People marching in the West African Caravan for the Right to Land, Water and Peasant Agroecology. Their banner calls for an end to grabbing and speculation of land and water.

Togo is one of the smallest countries in Africa and home to 8.6 million people. Since the shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic, increasingly extreme weather and recent food price rises, the state of food security in Togo has greatly deteriorated. In 2022, 1 in 5 people in the country don’t have access to or can’t afford enough healthy, nutritious food. Yet Togo’s economy depends heavily on commercial and subsistence agriculture, which employs 60% of working people.

Friends of the Earth Togo is working with local communities, peasant farmers and decision-makers to expand the practice of agroecology across this West African nation, to achieve food sovereignty for its people. In August 2022, we spoke to Ekue Assem to learn more

Agroecology as an instrument of resilience for Togo

In June 2022, Friends of the Earth Togo launched the project “Capacity building to consolidate food sovereignty in Togo – Connecting to the movement in Africa”. The aim is to achieve, both in political and practical terms, the goal of food sovereignty for the country, using agroecology, by 2025.

The promotion of food sovereignty and agroecology has been a concern for Friends of the Earth Togo for some time.

“The land is being degraded and it is the land that sustains life in Africa and particularly in Togo. If the land is not well managed, many families will be impacted and will see their existence threatened,” said Ekue.

The organisation’s new project aims to strengthen the capacities of local and regional civil society networks, farmers and peasants organisations and to support networking between local agroecological leaders, in order to scale-up the impact of agroecological practices in rural areas. For Friends of the Earth Togo, agroecology is an instrument of resilience for the country. It will help to preserve Togo’s natural and food heritage, revitalise the local economy and allow people to be self-sufficient in terms of food.

“In Togo, practicing food sovereignty has enabled communities to support themselves and each other during the Covid-19 pandemic. Families consume crops grown from environmentally-friendly farming practices and sell produce to earn money for basic needs,” highlighted a video by Friends of the Earth International in March 2021 (below).

The new project will bring together political representatives, farmers and social organisations, and will ensure that women are integrated in to the process of defining a national agricultural strategy that prioritises food sovereignty and agroecology.

Conserving biodiversity and family food production

In 2008, Friends of the Earth Togo initiated a project to train farmers and organise exchange meetings between consumers and farmers. The aim was to promote family farming using local knowledge and traditional practices.

“We noticed that many traditional seeds were disappearing, (…) so we wanted to carry out an action for the conservation of biodiversity,” explained Ekue.

The organisation trained farmers from 10 villages in the Atakora Mountains that stretch all the way from the South to the North of the country, nine communities from the Fiokpo canton in the South-West, and eight villages near the Togodo South national park, located to the South-East and less than 100 kilometres from the capital Lomé. The project supported women to implement agroecology, promoting gender equality and defending the women’s rights to land.

“Women are specially trained because they are the guardians of the seeds. Experience has shown that they are the best managers of the seed banks,” highlights Ekue. “What the women needed was information sharing and capacity building on the availability and traditional techniques of seed conservation and germination.”

Friends of the Earth Togo also promotes sustainable land management through research. As part of the work carried out in 2008, a study was conducted covering 49 villages and the natural resources that exist in the Atakora Mountains. The results of this study were used in training local residents on agriculture and sustainable fishing, and the importance of developing regional economies.

Ekue added that agroforestry was promoted to “give life back to degraded land.” With respect to the emphasis on sustainable fishing, the aim was to “favour the renewal of fish species through good fishing practices and respect the annual fishing ban period, all this to preserve the aquatic ecosystem.”

As part of the promotion of agroforestry and sustainable fishing, in November 2020, they launched a new publication, titled “Good agroecology, fishing and community forest management practices.” They also worked with farming organisations and the government to encourage the adoption of specific economic policies.

Mobilising, political advocacy and farmer-to-farmer exchange

On 12 November 2021 in Lomé, Friends of the Earth Togo, together with the Global Convergence of Land and Water Struggles, launched the third edition of the West African Caravan for the Right to Land, Water and Peasant Agroecology.

The Caravan started its journey in Gambia and travelled through Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry and Sierra Leone. There, the President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, was given the “green book” entitled “Rights to Water and Land, a Common Struggle” which guides the advocacy work of the Convergence.

Cover page of the Green Book policy guide produced by Friends of the Earth Togo

“The purpose of the West African caravan was to once again remind West African leaders of the need to include agroecology in agriculture policies and to strengthen the fight against land grabbing because this practice dispossesses the communities, the families who most need this land for agricultural production,” said Ekue. “It is also to emphasise the respect of the right to land of women, who are the guardians of the seeds.”

The Caravan also shared a position document against carbon offsets and carbon markets, which are “false solutions in the fight against the effects of climate change,” stated Ekue, in tune with several social movements and organisations worldwide who are fighting for climate justice.

Meanwhile, on 12-13 November 2021, members of Friends of the Earth Togo, the Global Convergence of Land and Water Struggles, and people from the Andokpomé and Donomadé communities (both located in the South, less than 100 kilometres from Lomé) visited the Agroecological and Rural Development Centre in Kumah-Konda, in the South-West of the country.

The visit was part of a process to exchange experiences between the structures and communities that Friends of the Earth Togo collaborates with in their work around agroecology. The visitors, who already use agroecological techniques like crop rotation and mulching (covering the land with rests of plants, among other things), learned new techniques such as how to produce natural pesticides and organic fertilisers like bokachi. Bokachi is made from materials such as cow dung, rice bran and water to which sugar and yeast are added. They also learned more about how to promote local production and short supply chains.

Building community resilience through food sovereignty

The kind of knowledge and experience that communities gained from the exchanges and training processes facilitated by Friends of the Earth Togo were crucial during the Covid-19 pandemic. They have got back their independence and sovereignty in food production, and developed new skills and agroecological practices to produce food in a healthy way.

Donomadé community, for instance, set up community kitchens to feed people during the lockdowns.

“In today’s solidarity kitchen we are passing on to others that we have prepared our own crops and they are disease free. For example, today we have prepared our own fish and corn. We want to be together today to share a meal with those who cannot afford it. Because of the virus, we don’t want to go far for food anymore, ” explained Akouvi Manekpo, Treasurer of the Donomadé development committee.

Friends of the Earth Togo continues working with communities like Donomadé, providing support and advice, and facilitating contact with technical experts who live nearby. The goal is to expand the implementation of agroecology in the country, so that people especially in rural areas can access their own healthy, nutritious food, and maintain resilience in the face of global shocks.

Listen to the audio interview with Ekue here on Real World Radio.

Main image: People marching in the West African Caravan for the Right to Land, Water and Peasant Agroecology. Their banner calls for an end to grabbing and speculation of land and water. © Friends of the Earth Togo.