Right now I am up in Tamale working with the ADVANCE office here. I am meeting with maize farmers to help them think about how to invest in yellow maize production. There is a financial institution that is providing credit to farmers in an effort to spur investment in yellow maize and soya beans. They are offering a loan facility at 18% annual interest, which is much lower than the typical 30% that financial institutions offer for agriculture loans. Being up here, I have had the chance to see the destructive power of non-government organizations, otherwise known as NGOs.
I have only been here for a few days, but I have colleagues that have been here for months and have been able to talk to them at length about the challenge of using a market facilitation approach in a city that has been described to me as the “NGO capital of the world.” In a post on the subject, a friend and colleague working with Engineers Without Borders describes it well:
Tamale is the NGO capital of Ghana, with a disgusting and disproportionate number of signposts, land cruisers, air conditioned offices with generators, and hotels with conference centers. I think that pretty much every possible permutation of the words sustainable, community, rural, development has been used to create an NGO acronym.
At a practical level, there is a serious crowding of NGOs who are doing agriculture work, and even more specifically those taking a Value Chains or Market Facilitation approach. I’ve had a chance to participate in 3-4 different forums/workshops that involve different projects with similar philosophies, and even sat around the table during a discussion on collaboration between 3 projects and 1 “private” sector aggregator. I use quotations because there is a growing number of businesses which have been targeted by projects like ADVANCE, whose core business is slipping from profit through sales, to money through grants, trainings, per-diems and the like.
In fact, I was supposed to meet with a maize nucleus farmer (someone who has a large farm and buys from smallholder farms, provides them with financing to pay for seeds and inputs, and sells the produce to a buyer), but he is unable to meet on Saturday (my birthday) because he is attending a course on “NGO Management.” There is so much free money in the system that the market is completely distorted.