Banking on communities

WFP West Africa
Nov 9, 2017 · 3 min read

In the West African nation of Liberia, WFP training courses help women famers to better manage community food banks, which serve as ‘insurance’ against hunger during the lean season.

Food banks are key during the lean season, when hunger is rife. WFP/Adel Sarkozi
WFP/Adel Sarkozi

Ganta, Liberia — As head of a village grain reserve committee in central Liberia’s Bong County, 64-year-old Mary Mulbah, knows the importance of community food reserves, or food banks.

The storage facilities are used to protect grains such as rice and corn against pests, rain and dust. Critically, they help sustain local households during the “lean season” before harvests, when torrential rains make roads impassable and drive up market and transport costs. This is the time family food stocks have dwindled and hunger is rife.

Today, thanks to a three-day WFP-sponsored workshop, Mulbah knows how to better manage these precious food banks — and she is upbeat about the future of her farming group.

WFP’s training targets women who dominate Liberia’s farming industry. WFP/Adel Sarkozi

“This training has given us the resolve to be more strategic,” she says. “To save enough money for the rainy season, but also to sell the surplus and make money.”

Realized in collaboration with the Liberian government and the Farmers Assistance Programme, a local agricultural organization, the WFP training course focuses on ‘best practices’ in managing community food reserves that emphasize resilience building. It targets women who dominate Liberia’s agricultural industry in a country where seven in 10 people depend on farming for a living.

More broadly, better management of community food banks will help move Liberia closer to its 2030 zero hunger goal.

“Community Food Reserves are forms of insurance against seasonal livelihood shocks,” says Lonnie Herring, WFP Programme Officer for Livelihoods Assets and Market Promotions. “At a time when Liberians are striving to end hunger in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2, there is no better time than now for the food banks.”

The UN-financed grain reserves may help Liberia meet its zero hunger goals. WFP/Adel Sarkozi

Launched in 2013, the WFP-supported initiative now counts 13 community food banks in six counties across the country. The grain reserves include warehouses, drying floors, hand pumps and toilets. Nine others are being built in other counties. By 2018, WFP hopes that a total of 22 UN-financed community food banks will be fully operational to support some 1,350 households, or nearly 7,000 people.

Those enrolled in the workshops are women like Mulbah, who head female farming groups overseeing the food banks. They learn that beating hunger demands understanding the intricacies of running the storage units. Also needed are good management and know-how of post-harvest handling, business planning and sound financial practices.

“We will now prioritize growing more food and maintain and preserve food properly for use when the rains come and food is short,” Mulbah says. “Post-harvest handling techniques to discourage loss will be of paramount.”

Another female farmer, Francy Seoh, 56, has no regrets making a difficult, 150-mile car trip on unpaved roads to attend the WFP workshop held in the northern town of Ganta.

“When we go home, we will insure unity, a clean warehouse, group participation and hold regular meetings,” says Seoh, whose farmers’ group is called Ajetee, or “Ready” in English.

Seoh also says the group will expand its membership, under a single theme. “Our strength and motto,” she adds, “is food security at all costs.”

FOOTNOTES: Story and pictures: WFP/John Monibah & WFP/Adel Sarkozi

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WFP West Africa

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Providing lifesaving assistance and building life-changing resilience in 19 countries of west and central Africa.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme