Crédit et crédibilité

Farmers should be able to farm.  That’s obvious.

This is not as simple as it looks though.  Many small-scale farmers in Northern Ghana do not have the capital to buy all of the necessary inputs, like renting a tractor for ploughing or buying seeds, to start farming when the rainy season comes. Money from last year’s harvest is usually used up by that time, to manage during the dry season.

Farmers don’t have enough economic freedom.  That’s obvious.

Hence, the government of Ghana has decided to start a project called Block Farming Program  in 2009.  The concept is simple: the government provides all of the necessary inputs to farmer groups to start farming and then collects payments in-kind at harvest time to cover the costs of the given inputs. In theory, this should fix the credit problem, be sustainable, and enable farmers to farm.

Mr. Abanga (green pants), a skilled Extension Agent working with farmers.

Theory doesn’t always translate well into practice.  That should’ve been obvious.

Turns out that corruption, late inputs, poor information flows, and lack of staff and staff capacity are all problems affecting the project negatively.  Every year.  This results in poor repayment rates, for example only about 45% of costs were recovered last year in my district, and hence directly threatens the sustainability of the program.  Unfortunately, my district is not an anomaly, but rather the norm.

Just yesterday, my landlord in Komoayili, who is also a tractor owner, came to the district office in Karaga to get paid for the ploughing he did for various Block Farm plots.  But the money was not there.  He wasted a full day under a tree and didn’t get paid, according to a pre-agreed deal.

A few bags of seeds left... but no money.

Last night, I had a conversation with my landlord, via a teacher who translated, initiated when he asked me about the money.  By chatting more, I realized the extent of the issue.  Farmers hire him to plough fields with credit from the Block Farm project.  My landlord then buys fuel on credit to be able to do the work.  He buys this fuel from businessmen who are also selling fuel on credit from people in Tamale, who are probably selling on credit from Accra, the capital city.

Yesterday when I sat at the office, it wasn’t just my landlord sitting under that tree.  More than twenty people and their families were actually sitting under different trees, roofs, or the hot burning sun waiting for that payment.

That’s big, and it’s not good for business.  Networks of informal relationships hold people together in Ghana.  If the money doesn’t come, credibility will be lost.  Instead of strengthening markets and lifting people out of poverty, the Block Farming Program runs the risk of deteriorate the long-term business environment.  Instead of fixing the credit problem, it’s eroding trust.

You see these people? These are our farmers.

Farmers are real people.  That’s obvious.

When big projects are dreamt up though, this seems to be easily forgotten.  The magic and big plans of projects with budgets of seven-digit numbers tend to make us lose the story of individual people…

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