I don’t like Development today. It’s silly.
A group of men at my guesthouse are here doing work for MIDA, the Millennium Development Authority (which is responsible for coordinating the Millennium Development Goals). They are working on agriculture, distributing ‘starter packs’ of seed and fertiliser to farmers near here and arranging loans from MIDA, via the local banks, to increase their production capacity. People must be happy to get free fertiliser, I said. ‘A little, but not so much,’ one of them replied. ‘They are not grateful as they should be. You know the black mentality.’ (NB these are Ghanaians from southern Ghana talking about Ghanaians from northern Ghana.) Why might they not be happy to get free seeds, I ask. The man shakes his head. It is the mentality up here, he says. These people are used to handouts.
I asked about the bank loan part of the project. MIDA gives lump sums to Ghanaian banks, which then loan out the money to farmers at less than the commercial interest rate (27.5% as opposed to 42%). I asked how the loans were secured – what is the incentive to pay back at such a high rate, when the farmers have virtually no collateral? The men explained that the farmers produce business plans, and the banks base their lending on how sound they are.
I was confused. Literacy runs at about 19% up here, and is almost exclusively an urban phenomenon. How were farmers writing these business plans, I asked? ‘Oh, we do it for them. We have consultants.’ But he assured me that the farmers get a copy of their own business plan, so they know what they have agreed to do in return for a loan they will be unable to pay back. Except, of course, that they cannot read.