Ensuring food security through village grain banks
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Published on 20 August 2010

Grain banks run by village women lend out food to vulnerable people at easy terms, especially during the lean season. WFP India helps governments and self-help groups to set up these banks

As the mother of four young children and wife of an unskilled labourer, Maina Bai’s biggest challenge was ensuring two square meals for her family each day of the year. Often, she and her family would go without food. Others in her village Dhamni Kuka in Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua district led a similar life steeped in poverty and worsened by the poor soils they worked and a constant shortage of water.

Each year, men from the village would migrate to Gujarat, leaving the women and children to fend for themselves. The supply of grain from the state-run fair-price shop, selling subsidised food for poor people, was erratic and on many occasions Maina Bai and others would return empty-handed.

Safe drinking water, too, was difficult to come by. Only one well was available to Maina Bai to draw water from for her family. This well would provide water for only eight months a year, running dry in the remaining four months.

About a year ago, when Maina Bai heard about the Mandir Faliya grain bank run with the support of WFP, she was excited. As she learnt more, she began to realise that this could indeed save her family from the constant threat of hunger.

Operating exclusively for people living below the poverty line, the bank was entirely managed by a group of 27 women from the village itself. Maina Bai found it very easy to communicate with them and understand how it worked. She started attending the monthly meetings of the grain bank. During lean periods when casual employment and food were difficult to come by, Maina Bai was given grain by the bank. She got fifty kilogrammes each of wheat and rice over five instalments. Over the next few months, she was able to repay about 50 per cent of the `loan’ with a five per cent interest. The group of women running the grain bank also started a dialogue with the Sarpanch, the elected village head, to regulate the functioning of the fair price shop.

As a result the distribution of grain to the villagers through this shop improved considerably. Today, Maina Bai’s husband doesn’t have to migrate to look for work. The family has food every day and the children are growing healthier. "I am so relieved to have the grain bank in my village. I wish something similar is available to all the poor people," said Maina Bai.