Cocoa is known as the main cash crop in Ghana - but cashews will soon surpass cocoa exports, Samuel Gyasi told me during my 6-month Kiva fellowship in Ghana. Samuel works for Advans Ghana, Kiva's Field Partner in the region. The organization provides microfinancing to micro, small and medium-sized businesses with an emphasis on agriculture.
I spent the first 2 months of my fellowship working with Samuel and Advans Ghana. On this particular day, we left the chaos of Accra for the rural beauty and peace of the Volta Region to introduce local farmers in Heikope Village to cashew crops.
We were accompanied by Charles and Ernest from MEDA, an economic development partner of Advans. Passing over the wide Volta River, I was educated on cashew farming and the challenges when guiding a new village of farmers onto the cashew path. This was Advans’ first foray into cashew farming. The farmers weren't familiar with the trend toward cashew and had questions and concerns about the mobile platform Advans works with.
“There is some confusion about our cash collateral requirements and mobile banking accounts,” Samuel admitted. “This is the second time I am going to Heikope to educate them on this. It can be quite challenging to learn an entirely new way of doing things.”
Charles and Ernest from MEDA were an important addition to our routine day-trip. As an agriculture value-chain partner for Advans Ghana, they help with supplying seeds and teaching farmers how to properly plant and take care of cashew trees - including environmentally safe and responsible farming techniques. Most importantly, they bring a reliable buyer of cashew nuts to the table. But today, they joined us to answer agriculture questions and use their presence to show the serious nature of this venture.
After the usual welcome and greetings, Samuel got down to business. There were 22 people in attendance, 5 of whom were women.
Everyone pulled out their phones as instructed, but complications were quickly identified - there was almost no cell service! Two of the group members took to writing down the instructions for everyone to refer to later. Another factor that further slowed down the process was the fact that a number of the group members were illiterate. Other members of the group had to help them correct any entry mistakes. Luckily, perseverance triumphed over technical difficulties and most members of the group were able to operate their Advans mobile bank account.
Charles then addressed the group, “If you have a wife, and you have signed up for 2 acres of seedlings, you need to bring your wife next time and give HER two acres to manage! It should be an equal amount to yours! We need the women involved!” He also emphasized that the money brought in with cashews could help build up the community, pay children’s school fees and help their families live better lives. As cocoa has helped those in other regions, cashew was their opportunity.
We helped a woman named Judith sign up that same afternoon. She was happy to put her thumbprint on the paperwork while her neighbor looked on.
An intense conversation started between the chairman of the cashew community group and several farmers about the timing of the two loan repayments – one in November and one in March. It wasn’t going to work for them. But while the farmers had concerns, they also had the answer.
The intercropping harvest would bring in money by the end of December. But they couldn’t plant anything in early 2019 as it was the wrong season; they wouldn’t have money to make a repayment in March. So the solution they proposed was to pay back the entire loan in December.
After some quick thinking and calculations, Samuel agreed. Everyone was satisfied, and most of all, eager to start the process of introducing cashew, the new cocoa, to their community.
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