Daniel Addeh | July 11, 2016
In 2011, Razak Adjei moved from the village of Tchamba to study economics in Lomé, the Togolese capital. He soon realized that young Togolese graduates face high unemployment rates, and that a diploma is no guarantee of a job. He was interested in farming so he thought: Why not invest my time and energy there instead?
Mr. Adjei enrolled in an agricultural entrepreneurship course. For five months, he learned farming techniques like composting and making organic fertilizers at the Sichem training centre, 10 kilometres outside of Lomé.
After completing his course, he started growing tomatoes, peppers, and many other vegetables and fruits on two hectares of land outside Lomé. Like many of his fellow farmers, Mr. Adjei didn’t produce big yields at first because insects, termites, and ants chewed away at his plants. He explains, “We were not able to have a good yield, given that insects prevented our plants from growing and producing fruits and vegetables.”
To fight the pests, he decided to test a home-made neem-based concoction that he learned from his father.
He recalls: “When I was little, my father used to ask me to prepare a mixture consisting of water and neem leaves. Once I finished mixing, he would ask me to spray the solution on the plants. I did not understand at the time what it was for.”
Remembering his father’s technique, Mr. Adjei decided to try the mixture on his crops. The neem-based insecticide worked. The bugs slowly started to disappear.
Since his success with the neem-based insecticide, Mr. Adjei has been trying to improve it by purchasing a grinder for the neem leaves, and by trying to perfect a less concentrated mixture. Vegetable farmers like Mark Djondo are testing his product, and Mr. Djondo says his yields have already improved significantly. The insects that used to destroy his tomato plants are a thing of the past.
Bertrand Abassey is a 30-year-old farmer who grows maize. Mr. Adjei’s neem mixture helped him solve a different kind of problem. He says, “Goats and rams destroyed my crops. They scaled the fence I had built to [protect] my crops and [munched away at the cobs].” But, since he sprayed his crop with the neem-based insecticide, they don’t come anywhere close.
Mr. Adjei explains, “Ninety per cent of the insecticide is made of neem, a tree whose leaves are bitter. Since the animals do not like the bitter taste, this prevents them from destroying the sprayed crops.”
Kossi Adeledji is a teacher at the Sichem agricultural training centre. He says that spraying the neem-based insecticide has no negative impact on those who eat it, and that in some countries, farmers use neem fruits as fertilizer. But Mr. Adeledji warns that it is important for farmers to get the right dosage when spraying, because the product is very concentrated. Farmers must also re-apply neem-based insecticides every few weeks, as their effects wear off, and the pests will come back.
For the time being, Mr. Adjei produces his insecticide in small amounts, selling it for 1,000 FCFA a litre ($1.70 US). But he has big plans to expand. He is waiting for the Togolese Agricultural Research Institute to certify his neem-based insecticide so that he can scale up his business.