New Report: Expanding Access to Finance for Farming Communities

Head shot of World Cocoa Foundation social development associate Priscilla Sogah

Author Priscilla Sogah

Social Development Associate
World Cocoa Foundation
Savings group members accounting for their day’s contribution at Wawase in Ghana.

Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) are a means of giving more farmers access to financial services and securing their livelihoods. The self-help savings model organizes farmers into a social support group, promotes savings habits, and increases access to credit. In some cases, VSLAs improve farmers’ skills in financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and income diversification.

An evaluation of VSLAs in cocoa growing areas in Ghana shows their effectiveness in helping farmers access credit and invest their savings in buying agro-inputs such as fertilizers, hiring labor, and starting additional businesses.

Esther Agbeko, a member of the Nyonkodo group in Oldmankrom, Ahafo Ano North District in the Ashanti region of Ghana recounts enrolling in a hairdressing apprenticeship with a loan amount of US$85 (Ghc 500) from her group. She plans to start trading women’s clothes with her end of year savings after pay-out (sharing of money to members according to their savings with interest at the end of a savings cycle).

Like Esther, members of the Nyame Na Ay3 group in Sabronum Camp, Ahafo Ano South East District in the Ashanti region of Ghana have varied accounts of financial benefits gained in the four years since the group started. Group members have used their savings and loans to hire labor, buy agro-inputs, increase farm size, meet other basic household needs like feeding, and invest in children’s education.

In addition, group members – with the support of a local cocoa cooperative – have opened group and personal accounts and access credit from a savings and loan company.

Esther Agbeko, cocoa farmer and VSLA member in Ghana
Esther Agbeko, VSLA member at Oldmankrom


  • VSLA Linkage: Ghana Landscape Analysis Report
    English pdf    

Though their relationship with the savings and loan company has been mutually beneficial, there is a concern with the distance from the community to the nearest company branch, which is about a two-hour drive away. However, staff of the bank always visit the community on loan repayment days for group transactions. “We desire to own bank accounts and make long term savings but the distance from our community to the nearest bank branch discourages us,” said cocoa farmer Philip Derry.

In the past few years, VSLAs have remained a core component of the World Cocoa Foundation’s approach to improving women’s economic empowerment and securing the livelihoods of farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Farmers’ interest in accessing additional financial services has increased due to enhanced financial education. Coupled with interest among stakeholders to raise farmer incomes, farmers’ access to financial services is seen as an essential starting point. The process of connecting VSLAs with formal financial institutions to access financial services is called VSLA Linkage.

Aside from investing in my cocoa business with savings and loans from my VSLA group, I also sell rice. This has really helped my household in dealing with the usual hardships during the lean cocoa season.

Sustainability, cocoa sustainability, sustainable cocoa, why is sustainability important, sustainability defined, sustainability movement, cocoa plant, cocoa bean, cacao, raw cacao, deforestation, what is deforestation Mary Adobea Cocoa Farmer & Trader

WCF undertook a VSLA linkage landscape analysis in Ghana as a precursor to building a more responsive VSLA linkage network in Ghana. This study, undertaken from May to August 2020, sought to estimate the number of VSLAs and their geographical spread, determine the model of VSLA linkage, and identify key stakeholders and scaling opportunities.

The research team relied primarily on data from cocoa and chocolate companies and their implementing partners and had focus group discussions with VSLAs. Virtual and in-person interviews were also conducted with key stakeholders in addition to reviewing relevant publications on savings groups and linkage.

Prior to the study, available data suggests that about 24,587 savings groups with a membership of 645,534 people exist in Ghana. Unclear, however, was the total number of savings groups that exist within cocoa growing areas and the financial services these savings groups have access to.

A synthesis of the data revealed that although VSLAs are a core component of member company interventions, the type of VSLAs implemented and their geographical spread are uneven across different cocoa regions. Findings estimate that 10 WCF member companies have mobilized 2,561 savings groups across different cocoa regions. The gender disaggregated data for 1,348 groups show a total membership of 32,794 people, comprising 22,157 women and 10,637 men.

WCF also observed that the practice of linking VSLAs is still in the early stages in Ghana. Though there have been pilot projects implemented in the past by NGOs, financial service providers, and cocoa and chocolate companies, existing linkage products are limited to basic savings and loans with limited use of mobile money and technology. In the case of cocoa and chocolate companies, VSLA linkage products for groups are mainly limited to credit.

Unlike in Côte d’Ivoire where there is a nationally accepted model for linkage, there is not a clearly designed national system to facilitate VSLA linkage in Ghana. The design of a national VSLA linkage program is an offering under the Financial Sector Development Project with funding from the World Bank.

Mobile money has increased access to financial accounts and Ghana leads in West Africa with the highest rate of mobile money use. Ghana outperformed its peers in the region with mobile money adoption at 55%, above the regional average of 45%, in 2019. As of April 2021, the central bank of Ghana estimates 17 million active mobile money accounts. However, mobile money was not a key component in the design of existing VSLA linkage interventions in the sector.

VSLA Linkage: What it TakesWith network connectivity challenges and limited physical bank branches near farming communities, we are seeking to learn how industry can leverage mobile money in Ghana to meet the financial needs of farming communities.

WCF has initiated engagements with companies and partners based on the VSLA linkage pathway. This pathway was developed using recommendations from the study to facilitate the design of a responsive VSLA linkage model and existing interventions in farming communities.