Ghana: Government expands cash handouts

News and Press Release
Originally published
ACCRA, 29 October 2008 (IRIN) - The Ghanaian government, backed by the World Bank, is expanding a cash handout programme to help families hit hardest by global food price hikes. But some local development experts question whether the approach has lasting benefits.

Government officials say the initiative expands a cash transfer programme begun earlier this year, and aims to help subsistence farmers already reeling from natural disasters when food and fuel prices spiked.

Some say the programme, known as Emergency Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP), does not live up to its name of empowering poor communities.

The emergency LEAP in Ghana will provide 21,000 households US$15 per month (about half an average monthly income for recipient households) for seven months. Most of those receiving the cash are farmers in northern Ghana, which last year saw severe flooding and this year drought.

"[The cash] should help these families survive until the next harvesting season," Angela Asante Asare, national coordinator in charge of social protection at the Ministry of Manpower, Youth and Employment, told IRIN.

"It's become an emergency situation because their crops have been destroyed by drought," she said. "They cannot harvest, which means without assistance most of these households will not survive."

The best way forward?

But some civil society groups doubt that a cash handout is the best way to help poor families.

Steve Mateaw of the Integrated Social Development Centre in Ghana told IRIN giving cash to families fails to meet the programme's stated objective of empowering people. "The scheme should have been designed to assist households set up small income-generating businesses that can provide sustained support to the entire family," he said.

He questions the difference $15 a month can make. "Take a household with six individuals - how can you realistically expect $15 to sustain them till the end of the month?"

Cushioning food price rises

Many aid experts say distributing cash is an effective way to help people across West Africa cope with the impact of food price hikes.

For some beneficiaries of the initial LEAP programme earlier this year, the cash simply means the difference between feeding their children adequately and not. Michael Asante, a father of three in the capital, Accra, told IRIN he can now manage to feed his children at least once a day.

"We sometimes had days when we ate nothing but now at least I can make sure my kids eat something even if I have to go hungry."

Another beneficiary of the first LEAP round told IRIN the money goes fast, but every bit of assistance helps. "The money cannot buy much," said Nii Okulai Mensah, a father of one and a farmer. "It runs out quickly. But my family is grateful; nothing anyone does for us is too little. The money, though not enough, feeds us all."

The 2007 UN human development report says an estimated 18.2 percent of Ghana's 22 million people are considered extremely poor, living on less than a dollar a day.

As across West Africa, Ghana's population saw a sharp hike in staple food prices earlier this year. A loaf of bread that cost the equivalent of 80 US cents in January now costs nearly three times that. The price of a bag of maize has gone up from 40 dollars a year ago to 75 dollars.