A STORY ON LIVELIHOODS IN GHANA
"THE STORY OF CECILIA MANU IS AN EXCELLENT EXAMPLE OF HOW THE VILLAGE SAVINGS AND LOAN PROGRAM CHANGES THE LIVES OF COCOA GROWING FAMILIES."
By Theophilus Nkansah, Project Manager, CARE International
Financial security is an aspiration out of reach for many cocoa farmers, whose varying seasonal earnings and low incomes can be unattractive to banking institutions. Cocoa Life joined forces with CARE International and other NGOs to introduce Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) in cocoa-farming communities. Theophilus Nkansah of CARE International provides insights on the program:
The Asunafo North and Amansie West Districts in Ghana are home to more than 6,000 registered cocoa farmers in cooperative societies. These cocoa farmers face complex challenges that affect their productivity and livelihoods. Shocks to the community, such as bushfires and poor yield, are common to cocoa farmers. Their vulnerability is worsened by unstable farm-related incomes and lack of access to banking services.
Banking institutions and microfinance companies are reluctant to extend loans to rural groups because they often lack collateral, and they have small amounts of money to save. In addition, a lack of financial literacy means there is not a culture of saving in cocoa communities.
So CARE International, Cocoa Life, and other NGOs came together to form Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) in cocoa-farming communities. Members of a VSLA make small, regular monetary contributions to a shared pool, from which they may each take out low-interest loans — up to three times the amount of their contribution — after three months of contributions.
At the end of a one-year cycle, the sum of the pool is shared out among members based on contributions made, and a new contribution cycle begins. Members also establish a dedicated insurance fund meant to help with emergencies.
The pioneering VSLA program began as a pilot in 2012. As of August 2015, 217 VSLAs have been implemented across 60 communities in Ghana and 132 VSLAs across 11 communities in Côte d'Ivoire, involving more than 7,600 members.
Members of VSLAs use the funds for a broad range of investments, including the purchase of fertilizers that allow them to increase their yield, start-up capital for new businesses, expansion of existing businesses, starting new cocoa farms, rehabilitating old cocoa farms, and hiring laborers.
The story of Cecilia Manu, a mother of four who lives in the Bonsaso community, is an excellent example of how the VSLA program changes the lives of families in these communities. Cecilia has worked in cocoa farming for decades. Because of financial challenges and inconsistent incomes common to most cocoa farmers, Cecilia and her husband had been struggling to buy books and pay school fees for their children's education. Their plight became even more disheartening in the lean season when the family struggled to obtain three meals a day.
Since Cecilia became a member of “Onuado Kuo,” a VSLA group, the tides have turned, and her face now beams with joy. Cecilia contributes every week to her group fund with the small savings she gets from farm proceeds. As a result, she received funds as part of a “share out” benefit from her contributions plus group-accumulated interest over the period.
Women like Cecilia comprise about 70 percent of participants in these VSLAs. One woman participant used microloans from her VSLA to open a shop that helped her family during a time when their cocoa farm was underperforming. Others like Mary Adjei, whose family lived hand to mouth until participation in a VSLA in Otwebediadua, have been afforded opportunities to properly maintain their farm, pay for laborers, and send their children and grandchildren to school.
"The VSLA group changed my life. Even when I joined, I never dreamed of such earnings at the end of ‘share out.’ Now I can borrow money from our group fund to support my husband and pay for our children’s school fees. I have also been able to establish my own chop bar, hire labor, and buy agrochemicals for my farm. My farm has become more beautiful. The VSLA is a blessing."
FROM OUR PARTNER CARE INTERNATIONAL
"Access to finance is key to ensuring thriving livelihoods and empowered cocoa-farming communities. The Cocoa Life program has not only seen care international’s Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) model successfully bring communities together but also enables the development of a savings culture, increase financial literacy levels, and improve management skills. Most importantly, the program is a key driver to empowering women economically. Ultimately, it leads to a better quality of life for these families."
Christine Svarer, Head of Private Sector Engagement, CARE International UK