In 2015, the Youth Harvest Foundation Ghana, partnered with Christian Aid to implement a two-year project known as ‘Growing Rice Opportunity for Women (GROW)’ aimed at improving livelihoods of farmers and processors, especially women, through their participation in an inclusive local rice market chain in Ghana. One of the modules applied in the implementation of the project was the Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC). The SILC is a village banking approach, which offers the opportunity to the productive poor to purchase shares and lend to themselves with agreed interest rate on a group basis
Women in the intervention communities’ organised themselves into groups and made weekly cash contributions into a metal box which served as a volt for safe keeping of the money. The box is protected with three padlocks and the keys kept by three different but respectable members of the group. The SILC box concept, based in the community, can serve the needs of the group members, mostly comprised of women whose income is irregular and less reliable. Their primary need is often for services that help them manage their household cash – flow and provides useful lump sums for life-cycle events – which may or may not include income generation. These women are primarily economically vulnerable and, for the most part, they live in rural areas that are served only intermittently by local markets, at the periphery of the district capitals.
Three of these groups, NongreSumaasum parboiling group (47 members) in the Yorogo community of the Bolgatanga Municipality, Akasitaaba parboiling group (36 members) in the Bongo Zue community of the Bongo District and Zagnore-Piisogro group (40 members) in Anafobiisi community also of the Bongo District have made remarkable progress with the SILC concept.Within nine months, Nongre Sumaasum group was able to contribute and saved ten thousand, nine-hundred and two Ghana Cedis (GHS 10, 902) as contributions and nine-hundred, and ninety-two Ghana Cedis (GHS 992) as interest earned on loans granted to members. Also, within the same nine month period, Akasitaaba group was able to save five thousand nine-hundred and ninety-eight Ghana Cedis (GHS 5,998) whiles the Zagnore-Piisogro group contributed and saved five thousand five hundred and fifty-seven Ghana Cedis (GHS 5,557) as contributions and three hundred and eighty as interest earned on loans granted to members. In total, the three women groups saved twenty-three thousand eight hundred and twenty-eight Ghana cedis (Ghs23,828) from thier parboiling enterprises. The GROW project’s extensive training and mentoring on parboiling, including introducing the women to improved parboiling vessels has made much difference to the women groups and their parboiling activities.
Although the GROW project has ended, the women groups invited YHFG staff to witness the ‘share-out’ events (on 24th of June & 23rd of July respectively), which is the moment the metal box is open, and the money is shared among the group members according to the shareholdings.
The GROW project provided training to the parboiling women groups, including a set of carefully thought-out safeguards and group governance training, which seemed to have sustained the trust necessary for an improved local financial market intermediation. The performance of the three groups has come as a surprise to the project team and is perhaps the best indicator of the potential impact of the GROW project on household welfare in the project communities.
Members of the two groups were highly excited about the SILC box which has helped them to raise such high sums of money within nine months. Some of the delighted women shared their joy as:
I am very happy with the introduction of SILC as part of the GROW project. Through the savings, I was able to borrow GH₵550.00 from the group to pay for my daughter’s fees at the Bolgatanga Polytechnic (Atuah Azure,46-year-old woman with a household of six).
According to Azure, she could not have paid the fees if such initiative was not introduced. She added that she could not have accessed a loan from the bank because she is not a government worker and also has no collateral to enable her to secure a loan from the bank.
Anaamah Alage-era, a 41-year old woman, took GHS 400 from the group as a loan to pay her son’s school fees in Sirigu senior high school and paid back with a meager interest rate. She got GHS 613 as her share of the savings during the share-out. She told the project staff:
I intend to use this amount to suppor my daughter who is in the Nursing Training College in Bolgatanga.
Also, Atinga Philomena Azuma is a 33-year old woman with a household size of four. She is a rice parboiler who, before the introduction of the GROW project and the SILC concept, could not raise up to GHS80 a year to expand her business. However, within the nine months of her group practising in the SILC, she was able to raise GHS 160, which she intends to use to expand her business.
Having realised the usefulness and benefits of the SILC concept, the three groups have expressed their determination to continue with it, thus have started the second cycle of savings respectively