Enhancing Resiliency in Sierra Leone Through Community Food Banks

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Submitted by Village Earth Global Affiliate: VCI Sierra Leone

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The Need :

Sierra Leone is gradually recovering from a 10 – year civil conflict (1991 – 2001) that led to the death of more than 25, 000 people, the displacement of 1.2 million others, disruption of agricultural production, significant food shortages, and rapid deterioration in all sectors of its economic and socio-political life. In 2003, Sierra Leone was ranked the lowest country in the world according to the UNDP’s Human Development Index.

We selected two local communities in Kenema district to work due to the fact that food poverty is highly prevalent. Most households are faced with inadequate food supply due to the low production and very low income and lack of farm inputs. The civil war in Sierra Leone also exposed many people to poor living conditions similar to those prevailing at the beginning of the war in 1991. In general terms, there is a low presence of humanitarian organizations in these communities that are addressing the issues of food insecurity.

Farm sizes are generally small and enhanced production is reported as low. The baseline survey conducted, demonstrated  that crop damage due to pest infestation is a key problem in these communities and this has caused serious seed loss over the years.

The rainy season is between May and November. During this time, the lack of bridges make roads impassable. This community therefore becomes isolated for several months each year. Food supplies cannot be transported from outside and commercial traders often export the resulting food shortages, sometimes even inventing food shortages just to raise market prices. They control the markets, selling food products, especially rice at high prices.

Community food banks have become popular, providing a village-based solution to critical food shortages. Community food banks make food supplies available at the hardest times of the year at carefully controlled prices. VCI has supported the setting up of more than 17 community food banks.

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Encouraging women’s committees

Women’s groups with food banks are usually less developed than those managed by men. The collection of food often involves long walking distances to other villages which have surplus food, which is not easy for women. However, women’s committees have a number of advantages:

  • Management committees are usually village-based because women travel less. There were several months of food scarcity, community banks have become popular, providing village-based solution to critical food shortages. Food banks make food supplies available at the hardest times of the year at crucially controlled prices. VCI has supported the setting up of more than 17 community food banks.
  • Women are more transparent in their financial management
  • Women have better skills in the management of food supplies, especially in times of crisis.

 

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Conclusion

VCI is well satisfied because we feel that the main objective – of improving local food security – has been achieved. The experience of Darlu and Kwawuma reinforces our view that such a small organization can be very effective once it is aware of the problems of food security and in finding solutions. Providing credit, training and technical advice is sufficient to enable them to manage their own food security. However, there is still a need to develop and build on experience.

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Case Study One: The Darlu Community Food Bank

Darlu is a small village with 800 people, situated on the edge of Moawai stream. It is also situated in the Soogbo section, Tunkia Chiefdom, Kenema district, Eastern Sierra Leone. Food prices soar during the rainy season to well above what households can afford. This situation led to the forming of an association of women in the early 2011 to fight against the evils of food insecurity.

In 2012, food scarcity brought in VCI to set up and run an urgent aid operation. During the lean season, VCI sold rice by bags at an affordable price (about one fifth of the market price) After the season, money from this sale had to be used on a project to improve  food security.   The request of the women of Darlu for a food bank was accepted. A storehouse was built with the participation of the women’s association and a management team was selected for training. A VCI loan allowed them to stock 50 bags of cleaned seed rice.

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Operation

Since 2011, the women’s group of Darlu has stored grain for the critical periods of the year. Straight after harvest time, from December to April, the group toured the markets of the area, discovering where the price is best and stocking up the bank. Grain is sold in July and August, at prices everyone can afford, among the group’s members and the most needy households of the village. Two repayments of the loan have already been made. Since their initial training from VCI, the management committee has gained much practical knowledge and are now taking greater control of their own project.

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Some problems

A very good harvest in 2012 meant there were problems in selling all the food, as people still had their own supplies. This meant the group has to sell part of its food ( grain) at purchase price to its members, reducing their profit margin to nothing. This made repayment difficult. The negative influence of certain members reduced the overall motivation and achievements of this group. The large size of the village makes the demand for food difficult to satisfy, but at least the group can help part of the population.

Some solutions

  • A new management committee has been appointed, which should improve motivation.
  • The funds available for buying stock are still at a good levels, but will be much weaker when the group finish repaying the loan. VCI has provided fresh credit, with lower interest this time. This may help them to increase their stock level so more people benefit from the food bank.

Case Study Two: The Kwawuma Food Bank

Kwawuma is a village of 1,000 people. The men of this village set up a group in 2011 during a time of severe food scarcity. One of their objectives was to unite in struggle for food self-sufficiency. The community food bank project was begun in 2012 to improve food security. The group asked for help from VCI who agreed to provide the necessary credit to begin work. A well-built community food store was constructed with the full participation of villagers.

Operation

A committee was selected to look after the management of the food bank. Kwawuma chose well, forming a dynamic committee. They received training from VCI in food storage and marketing. VCI provided credit to enable the purchase of grain at the end of the harvest season when prices are low. The credit was divided into two installments given over six successive months, in order to reduce risk in the first three months. Kwawuma purchased 150 bags of rice in the first three months and seventy bags in the second six months.

Since January 2013, Kwawuma has stored several types of food (grains) in its food bank. Grain prices are fixed by the village group to provide a balance between the low prices for rice at the end of the harvest and high rice prices charged by traders later in the year. When food is in short supply, rice is sold to villagers on a regular basis. Kwawuma has been able to pay back the loan in just one year.

Impact of the project

The villagers of Kwawuma have welcomed the food bank warmly and understand the advantage of safeguarding their food. During the two rainy seasons of the year, households easily survived the period of shortage thanks to their food bank.

Some problems

  • One difficulty has been bookwork. In this rural environment, the majority are illiterate. Management of the food bank requires good record keeping.
  • If food is given on credit to help people during the most difficult periods, this brings the problem of recovering debts, which demands much patience on behalf of the committee.
  • Since the loan was repaid, the bank can only operate with the slight profit they made during the one year of credit. This means they have difficulties buying food in advance for all village households.

Some solutions

  • VCI played an important role in teaching literacy and numeracy to enable better record keeping.
  • To increase the buying power of food banks, VCI offered to grant a fresh loan to all well managed food banks, which included Kwawuma.
  • VCI will continue to provide some follow-up and support for committees, even after loans are repaid, until they judge the organization is sufficiently in control of the entire project.

Successful food banks

 Key Points

The community must make the decision to establish a food bank themselves. Outside agencies should never make this decision for them. The community must own and control the food bank. A committee to manage the food bank needs to be democratically elected. Outside experts may be needed to give advice on purchasing food, preservation and marketing of the food and how to manage the store.

Community food banks should not be seen as famine relief as this will create a sense of dependency. Rather, they should be seen as the community taking active steps to improve their own food security.

Appropriateness

The community food bank provides one workable solution to food security problems…

  • It is simple.
  • It is locally managed by those who benefit from it.
  •  It does not require external technical support.
  • It is initiated at grassroots level.
  • It is participatory – those who benefit share in all levels of
  • Decision making.
  • It does not create dependency, but instead promotes community ownership.
  • It costs a small amount to establish.
  • It is long lasting
  • Food will be available at the crucial times when farmers and their families need it most. This means farmers will not be forced to work for cash just when they need to spend time on their land.

Lunch Program

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Our lunch program is an important platform for us to put our values into practice and onto plate. It allows us to demonstrate the potential of homestead food production to meet the nutritional needs of children, their families and communities.

Our lunch program feeds between 30 – 60 people everyday, including school children, families and the wider community. Last summer, we served more than  3,000 meals at our feeding program site.

Shed Jah is Country Director of Village Care Initiatives (VCI) in Sierra Leone committed to reducing hunger,  using integrated poverty reduction strategy and generating sustainable food security and the rebuilding of families as well as communities. E-mail: villagecaresl@gmail.com

Community Garden Providing Food to Widows & Vulnerable Children

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In Darlu, Sierra Leone a Village Care Initiatives (VCI) group was formed in 2011 on the basis of an existing social club. Members realized some successes in terms of raising food to carry them through the annual “hungry season” and in raising their standard of living and incomes.  The initial success of the group helped to attract new members, who then raised enough money to initiate a community garden that they shared with the group members as well as with widows that did not have enough food to feed their children. They also started a savings scheme to offer help to other families caring for vulnerable children. Gradually, the entire population of women in Darlu became interested in joining the VCI group. Since the group has grown, it has now divided into two groups for ease of management. The groups plan to start a school feeding program next year.
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