UN Volunteers in Ghana help small businesses expand
by Steven Bagshaw
03 May 2006
Ho, Ghana: Travelling from Ghana's capital, Accra, to the Volta region in the east of the country can give the impression of small-scale entrepreneurship in full bloom.
The streets of the capital and neighbouring towns are lined with all manners of small shops and stalls, and there is no lack of passing traffic as potential customers. Stopping in a vehicle can result in up to a dozen people approaching with a wide range of products, from toys to bread to baskets of shrimp. Negotiations are frantic, sales are made and the next transaction is immediately sought after.
In the small villages of the Volta region, however, the opportunities for selling produce to these urban markets are minimal. Production is inefficient and predominantly done by hand, quality is often poor and transportation inadequate. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), with the involvement of three national UN Volunteers, is working to improve access to these markets and enhance the livelihoods of village residents.
The Rural Enterprises Development Support (REDS) project has operated in three regions of Ghana, including the Volta region, since 2002. In each region, a UN Volunteer works with a local counterpart to provide training in entrepreneurship skills, assistance in improving product quality and help in accessing appropriate technologies for increased levels of production. An important additional task is to facilitate access to financial services in the region, both by preparing community groups to apply for credit and convincing local banks that they can make money from such loans.
More than 1,000 individuals in 34 separate community groups to date have been directly assisted by REDS. But as George Dake, a UN Volunteer and REDS Project Manager for the Volta region, says, "In the long run, it's not only the group members that benefit, it's the whole community."
In the village of Lume-Atsyiame, around 180 kilometres north-east of Accra, Togbe Adah Mottey is the leader of a group of 22 people, including 17 women, who have benefited from their involvement in the project. With the assistance of Dake, the group received credit from a rural bank to purchase basic machinery to process palm nuts into palm oil for sale in urban marketplaces. The machinery now allows the processing of the palm nuts to be done in just a few hours, rather than the several days it took in the past.
The group is hoping to receive more credit from the local bank to further increase production. "If this money comes, we can do it 'times 10', because it's now mechanized," says Mottey. Dake adds, "Fortunately the manager of the bank is here today, so perhaps from next week we will be getting the money."
In the village of Hoe, a short and bumpy drive from Lume-Atsyiame, the desire to expand upon what has already been achieved is also evident. The village group consists of 32 individuals, 26 of whom are women. Group treasurer Josephine Toh notes that the community has been supportive of the group's efforts. "The community has appreciated the project. They gave us an old workshop for the group to rehabilitate". This workshop now provides a home for the processing activities in the village.
Toh sees particular benefits for women. "Formerly, if we wanted to process, we used the whole day, because it is done by hand. And you know women have a lot to do. With the equipment now, we get time to do many other things, especially to get time on our own. It is helping us as women."
Later that day, at a gathering of the village group members, the manager of the rural bank who is also visiting Lume-Atsyiame and Hoe, declares he likes what he sees and has heard the pleas to expand the palm oil processing in the villages. To the appreciation of those attending, he announces that further credit will be approved. The efforts of UNIDO and its UN Volunteers in helping small-scale entrepreneurs expand their scope seem to be bearing fruit.
"We have to give all the credit to the volunteers. They do everything... they are the people in the field", says Jacob Ainoo-Ansah, REDS National Project Manager for UNIDO. "Everything we see on the ground, however modest, has been done by the people themselves."
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