Project Seeks to Help African Companies Grow

Associated Press

It took Ghanaian businesswoman Esther A. Ocloo 30 years to pay off the bank debts for her food processing plant, and with a little help she will be back in debt very soon.

Ocloo is hoping local banks in Ghana will approve a loan request of $1,000 so she can expand her operation to fruit juices, jam and canned fruit.

She is one of dozens of African entrepreneurs trying to grow with the help of the African Project Development Facility (APDF), a year-old, $7.2-million operation sponsored by the African Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation and the United Nations to help smaller African businesses obtain development financing.

Scarcity is a fact of life in Africa, especially in terms of money. For business people big or small, getting the money to turn development ideas into reality is a major problem.

The development project accepts applications from small businesses with annual turnovers between $500,000 and $5 million and ideas that have a chance for success. It helps them prepare project feasibility studies for potential financiers. The service is free of charge.

For four years Kanga Ballou, an Ivorian businessman, had been trying to get his hands on a million dollars to start West Africa's first pencil factory. He is very near to realizing that dream.

Three out of four local banks have approved loan requests totaling $600,000. An APDF feasibility study convinced the bankers of the profitability of Ballou's idea. He says he and his seven partners can put up the rest of the funding.

"The problem with people like me is that we don't have the money or knowledge to do these project proposals," Ballou said in an interview in his Abidjan office. "For years I approached these banks by myself and I couldn't get an answer."

Other West African entrepreneurs interviewed about the APDF's work said the service helped fill a void left by the collapse of African development banks in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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