The smallholder farmers who participate in the USAID ADVANCE project no longer have to struggle to find credit for their farming activities. They can now easily access money to buy inputs such as seed, fertilizer, weedicide, and farming implements for their farms. USAID ADVANCE has promoted Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) among its smallholder farmers. VSLAs allows farmers to save a minimum of GHC1.00 to a maximum of GHC5.00 per week and take loans, if needed, from the savings for their farming and other activities.

Since the introduction of the VSLAs in December 2015, 199 VSLAs made up of 4,566 members (1,302 males, 3,264 females) have been set up in Ghana’s three northern regions. ADVANCE hired two Ghanaian consultant institutions based in Tamale – Sung Foundation and YARO – who trained the groups’ members to help them understand the purpose for the savings, elect leaders, and put in place terms that define how much each member is to save and the amount that will be given out as loans, interest rates, repayment schedules, and even penalties for late payment and tardiness to meetings. ADVANCE presented the groups with a savings box, membership cards, and relevant materials to facilitate their operations.

Per the arrangements made with the farmers, the cycle of savings coincides with the beginning of the planting season. So when the farmers reach the end of the cycle to share out the savings, the project and the consultants bring along input dealers to the farmers’ communities to allow the farmers buy the inputs they need.

Six months into the scheme, the project is recording some successes: In the 2016 production season, farmers purchased GHC135,255.00 worth of inputs thanks to their savings; something they had not done before. Another good thing about the VSLAs is that the outgrower business owners no longer have to borrow to support the smallholder farmers with whom they are working.

“Savings on own has always been difficult and I always thought I was too poor to save until now. Now I have enough money to buy inputs for this season,” remarked Joseph, a smallholder farmer from Labaalo, Saboba District of the Northern Region.

Of the VSLA, smallholder farmer Maalafaa Dapillar, from Dafieri in the Upper West Region, says “it has given me hope. I got ploughing service and other inputs such as fertilizer and weedicide to farm. My husband was involved in a lorry accident in 2012, which affected his spinal cord and has since been indoors. The little income I generate from my small-scale brewing business is used to pay my children’s school fees and the rest used to cater for the home. I did not have any hope to get money this year [2016] to farm but the little weekly contributions we have been making have helped me to afford one bag of fertilizer and pay for ploughing services to cultivate at least one acre of maize. Thank you immensely, ADVANCE, for this women’s livelihood empowerment initiative.”

USAID ADVANCE is working with its partner financial institutions to mop up the group savings and further invest to earn them interest instead of keeping the monies idle in the savings box.