On initiative of the PG-HGSF project, Ghana held its third National Learning Event for the Ghana School Feeding Program (GSFP) in December of 2015. The event recognized GSFP’s significant improvements to caterer contracts, reviewed the success of the previous year’s communique, and provided caterers with a forum to discuss GSFP’s new evaluation criteria as well as the new e-payment system, both of which will encourage more purchases from smallholder farmers. The event included representatives from the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and the National Secretariat of the Ghana School Feeding Program as well as caterers, farmers, and international partners.
Caterers are the actors who purchase food and prepare meals for schools in Ghana, so they play a key role in the supply chain and in the inclusion of smallholder farmers as food suppliers. However, aspects of previous caterer contracts limited the success of this inclusion. They did not contain a measurable requirement to purchase food from smallholder farmers, were not standardized throughout Ghana, and did not require caterers to keep transparent records of their purchasing and incomes.
To address these issues SNV partnered with the GSFP to create a completely new set of guidelines for contracting caterers. The new guidelines, presented at the December event, aim to increase transparency and bolster public support for the school feeding program. Critically, they also require that 20% of foodstuffs sourced by caterers be from smallholder farmers. Over the course of 2016, the GSFP will transition current caterers to the new national standardized procurement contracts.
Caterers at the event had numerous questions regarding the changes. Many questions surrounded the new evaluation guidelines for caterers which contain both mandated and weighted criteria (such as valid health certificates, access to food storage units or business registration for tax purposes) upon which caterers will be scored for performance.
While these issues were addressed, still other questions lingered regarding the system by which caterers are paid by the government for their services. The catering system in Ghana suffers from chronic delay in payment from the government to the caterers. This delay can extend for up to 18 months in some extreme cases and relies on caterers pre-financing school meals. While some caterers take out loans to purchase food for school feeding, many caterers find it challenging to purchase from smallholder farmers who by necessity only accept cash payments. As a result, despite a willingness to support local farmers, many caterers end up purchasing food from traders because they are able to purchase goods on credit.
In December of 2014, the participants of the previous National Learning Event wrote a communique to the Ghanaian Government that called for more timely disbursals of payment to caterers and an increased allotment per meal per child per day. In July of 2015, the Government responded by paying the backlogged hours to the caterers and announced that they would increase the per diem allotment for each child’s meal from 50 to 80 pesewas (USD $0.20). This change was in no small part due to the initiative and efforts of the partner organizations and was discussed with appreciation at the learning event.
To improve disbursements, the GSFP developed a new payment method for the caterers. The new e-payment system is considered to be superior because it does not require payments to move through several levels of bureaucratic offices as before, but instead can be deposited directly into the caterer’s bank account.
The e-payment system was rolled out in two forms; as a mobile network money transfer and through the Ghana Interbank Payment and Settlement System (GhIPSS). The mobile network transfer experienced challenges such as a limited withdrawal amount condition, caterer names not matching with registered phone numbers and mobile network money transfer service not functional in parts of the northern region. The GhIPSS was adopted to help deal with this challenge and is working well despite challenges. The learning event provided a forum through which caterers could present their comments and ask questions directly to representatives from GSFP and GhIPSS, further informing the development of this project.
SNV Ghana’s third learning event examined new innovations seeking to remedy systemic challenges. By crafting a supportive procurement system for caterers, GSFP is helping caterers enact their roles both as businesses and as key actors within the supply chain. Although more challenges exist, forward motion and steady progress is being made towards addressing child nutrition and smallholder farmer inclusion within the market.