The introduction of the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) in some parts of Northern Ghana is contributing significantly to empowering women and improving livelihoods in rural communities.
The community banking system, VSLA, is helping to reduce poverty, over dependence, curbing rural-urban migration and empowering many rural women and young girls to take charge of their own lives.
Through the local banking system, many women groups, mostly smallholder farmers, are becoming financially independent and acquiring financial support to increase agriculture production, establish and expand their small-scale businesses.
Currently, the VSLA has offered opportunities to many vulnerable women and young girls in the East and West Mamprusi Municipalities in the North East Region, to cultivate habits of saving money in groups and lend to themselves with agreed terms of interest rate specific to each group.
The village banking scheme is also helping to mobilise women and communities to undertake communal activities and increase their participation in decision making regarding the management of natural resources in their communities.
Meta Foundation, a non -governmental organisation, is one the leading NGOs which has been implementing the scheme under its “Action for Women Empowerment” project in the two Municipalities as part of efforts to empower rural women and improve livelihoods of women and young girls in rural communities.
Started a year ago with funding support from the STAR Ghana Foundation under its Actions for Voice and Inclusive Development (AVID) project, about 10 communities have been empowered and the project is impacting positively on the lives of the people.
The project aimed to facilitate enterprise development and self-empowerment of 600 rural women coexisting peacefully with Fulani Herdsmen through fair access to community productive natural resources such as land, water, and shea trees and at least 300 rural women have enhanced returns from shea butter and dry season vegetables production businesses using the VSLA concept.
The VSLA concept is a group of people who collectively support a structured process for saving money and sharing of proceeds within stipulated time agreed and lending to each other in the form of loans with an agreed interest rate.
The community-based banking system is being managed by the members based on their agreed rules and regulations that aim to provide financial independence and alleviate them from extreme poverty.
During a visit to some of the beneficiary communities, the women indicated that the introduction of the VSLA was a life changing model for them, providing financial assistance to them and empowering them economically to help take charge of their homes.
Interacting with some beneficiaries in some communities in the West Mamprusi Municipality, they explained that apart from the banking scheme that was helping them to take soft loans to start businesses, the interest accrued from the loans were usually shared which they said had helped them economically.
Ms Gladys Nyaabila, a Treasurer of the Atelitaaba Women group in Bisigu, suburb of West Mamprusi Municipality, indicated that through the savings and loans scheme, she was able to borrow some money to cultivate groundnuts and paid back later after the harvest.
“Apart from that, we use the interest we got from the loans to buy some food stuffs such as groundnuts, millets and maize which we plan to sell when the prices go up and share the profits among us,” she said.
Ms Maame Tongwand, Secretary of the Arigu Kpanmenga women group, indicated that apart from the savings and loans scheme helping them to secure some loans to process and add value to the shea businesses many of them had been doing, it had empowered them economically to take care of their families especially their children school fees.
“We have been in a group for a long time, but we did not know about this concept but through the approach our membership has increased from about 20 to 60 members in about a year and it has also brought unity especially among the women.
“It has also helped to prevent some domestic violence in our homes because we can also contribute to the upkeep of the house,” she added.
Madam Esther Ada, a member of the Gbeo Timaltaaba women group, indicated that “initially I was saving GH₵10.00 but now I save GH₵25.00 and being able to support my husband to take care of the house and it is because of the loan I took and invested in my business which is now booming.”
META Foundation plans for women
On his part, Mr David Amozebga, Programmes Manager, Meta Foundation, said apart from instilling culture of savings and entrepreneurship in rural women, the AVID project aimed to empower women to have access to natural resources and increase women participation in decision making regarding the management of natural resources around them.
“We are looking at women having access to land to undertake agriculture activities, access to economic trees such as shea, baobab, dawadawa among others and we are using the VSLA as the main approach to achieving our objective,” he said.
Mr Amozebga explained that the approach had been introduced to many communities in the two Municipalities and it was impacting lives positively and urged the women to always invest their shares in productive ventures to improve their income levels.
He explained that the project targeted communities along the White Volta who are mostly engaged in dry season farming and empowered them with knowledge and skills on how to increase production and live peacefully with settlers such as the Fulani herders while having access to natural resources such as land, water, and economic trees.
Apart from helping the communities to get fodder banks, through the project, about eight women groups out of the 20 VSLAs who are into production of various products had been linked to improved markets.
Apart from having access to farmlands to increase agriculture productivity, planting economic trees, and protecting existing ones from degradation, the women are processing and adding value to some products of economic trees as sources of livelihoods which is helping to mitigate against climate change, he said.
“We believe that this will not only help to empower the women but contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” he added.