Togolese farmers learn conservation agriculture, see solutions to problems  

February 17, 2015

During a recent two-week trip to the West African country of Togo, a Just Hope project team worked with a group of Togolese farmers, exploring the methods of conservation agriculture according to a plan developed by Just Hope project manager Peter Mueller. Accompanying Peter on the trip were David Reeves, agricultural technical advisor, and Bob Hawkes, director of engagement. These three traveled to Togo with our partner there, Jesse Shanks. Jesse and his family have been missionaries in the city of Kara, Togo, since 2009.

The trip was the beginning of a six-month pilot project, the results of which will determine whether or not we make a long-term investment in the area. During this pilot, we are specifically interested in the capacity of conservation agriculture to increase food production to the point that people can feed themselves and produce enough surplus to generate an income. The results from this trip also may affect our plans once we are able to return to Sierra Leone, and in Ghana, if we are able to identify an economic empowerment opportunity there.

Two key events happened during the trip to Togo. The first was the planting of a test plot behind Jesse’s home. The second was a larger demonstration on land managed by Komlah, a local friend of Jesse’s.

The test plot in Jesse’s yard now contains 54 holes planted with corn and two bean furrows, all of which were planted the first two full days in Kara. David Reeves instructed Jesse and Frederic, a local Togolese man, on conservation agriculture techniques, such as proper hole depth and shape, how to prepare the holes for the seeds, and how to protect the soil after planting. Certain attributes of conservation agriculture are critical, among them precise measurements and the use of mulch to preserve soil moisture and integrity.

Jesse’s back yard had been covered in mulch for about a year, so the soil was not nearly as hard and unworkable as it would have been without the mulch. However, it wasn’t especially fertile, so part of the process included putting a small bit of cow manure into the bottom of every hole, which serves as a “fuel packet” for the germinating seeds.

For the second plot, Togolese farmers were invited to learn about conservation agriculture on a 6×6 meter piece of land about an hour away from Kara. The land is managed by a local farmer named Komlah, who farms peppers on part of the land and made another part of the land available for this demonstration. About a dozen local people participated in the demonstration, which was directed by Jesse, who as the trainee in his own yard, was able to be the trainer for the local farmers, with David serving as back-up.

Jesse began by asking them to express their biggest challenges when it comes to farming. Those challenges are: too much rain during wet season, too little rain during dry season, quality of soil, finding a place to farm, security from grazing animals, cost of fertilizer, and insects. Jesse and David were able to address each one of these challenges through conservation agriculture methods – even finding a place, because with conservation agriculture, it takes less land to get a significant amount of produce.

The concept of mulch turned out to be a significant source of inspiration. Participants were visibly impressed to see how much wetter the soil was under a cover of mulch, when compared to soil without. The use of mulch will allow farmers to water just twice a week, rather than twice a day. This benefit alone was a game changer. A second mulch demonstration used plastic bottles to show how well mulch keeps soil from eroding, which is key to keeping soil intact during the rainy season.

These methods are fairly simple and use very basic supplies, so anyone who learns them can likely teach them to others, and so on, so that food security for entire communities can be improved in a relatively short amount of time. It aligns well with the Just Hope model of identifying an opportunity, empowering those in need, and relinquishing all control to local people.

For the next six months, we will receive reports from our contacts there regarding specific metrics outlined by the project team. We look forward to sharing the progress with you.