A bank to defeat drought, hunger, and exploitation. In its coffers, there are no gold bars or even precious currency, but cereals. This is what, Father Franco Martellozzo, an Italian Jesuit for more than fifty years a missionary in Africa, has been building in Chad. As the Jesuit explained to Fides News Agency, the idea came from observing that in large parts of Chad subsistence farming is practiced which offers farmers the minimum to survive. There is only one agricultural season, from April to September, and it is the only period during which the land can be cultivated (for millet, sorghum, peanuts) because there is enough rain.
All farmers sell part of their millet during harvest time to get some money for other needs. But if everyone sells in the same period, prices fall. Traders, on the other hand, buy, store and wait for the reserves of millet and sorghum to be scarce. This happens in the rainy season when one has to work for the new harvest and the stocks are reduced to a minimum. Almost everyone buys in that period, prices increase, even reaching three times what the peasants had sold to traders. Who has no money sells the plow or cattle and if it is not enough, he goes to work for big traders, triggering a vicious circle of debits and credits that leads many farmers to a state of semi-slavery.
In 1994, faced with a great drought, the Catholic Church began to reflect on what tools to implement to get out of the vicious circle of hunger and speculation on cereals. “We noticed – recalled Father Martellozzo – that the distribution of food solved the problem temporarily, but inspired a sense of de-responsibility. Hence the idea of building a warehouse to store a millet reserve”. The proposals were accepted, and the warehouse became a real “Bank of cereals”.
The system is simple. The purpose of a cereal bank is to improve food supply in hungry season, especially during extended drought periods. Grain is bought either from the village, or from elsewhere when the prices are low, just after harvest; it is stored until it is needed, and then sold to the villagers at a reasonable price. “Now every farmer works his land and has regained his freedom”.