Resource centre on India's rural distress

Grain banks guard against loan & seed sharks

This is a story of a bunch of gritty women in a small Andhra village who used their traditional resources and knowledge to fight poverty and create a source of livelihoods for others. A group of 34 women, most of them illiterate, at village Pyalayaram, which falls in Deccan region of Zaheerabad mandal in the state of Andhra Pradesh.decided to set up a community grain bank with a little help from a local NGO, the Deccan Development Society (DDS). The main objectives were to ensure a steady supply of quality seeds, to preserve traditional seeds and to create a shield against long and recurrent droughts.

These women hardly knew that they were setting up an example for the marginalized farmers in the rest of the country when they figured out that their modest ‘savings account’ at the village level grain bank also worked as a gene bank of traditional crops. They also realized that the women had a pivotal role in establishing and sustaining these grain banks. The banks are a boon for those small and marginalized farmers who cannot afford expensive hybrid seeds that require large amounts of water, and chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides.

The proud ‘bankers’ used locally available resources like earthen pots, gunny bags and wooden baskets smeared with cattle dung and red earth, wood ash and neem leaves to keep the seeds dry and protect them from pest and insect infestation. Seeds were dried in the sun to ensure that the moisture content was completely removed. Normally the farmers used to store just about 15 to 20 varieties of seeds which were up-scaled by the grain banks to more than 70 seed varieties. Most of the seeds collected and stored were those of drought resistant crops such as millets, sorghum, beans, bajra, jowar, cowpea, grams, cereals and other local varieties. These varieties are also significant for their nutritional value that contributes to meeting the food and nutrition requirements for both human and animal consumption.

According to DDC, the Pyalayaram initiative not only meets the food and nutritional needs of the poor families but it also creates a richer and more diversified food basket. The case highlights the fact that, the local communities readily adopt and replicate agricultural practices, if they happen to be in line with local customs and traditions. The grain banks have proved beyond doubt that the grain banks help farmers to get rid of mahajans (money lenders), apart from saving them from the wrath of commercialization of seed MNCs that are also known to indulge in gene piracy. The participants of the group also played a key role in combating activities like hoarding and black-marketeering of seeds.

In yet another example of this kind in village Chandoli in UP’s Mahoba district (see the link below), the villagers have not only created a grain bank through door to door collection of grains over harvest months but have also offered need based terms for lending the grain to farmers. Against the rampant lending rate of at least one and a half times the grain borrowed through the moneylenders, the grain banks offer free grain to the poorest farmers without having to return the loan, a token ‘grain interest’ from those holding up to two acres and a little more from those owning between two and five acres of land. 

Further readings:

Rural women set up grain bank in Uttar Pradesh, 13 August, 2009,

Women run grain bank in Gujarat,

Village Grain Banks Scheme,

Grain banks provide food security in Betul,
Grain bank scheme to aid poor families by Ravi Reddy, 6 May, 2006,
No starvation deaths in villages with grain banks,
Do grain banks displace moneylenders? Matching-based evidence from rural India by Ruchira Bhattamishra, The World Bank,

Winning the battle against hunger, silently by Ramesh Menon
Community Operated Food Banks: An Analysis by Anupriya Singhal,
Grain banks to prevent starvation,

Banks that provide insulation against hunger! by Pankaj Jaiswal,