal demand during the most difficult month (August) and to obtain repayment between October and December (for rainy-season sorghum) and February-April (for off-season millet). RELUFA places women at the heart of the cereal bank system, setting up essentially women’s groups to manage the cereal banks.

In addition, the report presents the impacts of the cereal bank system on populations following an evaluation carried out by the organization in July 2016. Cereal banks have created a change in cereal supply. Among other things, they have helped to reduce hunger, increase school enrolment, provide medical care for the sick, limit rural migration/exodus, and provided for the consolidation of a strong agricultural workforce. The cereal bank system has also enabled the construction of storage warehouses for the conservation and rational consumption of foodstuffs. Finally, the cereal banks have served to strengthen social ties through greater collaboration between villagers and the development of initiatives to reflect on village problems.

The report also assesses the strengths of RELUFA’s cereal bank system, which are : the importance given to communities, the involvement of women in the management of community granaries, the existence of standards of behavior and the training of management committees, the involvement of other players such as traditional authorities and cotton ICG managers, not to mention the ability of communities to manage the project without external support, thanks to their mastery of the destocking and restocking process and the maintenance of the store. Ownership of the cereal bank system by the local population has made a major contribution to the success of the cereal banks. Indeed, local communities have created community fields, strategies for collecting and repaying grain stocks, etc.

Notwithstanding these strengths, the report highlighted the challenges facing RELUFA. These include the problem of repayment linked to low agricultural yields and moral hazard, and the need to promote volunteerism among members of the management committees in order to encourage them and prevent abuses and misappropriation. Other challenges include setting up an external monitoring and control mechanism for cereal banks, and mobilizing financial resources to extend the cereal bank system throughout the Far North Region.

With a view to strengthening the sustainability of the cereal bank system, RELUFA proposed the following actions: continue to supply communities according to their quantitative and qualitative needs, provide other forms of support to local communities in terms of irrigation, soil fertilization, access to agricultural credit through the warrantage system, set up an independent, transparent mechanism for auditing cereal banks, etc.

Ultimately, cereal banks are a potential social safety net for food security in Cameroon’s Far North. They help reduce hunger and contribute to the development of human capital. Community cereal banks in RELUFA’s target zones have a positive impact on both food security and the ability to adapt to climate change and other economic difficulties. The cereal bank system is a strategy that has long been applied in almost all the Sahelian countries of Africa, and which has borne fruit. RELUFA is to be commended for its success in implementing such a project in critical areas of the Far North. Despite this success, much remains to be done in this region, which still faces high levels of food insecurity.

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