“A lot of people are suffering. Sometimes, they don’t even have what to eat,” said Juliana Abare a community development officer working with the Kumbungu District of the Northern Region.
Juliana is one of many officers working with people who are selected to benefit from LEAP payments. Dark, savvy and chubby, Juliana wears her blue and white stripped smock as she leads to me to the site where beneficiaries of the programme work.
LEAP is an abbreviation that stands for the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty program. It’s one of the interventions the Ghanaian government wants to use to bridge the poverty gap.
Whenever politicians in Ghana are asked about how they are dealing with the worsening levels of poverty their answer has been LEAP and how it is changing lives.
Under the cash transfer programme beneficiaries receive between 70 and 107 cedis every two months.
The good stories and the bad
My name is Justice Baidoo and in this programme for Hotline, I’m in Gugkpanarigu, a small town in the Northern Region. I’m here meeting two Ghanaians. One a is a LEAP beneficiary. The other isn’t.
LEAP coordinator Juliana is the one taking me round.
First I meet Mamunatu Danaa. She is a widow in her mid-fifties. Juliana has just brought me to meet a group of women engaged in shea butter processing on the outskirts of Gukpanarigu.
Many of the women here are widows who buy shea nuts mainly in the dry season to make butter and other products like soap and cream. They sit on small stools and logs, singing while they mix the shea butter.
Mamunatu lost her husband three years ago. Until LEAP, she was left to her fate.
Now that my husband is not alive, whatever I am doing is difficult. He died and left behind children so as a widow, there are so many things you can’t do. So the LEAP money is all we depend on even though it’s not much. When my husband passed on, one of my older children dropped out of secondary school because I couldn’t pay the fees. So now, I am focusing on the little ones so that they can finish school,” Manunatu said.
Mamunatu, with her 7 children, receive 107 cedis every two months under this programme.
“With the money I get, I use some to buy the nuts and then I prepare the butter in the dry season,” she said.
Mamunatu is just one of nearly 150,000 people who are currently supported by LEAP. She is obviously, one of the lucky few.
Currently, nine out of 10 of Ghana’s poorest people who are supposed to be on a social intervention such as LEAP are not enrolled. That is, only one out of 10 Ghanaians eligible for LEAP benefits is covered.
Many of these uncovered people live in Gupanarigu. A small town of about 1,500 people, this is a community mainly inhabited by farmers. Life is tough here. The rainy season only lasts for less than four months. And with farming activity here entirely rain-fed, there is virtually no economic activity for more than half of the year. Sayibu Neindow is the Assemblyman.
“The poverty level in this community is very serious such that most of the inhabitants find it very difficult in assessing the basic social amenities. As I’m speaking if you go into the communities you see young men sitting under trees waiting for the rains to set in and others have also moved down south to find money to come and till their land when the rains are back,” he said.
Gupanarigu’s story runs through those of several others in the Northern Region. With 1.3 million people in this region alone now desperately poor, according to the Ghana’s statistical Service, the Northern Region is the third poorest of Ghana’s ten regions. The region is however the worst in terms of depth of poverty.
The poverty affects every aspect of life here. The roads are bad, farmers have no money to buy fertilizer and the hunger is choking.
“This time, without money, farming is valueless. If you farm and you cannot get fertilizer whatever you farmed will not produce anything. When the roads are not motorable, your yields will be stuck,” Sayibu said.
And that, essentially is the story of Ghana’s poorest regions.
Just on the outskirts of Gupanarigu, Juliana has brought me to meet Zinabu. She, like Mamunatu, is a widow and has 8 children.
Her 17-year old daughter, Amina has just been sent home as she’s unable to pay her fees. Now she is down with an unknown sickness and has no money to seek medical care.
Amina is Zainabu’s only child who is still in school. Her six other children dropped out of school when her husband died. Now, as is the case is with some women who lose their husbands in parts of Ghana, her husband’s family are threatening to throw her out of her family house.
“My husband’s family wants me out. I don’t have anywhere to go,” she said.
LEAP coordinator Juliana said “people are suffering. Some don’t even have what to eat. I always like to help people. There is the need for the LEAP programme to be expanded.”
From my stay in this community it is clear that at least for those who are covered by the LEAP programme, there seems to be a semblance of change. But it appears majority are those yet to benefit.
Many of them, including children, are starving. They need help.