When civil war broke out in the small West African nation of Guinea-Bissau in 1998, normal life collapsed. The conflict meant that businesses were unable to operate, meaning a loss of income for owners and employees. Even after the war ended in 1999, the post-conflict environment hindered business’s ability to rebuild. Savings had been wiped out, the International Bank of Guinea Bissau was bankrupt, and micro-enterprise support organizations and cashew producer cooperatives could no longer function, or even attract and retain members.
Under a USAID trade and investment promotion support project, AMEX International, Inc. (AMEX) stepped in to rebuild these agricultural organizations and develop their capacity to provide a range of services. In particular, they helped the organizations provide training to their members and clients in business planning and management, accounting, accessing markets, and technological interventions to capture value-added and improve product quality.
AMEX’s first step was to work closely with the organizations’ leadership in order to restore their capacities to their pre-war level. The firm provided them with the necessary training to reinforce their understanding of principles of good governance in association management and refresher courses in horticulture management and production, fruit processing, cashew processing, improved agricultural practices, business management, microfinance best practices, and accounting. Those who completed the courses were then able to train other organization members, resulting in better cashew orchard management and reduced post-harvest loss.
Another important step was to help people rebuild their livelihoods. “We created a system of savings and loans that would allow microenterprises to have access to finance to rebuild their business,” explained the AMEX vice president for program management.
The AMEX team created a matching-loan fund from which agricultural associations could start to draw funds for their members. AMEX helped them organize and provided them with training and technical guidance on how to register, legalize, and successfully manage a microfinance institution, as well as on how to calculate interest rates and evaluate credit applications. At the end of the project, 2,000 members of 8 savings and loans had met all the eligibility requirements for receiving matching fund loans and were on their way back to financial health.