Buyer Advance Payment System (BAPS) Exploring Innovative Financing Schemes for Small-scale Palm Oil Processors in Ghana

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1 Buyer Advance Payment System (BAPS) Exploring Innovative Financing Schemes for Small-scale Palm Oil Processors in Ghana Report by Meridian Agricultural Services for the Smallholder Acceleration and REDD+ Programme (SHARP)

2 Buyer Advance Payment System (BAPS): Exploring Innovative Financing Schemes for Small-scale Palm Oil Processors in Ghana Executive Summary Commissioned by Smallholder Acceleration and REDD+ Programme (SHARP) May 2015 Report Produced by Meridian Agricultural Services P.0.Box LG 1094, Accra Ghana

3 1. Background A major source of funding for the business activities of small-scale crude palm oil (CPO) processors in Ghana has been through the buyer advance payment system (BAPS): a practice where palm oil traders provide cash advances against future supply of CPO. BAPS constitutes an important form of working capital for small-scale processors and allows them to purchase sufficient fresh fruit bunches (FFB) from independent smallholders. Although BAPS has been a long-standing practice and has made an enormous contribution to the rural economy, very little information exists on this financing option. To better understand the advantages, disadvantages and opportunities of BAPS and make recommendations for the improvement of the system as an alternative financing option for small-scale processors and smallholder farmers, the SHARP programme commissioned this study. Specifically, the study was conducted to: Assess BAPS practices, identifying institutions and values governing this financing relationship between traders and processors/mills. Evaluate the relevance and effectiveness of BAPS as a financing option. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of BAPS to key beneficiaries. Recommend best practices for the improvement of the BAPS to make it more efficient, impactful and sustainable. 2. Methodology and Study Area The methodology for the study was a desk-based literature review and interviews or focus groups with stakeholders, carried out in the field during To get a fair picture of the practice across the country, three key CPO producing regions were selected for the study: Ashanti, Eastern and Western Regions. 1 The table below provides details of stakeholders interviewed for the study. Respondents Ashanti Eastern Western Districts covered Government organizations Financial institutions Small-scale processors and mill owners Agents/Traders A few more stakeholders were interviewed than planned in some of the regions. A focus group discussion with 14 Hausa agents was held in Kade in the Eastern Region. In addition, two mill owners who are at the same time processors were also interviewed in the same region. Similarly, interviews were held in 4 additional districts and with 8 additional processors in the Ashanti Region. 3

4 3. Overview of the BAPS System and Supply Chain The structure of the industry in Ghana is shaped by the presence of two different markets: home consumption and domestic industry consumption. In Ghana as elsewhere in Africa, small-scale village and artisanal CPO processors exist alongside the large-scale, fully mechanized CPO mills that are installed with large plantations and supply the international edible oil refining industry. Small-scale processors typically acquire FFB from private smallholder farmers and the supply chain is characterized by low-yielding palm varieties, low mill productivity and low quality CPO, which is sold to village, town or urban markets. There are approximately 400 small-scale CPO processing units in Ghana. Eighty per cent of processors are estimated to be women, and 66% depend on CPO production as their main source of income. BAPS, the buyer advance payment system, describes the situation where a CPO buyer provides a cash advance to small-scale processor(s) on condition that an equivalent amount of CPO (based on the market price of CPO at the time when the advance was made) shall be supplied to the buyer at a future date. However, the system goes beyond just the processor and agent. It is a system of financing a series of business operators from farmers to processors and mill owners to traders who hitherto could not raise the needed working capital from the formal financial system to finance their business activities (see Figure 1) The BAPS Supply Chain End Buyers Money advanced to processors comes from CPO buyers in destination markets (i.e. urban markets of Ghana, Burkina Faso, Niger, Côte d Ivoire, Nigeria and Benin) or directly from the working capital of traders supplying the Togolese market (these traders do not receive any advances from their buyers from Togo) Traders Traders may work with two to four end buyers with the objective of maintaining strong bargaining power. Most traders travel to destination markets in person to receive the cash advance. In some instances, the cash advance is delivered through bank or mobile transfers to the traders in Ghana. Four categories of traders may be identified: traders supplying the urban markets in Ghana; traders supplying solely the Togolese market; traders that supply the Nigerian and other regional markets; and traders that supply the diaspora market of the US, the EU and Canada. 4

5 Flow of funds (cash and mobile money) transfers) Figure 1: The flow of funds and CPO within the BAPS system A Bank and mobile money Hand delivery B Flow of CPO Speculators Agents or bulkers C Processors 1 - mill owner Processors 2 Processors 3 Processors FFB from own farm FFB from dedicated smallholder farmers Spot suppliers - FFB Other overheads -20% Key: A B C Bank and mobile money Major buyers from Nigeria would want to know where the main agent stays Sub-agents are long-time business associates and assistants of main agent who provide service to main agent for a fee or commission Long-term business relationship and trust Some agents in Ashanti and Eastern Regions indicated they do receive advances from buyers, especially from Nigeria, through bank (ADB, GCB, Juaben Rural Bank) transfers. 5

6 Traders supplying the Nigerian and other regional markets can be further categorized as: local traders who have dominated the CPO supply chain since the late 1960s and early 70s; or emerging Hausa traders operating mainly from the Eastern Region and supplying large volumes of CPO to Nigeria and Benin. Because of the large transaction volumes, traders supplying mainly the Nigerian market work with commission agents or bulkers who advance the money to processors and are responsible for recovering the CPO and transporting it to the traders main aggregation centers Speculators Because small-scale processors do not have enough investment to produce and store CPO during the peak season when FFB and CPO prices are low, there is an influx of large number of speculators who buy and store large volumes of CPO, which is then sold to traders during the lean season. Some speculators also make cash advances to processors Small-scale Mills and Processors In Ghana, small-scale CPO processors use central small-scale mills. A small-scale mill is a service provider (a group or individual) who has invested in basic equipment and infrastructure for FFB processing on a piece of land where small-scale processors carry out their processing activities at a fee. Mills interviewed across the three regions have from three to over 100 processors. The mill owner may be a farmer, trader or just an ordinary investor. There are also group-, association- or cooperative-owned mills. The majority of the mills, especially in the Eastern Region, belong to absentee owners who contract people to operate and manage the mills on their behalf. The type of ownership and management of the mills has a significant impact on the ability of the mills and associated processors to attract funding either through BAPS or from other sources. Only one millers association was identified across the three regions, and is very weak and currently not well organized. Most of the processors in the Ashanti Region are organized into groups/associations or cooperatives, unlike their counterparts in the Eastern and Western Regions. As a sector, they face several constraints, such as inadequate market access, a lack of processing skills and insufficient access to credit. Processors working capital is eroded during the lean season (i.e. July to December), when the FFB price increases. For this reason they depend on BAPS to buy FFB and cover transport and other labour costs for processing. In addition, they rely on informal working relationships with a host of other actors from whom they access services on credit. Processors may also advance cash to their smallholders suppliers at the beginning of the season to enable them to pay children s school fees or maintain their farms. Therefore 6

7 processors are caught in an informal supply chain system that deprives them of options to be efficient and effective Farmers The producers supplying FFB to small-scale processors are typically smallholder farmers. Palm oil provides a major source of employment and revenue for about 27,000 smallholder farmers in Ghana. Farmers in the BAPS supply chain are indirect recipients of advances, as they use the receipts from processors for important investments such as maintenance or expansion of farms, payment of school fees, purchase of trucks and sometimes completion of housing projects Size and Uses of Advances Two types of advances were identified across the three regions: direct cash advance, which is predominant; and a semblance of 2 toll processing, which is practised mainly in the Western Region. In the Eastern and Western Regions, advances by local traders range between GH 1, ( 3 USD518.00) and GH 5, (USD1,725.00) per processor whilst the Hausa traders advance up to an upper ceiling of about GH 15, (USD5,173.00) per individual processor. In the Ashanti Region where advances are made to the mill, association or cooperatives, the amounts are higher and range between GH 40, (USD13,734.00) and GH 60, (USD20,690.00). On average about 80% of advances are used for buying FFB and the remaining 20% is used to cover transportation of FFB, labour and other processing costs. 4. Elements of the BAPS System 4.1. Underlying Values Three key values were identified as drivers of BAPS: 1. It is a practice based on trust, nurtured through long-term business relationships between processors and agents. 2. The system provides agents/traders a competitive edge over other traders for CPO as it commits processors to them as suppliers. At the same time, the system offers processors competitive advantage over large-scale mills for FFB. 2 With the toll processing arrangement, FFB is provided to the processor by the CPO buyer instead of cash. Advances cover two to five drums (250L) at the beginning and increase to 10 to 15 drums or more where advances are made to groups, associations or cooperatives. 3 At an exchange rate of USD1.00 = GH

8 3. It is a system based on mutual exchange. It is not only a unidirectional system of agents or buyers advancing money to the processor or their associations. Sometimes, processors also give CPO to their trusted buyers to sell off and pay them at a later date Underlying Conditions BAPS is a form of hedging arrangement in that the cash advanced to processors is hedged against the prevailing market price of CPO. This price is used to calculate the volume of CPO to be supplied by the processor. However, if the market price of CPO drops at the time of delivery, the buyer pushes for the agreed price to be revised downwards; although if the CPO price rises buyers do not normally revise the terms in favour of the processors. Supply of CPO is normally expected within 14 to 40 days of the advance. The practice is very common in the lean season, especially from April/May onwards. BAPS requires neither documentation nor collateral. These two critical elements commonly prevent small businesses from accessing credit, especially from the formal financial sector, although in the Ashanti Region, some traders/agents advance money indirectly to processors through active mill owners, cooperatives or associations as a measure to secure repayment. In the Western Region, some agents/traders depend on local authorities such as assembly men/women to provide verbal guarantees. There are also no processing fees or interest charges. The cost of the facility basically consists of the margins agents make from upward movement of CPO prices after cash has been advanced to processor Risk Management Several risk elements confront the BAPS system. Some have resulted in agents losing large sums of money across the three regions and most especially in the Eastern Region. The hedging model of BAPS squeezes the processors revenue significantly when prices of CPO and FFB increase. In response, some buyers indicated that processors resort to product diversion or side selling to other sources where they can make some profit. A lack of proper due diligence and the tendency of agents to undercut each other sometimes results in processors taking huge sums of money, more than they can deliver in equivalent amounts of CPO. The study identified agents who have lost some thousands of Ghanaian Cedis to one or several processors. 8

9 To mitigate risk, agents monitor processors closely and sometimes place a sub-agent at the processor s premises. However, upon default, the agent may give the processor additional days to supply outstanding volumes. In the worst case scenario, agents have resorted to court actions to retrieve their money. However, court actions have proved less effective and default rates on sanctioned repayments are high. 5. Relevance of BAPS 5.1. Small-scale Production and Processing BAPS is well suited to the small-scale production and processing context in that: 1. It provides a reliable source of working capital for small-scale CPO processors. It is a best fit for the informal setting of processors and does not require infrastructure to thrive. Yet, it is able to reach processors regardless of where they are. 2. It makes a significant contribution to the creation and maintenance of rural employment, especially the large number of women constituting about 80% of smallscale processors in Ghana. 3. As about 80% of the processors cash advances are used for FFB purchases, it provides a source of sustainable income for independent smallholder farmers. 4. It gives small-scale processors a competitive advantage over large-scale mills in the sourcing of FFB, which is critical for the sustainability of their businesses BAPS with Medium-Scale Processing Mills Traders and their agents have not been successful in extending BAPS to medium-scale processors. There is very little motivation for medium-scale mills to supply CPO to the local market given the industry quality they produce. Agents in the Eastern Region recounted situations where a number of medium-scale processors defaulted in supplying CPO after receiving payment advances. On the contrary, the study identified a mill that has developed from a small-scale processing concern to a vibrant medium-scale facility through the active participation of developmental organizations and buyer intervention through BAPS. This model thrives on the use of a management system called Internal Control System (ICS) which provides assurance for buyers to make advances of large sums to cover working capital and fixed assets investment. 9

10 6. Strengths and Weaknesses of BAPS The table below summarizes the strengths and weaknesses of the BAPS system. Strengths Weaknesses Readily available source of working Hedging element of BAPS reduces capital. profit margin of processors. Reasonably high recovery or repayment Several default risks identified: rates. - Based on discontentment. Less costly than commercial loans or - Advances going to individuals. credits. - Default risk based on weak No documentation required. systems. No guarantees or collateral required. Risk of theft of cash advance. Cash is received at a convenient place. Only a working capital facility. Significantly addresses the challenge of Short repayment term. lack of market access for CPO. Processors may advance money to smallholder farmers at the beginning of the season. 7. Contextual Findings: Technical and Financial Needs 7.1. Technical Assistance Gap Several challenges confront smallholder FFB producers, small-scale CPO processors, mill owners and traders/agents that could be addressed through technical assistance. Such assistance is needed improving the general business model, organizing actors, improving CPO quality and the production environment, making operational efficiencies, fast tracking the inclusion of stakeholders into semi-formal and the formal financial systems and engendering growth in the industry. Significant variations in the level of access to technical assistance were identified across the three regions. Technical support to the industry is skewed towards largescale mills and smallholder out-grower farmers attached to these mills Level of Integration in the Financial System Stakeholders interviewed are integrated into the formal and semi-formal financial systems for varied reasons. Some agents and traders interviewed maintain accounts with Agricultural Development Bank (ADB), Ghana Commercial Bank (GCB) and some rural banks only to 10

11 receive transfers. Most processors do not maintain accounts with any bank. However, some mills and processors have contracted loans from semi-formal and formal financial institutions to meet working capital as well as capital assets expenditure needs. 8. Conclusions 1. BAPS has become the most prevalent and biggest source of working capital for small-scale processors of CPO in Ghana, providing them a competitive advantage over medium- and large-scale mills in the sourcing of FFB. Smallholder producers are the ultimate benefactors of the system. However, the system is fraught with a myriad of challenges which need to be addressed for BAPS to remain a preferable financing option for processors. 2. Certain conditions that help to minimize risk such as some basic due diligence taking place, a minimum contract agreement, basic documentation, a strong processor group and group leadership must prevail for processors and mill owners to receive adequate cash advances through the BAPS. 3. Although BAPS has become the most important source of working capital for smallscale processors, it is not adequate. There are working capital and capital asset financing gaps, and to achieve significant growth, small- as well as medium-scale processors would require a mix of financing sources that are capable of meeting both working capital and capital assets financing needs. Furthermore, the system does not provide direct support to smallholder farmers for farm maintenance and expansion. 4. With the right conditions, small- as well as medium-scale processors can integrate into the formal and semi-formal financial system to access alternative options to close the working capital and asset financing gaps. Presently, some formal and semiformal financial service providers do have loan portfolios to support small-scale processors; however, most of these products do not meet the processors specific needs. 5. A good combination of funds from informal sources (e.g. BAPS), semi-formal sources (e.g. savings and loans schemes, microfinance, rural banks) and formal sources (e.g. commercial banks) is needed to drive change and development of small-scale processors. 6. To be able to drive the needed change among processors, the large gap identified in business services also needs to be filled. 7. BAPS is effective across the three regions because of its best fit for the informal setting within which processors, agents and traders operate. Therefore, 11

12 recommendations for improvement should target optimizing the system but not completely formalizing it. A completely formal arrangement would repel processors. 9. Recommendations for Improving BAPS Drawing on the findings of the study, the following recommendations are made: 1. Conditions should be improved to enhance cash inflows through BAPS to small-scale processors; specifically: a. Stronger industry groupings and/or associations at all levels of the smallscale CPO supply chain to provide support on such issues as price negotiations, side selling, credit guarantees and capacity needs. b. More active and competent association or mill leadership, to improve the business environment for BAPS and more formal systems. c. Adoption of feasible guarantee options. d. Adoption of basic technologies such as cash transfer options to reduce risk of theft and weighing of fruits to minimize overvaluation and cheating of farmers at the point of FFB delivery. 2. Industry facilitators should engage with and support the formal and semi-formal financial institutions that have shown interest in providing funding to small-scale CPO processors to develop tailor-made loan portfolios to meet the processors specific needs. 3. There is a need to develop a network of Business Development Services (BDS) providers (public, private and from NGO/developmental organizations) to support the industry. 4. With stronger industry associations in place, there is the possibility of emergence of an industry credit union. A study should be commissioned to review the emerging and operations of industry credit unions for test piloting in the small-scale CPO processing industry. 5. Recognizing the need to enhance efficiency of operations, improve CPO quality and reduce BAPS default risks, some small-scale mill owners, processors and buyers are testing various business models. These models should be further investigated and support should be provided for upscaling viable ones. Also new models could be developed for testing and upscaling. 12

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