TODIGAMEYE (NIGER) -- At 8 am sharp, Aissa Seyni opens the doors of the cereal bank in this village some 40 km away from the capital Niamey. As usual in the period just before harvest, the local women line up to ‘borrow’ their share of cereals. Like any loan, the cereals must be ‘repaid’ – but at low interest rates after the harvest.
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Along with the majority of women in Todigamèye, Seyni is illiterate. But that has not stopped the women following the progress of the stock on a daily basis. Instead of letters and words, they use symbols - a circle with three dots, for example, means 250.
CARE International, WFP’s partner in establishing cereal banks in several regions in Niger, helped the women develop the monitoring system and organised training for the all-female management committee, of which Seyni is a member.
Seyni is not paid a salary by the cereal bank. “The availability of cereals in our village more than compensates me for my daily work,” she says. Aissa Issaka, a 50-year-old widow who is waiting in the line, adds: “The cereal bank in our village has changed my life. Before it opened three years ago, I had to travel to Niamey to ask for help from cousins when I didn’t know how to feed my seven children.”
Two million beneficiaries
Cereal banks are not a new concept: WFP has supported cereal banks in Niger for more than 20 years. In 2008, almost two million vulnerable people in rural areas benefited from these projects, which receive generous support from the Dutch postcode lottery, NPL.
The important role that the women now play in village life has improved their status with the men of Todigamèye, whose initial hesitation about the cereal bank soon disappeared.
“The surrounding villages are very jealous, even though they benefit from our bank. Before it opened, everyone had to travel to Niamey to buy cereals and they were even more expensive,” says Boubacar Djibo, the village chief.
Aissa Seyni adds: “Women now make a major contribution to the family budget, unlike before, when men were responsible for covering all costs. This helps with additional expenses such as medical costs for the children. And my husband now asks my advice before taking a decision!”