The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all facets of life including the health sector, academia, businesses, and the general socio-economic development of many nations.
Businesses, including small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the cocoa sector, that provide critical services to smallholder farmers in Ghana have not been left out of the spoils of the pandemic at all.
However, these small businesses, when provided with the needed support, can play a vital role in improving the livelihoods of farmers through yield enhancements and market linkages.
Access to timely and affordable finance is, therefore, essential to fuel the growth of these enterprises during this pandemic.
Preparing SMEs for investment
It is, therefore, welcoming that Solidaridad, the international development organisation, through its Cocoa Rehabilitation and Intensification Programme (CORIP), funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ghana, has been building the capacities of participating SMEs to roll out service delivery models, referred to as rural service centres, to rural cocoa farmers.
Through an investment readiness support model, Solidaridad prepares these service centres for commercial funding to grow their businesses. The support involves giving the professional outlook needed to attract ‘impact investors,’ meaning investors who are not too profit-oriented but prioritises the growth of businesses through their financial support. An example is Acumen, a non-profit organisation with over 15 years’ experience in investing in social enterprises to SMEs.
To achieve this, Solidaridad provides technical assistance to the SMEs in the area of business modelling, climate-smart cocoa production and entrepreneurship.
In addition it facilitates concessional financing for these enterprises to build service centres in rural communities, pay for labour, and procure the needed agro inputs, tools and equipment.
So far 20 SMEs including Emfed Farms and Trading Company Limited, a rural service centre operator based at Assin Fosu in the Central Region, have benefitted from the investment readiness support under the programme, which became possible through Acumen.
Emfed currently provides agro inputs, labour and full farm management services to poor smallholder cocoa farmers in Assin Fosu and its surrounding communities on credit, thanks to the partnership with Acumen.
This is part of Solidaridad’s facilitation of access to finance for SMEs programme that have gone through the investment readiness support, in which Solidaridad engages impact investors to finance the growth phase of enterprises.
Acumen, therefore, comes in handy with its many years of experience in investing in social enterprises that serve low-income communities in developing countries across sub-Saharan Africa.
Established in 2012, the Emfed, through the Acumen partnership, joined the first phase of Solidaridad’s Cocoa Rehabilitation and Intensification Programme (CORIP I) in 2015 as a rural service centre operator to prove the commercial viability of its business model. Having achieved this the company joined the second phase of the programme to benefit from its investment readiness support.
In 2018, Mr Kwabena Assan Mends, the Managing Director of Emfed Farms and Trading Company Limited, was supported by Solidaridad to participate in the Acumen Fellowship, designed to build a pipeline of connected business leaders who challenge the status quo by inspiring their communities to build a future devoid of poverty. Today, he is an Acumen West Africa Fellow.
“Over the past five years, Solidaridad has enhanced our knowledge in good agronomic practices and entrepreneurship through various capacity building training and also provided us with a grant to prove the business case for our service delivery model. This puts us in a better position to deliver value to our farmers and our shareholders,” Mr Mends said.
He added that in December 2017 Solidaridad also supported Emfed Farms to put together the company’s board of directors and registered the business as a limited liability company. That, he said, made the business more attractive to impact investors.
Emfed Farms recently received US$ 46,810 from the Acumen Global Emergency Facility, a fund designed to assist enterprises serve their communities’ immediate needs during the pandemic and continue their long-term work of serving the poor and vulnerable after the crisis.
The funding was to help the company to continue engaging and providing services to poor cocoa farmers, maintain its core staff and farm hands, especially women, provide personal protective equipment for its workers, and disseminate COVID-19 safety messages to farmers and members of their communities.
Prior to receiving the funds Mr Mends said his company’s revenues had begun to decline because farmers were reluctant to procure services from the company for fear of contracting the virus. In addition, critical labour was in short supply following the government’s announcement of an impending lockdown.
The low revenues, coupled with increases in the cost of production due largely to price gouging, affected the company’s cash flow generation capacity and profitability.
“Emfed Farms is excited to receive this timely intervention from Acumen Global Emergency Facility. This will help us continue to provide farm management services and inputs to our farmers on credit during this period of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful to Solidaridad for providing us with the necessary support to apply for the funding,” he said.
“For us at Solidaridad, we are happy that our collaboration with Emfed Farms and impact investors like Acumen over the last five years is showing the desired results. We believe that with the right partnerships our collective aim of lifting poor cocoa farmers in West Africa out of poverty would be achieved soon,” said Mr Hammond Mensah, Programme Manager of CORIP and Head of Access to Finance, Solidaridad West Africa.
To him, increasing access to finance for SMEs under the CORIP was in line with Solidaridad’s impact investment and innovative finance strategy, which seeks to develop inclusive financial models and create a support structure for SMEs and smallholders to thrive