NIAMEY – One of the poorest and most drought-prone places on Earth, Niger is a risky place to depend on farming. But thousands of people do, like Fatih, a widowed mother who toils against the odds to provide for her children.
Between harvests, during what they call the “lean season,” she used to travel for miles in the blazing heat to pay exorbitant prices at faraway food markets. Now, she and other women in her village are shielding themselves from hunger with the help of a cereal bank where they can borrow grain at low interest rates when food supplies run low.
While the cereal bank staffed by these mostly illiterate women stands in stark contrast to the raucous “pit” of the Chicago Board of Trade, what they’re doing is very similar: hedging their risks and betting on futures.
Droughts, floods and crop failures can all play havoc with commodity markets, but the stakes for small farmers like Fatih are considerably higher. In a time of high food prices, bad harvests can drag families into debt and from there into poverty and hunger.
That’s why the cereal bank, where Fatih now works, offers a badly needed safety net. Set up by WFP and Care, the bank puts women in charge of monitoring stock and overseeing the loans for the local families who need them.
But even the simplest administrative tasks pose a challenge to women who can’t read. In order to learn the skills they need to make the food bank work, they receive lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic as well as health, nutrition and child care.