We are in the fertile lands and lush green vegetation of the cocoa belt in Ghana, at a community called Anwona with 94 Nestlé Cocoa Plan farmers. It’s a farming community with about 3,000 residents and surrounded by settlements such as New Somanya and Mensahkrom, which house a further 33 Nestle Cocoa Plan farmers. Until recently, the community had no way of saving: numbers from the Bank of Ghana show only 57% of the population have bank accounts, with particularly low coverage in rural communities.
Realizing the importance of saving and borrowing to farming communities in Ghana, the Nestlé Cocoa Plan is implementing Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) in collaboration with its partners. A VSLA is a group of people who collectively support a structured process for saving money and offering loans to members. Forty members so far in the three communities have benefitted from loans, up to the tune of GHC 2500 each (425 USD) that are used for farm upkeep, catering for children’s education, and starting additional businesses. Critically, women and the spouses of farmers often become members of the VSLA, encouraging gender empowerment.
“Thanks to the Village Savings and Loans association (VSLA), we are not depending on expensive loans from Rural Banks and Savings and Loans Companies anymore. We are totally committed to this association and we will work hard for it to continue”, says Cynthia Osei, who is a member of the VSLA.
Another testimony comes from Georgina Tei, a loan beneficiary in Anwona, who recounts how timely access to a loan supported the expenses of her granddaughter who was preparing to enter senior high school. Without the loan from the VSLA, hope for her granddaughter’s education would have been lost.
The sterling performance of the first three VSLAs in the area has motivated other farmers within and outside the Nestlé Cocoa Plan to seek the assistance of the leadership of the first association to form more groups. Having received mentorship from the leadership of the original VSLA, six additional VSLAs have been formed and are currently in operation. One remarkable milestone for the Anwona VSLA is that they now use a formal bank account to deposit the groups savings for safe-keeping.
At a celebration held on 23rd June 2020 to celebrate the end of the year’s savings cycle, total contributions to the VSLA had reached GHC83,400 (14,100 USD).
“We are excited that our strategy to build a savings culture, increase financial literacy, create access to loans and eventually link them to the formal financial sector is working”, said Daniel Nyarko, Nestlé Cocoa Plan Manager in the region.