Togo: Maize forms perfect windbreak for coastal onions

| November 30, 2015

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It’s harvest time. Every morning, Kossi Anani, his wife, and his two daughters walk to their plot to gather red onions for sale. The 30-year-old farmer works on a seaside, one-hectare plot.

He says, “The amount of onion I harvest on only a few square metres allows me to live for a month. And I have only collected one-tenth of the field! There’s still a lot of work to do.”

His onions were not always so abundant.

Ten years ago, Mr. Anani decided to grow onions near the coastal village of Agbodrafo, twenty kilometres east of Lomé, Togo’s capital city. Back then, the ocean was more than five kilometres from the village.

Blivi Adoté is an oceanographer. He says the sea erodes some parts of Togo’s coastline by as much as ten metres a year. As the sea crept closer to Mr. Anani’s field, he realized he had a major problem.

Mr. Anani’s onions were constantly doused with saltwater spray carried by the sea breeze. Consequently, they blackened with mould and quickly rotted. He couldn’t even harvest 50 kilograms a season.

Tired of seeing his crops wither and die, Mr. Anani consulted a local agricultural NGO. The NGO advised him to plant maize around his field to combat the ongoing erosion and the salty spray.

Eli Tchala Bodomziba is an agricultural officer who specializes in plant protection. He says the maize plants provide an effective barrier against moist sea breezes because of their height. The salty spray is trapped by the maize and the onions are spared.

Mr. Anani’s harvests improved dramatically within a few months of planting the maize barricade. Today, he harvested one hundred kilograms of onions.

Mr. Anani is not the only seaside farmer who has tried this method. Agbeko Yao makes his living by growing and selling lettuce and carrots. As he waters his field, he says that, since he started protecting his crops with a maize wall, his harvest has improved.

Many other local vegetable farmers are also using maize barriers to protect their crops. Some think they’re not entirely reliable, but they admit that the damage caused by the sea breezes has been significantly reduced.

The sea continues to erode the coast and Mr. Anani and other farmers in this part of Togo still face huge challenges. The tides have washed away several farms, and many farmers are now unemployed.

But Mr. Anani isn’t planning to watch passively as his onions are consumed by the waves. He’s saving up to invest in new fields far from the beach, where he can farm in peace.