Ghana: Women’s savings groups have big impact (IPS)

| March 31, 2014

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Dunwaa Soayare is a small-scale farmer and mother of five in Denugu, northern Ghana. The 45-year-old widow could not access credit from banking institutions in Ghana; she had no collateral or bank account. She found it impossible to provide three meals a day or schooling for her children.

But since she joined the Asong-taaba Women’s Group, her life has changed dramatically. Mrs. Soayare built a new, brick house for her family. She was also able to pay for her children to complete their education. Two of them have qualified as teachers.

She says: “I have expanded my farming from half a hectare to two hectares. I now cultivate one hectare of maize, half a hectare of millet [and] half a hectare of groundnut.” She can earn $380 US from one hectare, a huge sum of money locally.

The Asong-taaba co-operative started in 2008. In 2013, the group raised $5,000 US in weekly contributions from its 25 members, almost all of whom are small-scale farmers. The women meet under a shea nut tree every Monday. There, they contribute small amounts toward the group fund. The members can apply for loans, which many use to fund alternative businesses if their crops fail.

Asong-taaba is one of 500 groups in the Garu Tempane District. Almost 12,000 people, mainly women, are living better lives thanks to the savings co-operatives established through a Care International project.

A recent survey from Ghana Statistical Services shows that 31 per cent of households in Ghana are headed by women.

Musah Abubakari is the deputy coordinating director of Garu Tempane District. He says the co-operatives have helped reduce poverty for many families in the area.

He continues: “Most of them are engaged in different forms of economic activities. Many of them are concerned about the education of their children, so school enrolment has also increased in the last three years.”

Collins Kyei Boafoh is an outreach specialist with the US NGO, ACDI/VOCA. He says the village savings and loans groups play a critical role in women’s livelihoods and also help members adapt to climate change.

In northern Ghana, the rainy season usually starts in May and ends in October. But recent changes in the weather mean that the rains fall much later. Mr. Boafoh explains: “For the past five years the savannah belt of Ghana … continue[s] to experience low rains and long drought periods. This is not supportive of farming, which employs about 80 per cent of people in the region.”

The women’s co-operatives are using their funds to venture into activities such as food processing and trading to supplement member’s incomes. Mr. Boafoh says, “This gives them a sustained income and job security.”

Mr. Boafoh suggested that the savings group initiative should be adopted, modernized and expanded by the government to reduce poverty in the poorest regions of the country.

Mrs. Soayare and her family are no longer vulnerable during the lean season. Instead of simply suffering if her crops fail, Mrs. Soayare can get a loan from her group to make and sell soap, and to buy vegetables for resale at the market. She says, “I don’t know what I would have done without this savings initiative.”

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