The first rains began to fall a few weeks ago, heralding the long growing season in southern Togo. Farmers are busy sowing their seeds in the ground. Salima Tchonda, in her 40s, farms a family plot in Elavagnon, about 30 kilometres from the town of Anié in the Est Mono prefecture. She is preparing her groundnut seeds. Groundnuts are a popular legume in Togo, but the groundnut sector is facing difficulties.
Mrs. Tchonda uses very basic techniques to produce groundnuts. She sorts seeds by hand. She sits with her daughter, two basins in front of the two women, one containing groundnut shells and the other used to collect the pods. Next to it, in the sun, a tarp holds drying seeds. This is how she prepares her groundnut seed.
Land preparation is also basic. She explains, “I remove the groundnut shells, prepare the ridges by hand, and sow my groundnuts as I always do.”
Like Mrs. Tchonda, most producers use traditional methods to grow groundnuts in Togo. They mainly grow early-maturing varieties, which have a cycle of less than 100 days.
The groundnut sector is not well-organized and does not benefit from state support. Production is artisanal and the weak capacity to process groundnut hampers the development of the groundnut market. Indeed, groundnut farmers have neither access to information on good farming practices nor to quality seeds.
Soils are cultivated manually without significant mechanization and ridges are made with a hoe. Yet quality seeds and effectively forming ridges can improve groundnut yields. The few well-resourced producers use plows or rent tractors at 30,000 FCFA per hectare ($55 US) to plow their fields.
But various organizations have started to support the groundnut sector, including GIZ, the German Agency for International Cooperation. From seeds to markets, GIZ supports producers with advice and training for groups of groundnut farmers.
Banla Essohouna is a groundnut breeder at the Technological Institute for Agronomic Research. He explains: “In terms of seeds, we have made a little progress in recent years with the collaboration of a few producers that GIZ has trained.” He explains that they produce quality seeds for other producers in the Kara, Savanes, and Centrale regions. GIZ also supports these farmers with advice on sowing at appropriate densities and choosing varieties according to the market. This advice has enabled those in the Savannah region to adopt, for example, a variety of groundnuts called ICIAR 19 BT-1 which produces enough oil.
These comments are reinforced by Mr. Bondjogou Yendoumban, who has grown groundnuts for seven years in the Savannah region. The farmer and several of his friends thought about giving up groundnuts because of poor yields and lack of markets. But they found a new lease on life, with the support of GIZ. The organization has introduced a new variety of groundnuts, set up experimental plots, and tried to solve the problem of markets.
Mr. Yendoumban explains: “It is the low yield per hectare that pushed us to abandon the cultivation of groundnuts. Before the training by GIZ, my production was 300 to 350 kilograms per hectare. Now I am at almost two tonnes per hectare today.” Using the ICIAR 19 BT-1 variety, growers can obtain a yield of three to four tonnes per hectare with 70 kilograms of seed.
The thorniest problem for the groundnut industry is the consumer market. Two years ago, GIZ supported some producers to adopt effective groundnut production practices. But the producers still struggled to sell their product.
Mr. Essohouna says that sales are the big challenge, but they are working on a solution. He explains, “We are working with the authorities to see how to reorganize the sector. We are thinking so that there is something more stable for the groundnut industry. ” For now, GIZ is helping producers by putting them in touch with potential buyers.
The survival of the groundnut industry lies in processing. But oil-processing plants like Nioto were abandoned because production was insufficient. This low production is due to weak mechanization.
To date, processing is essentially artisanal, and consumers are suspicious of a lack of hygiene.
Mr. Essohouna says, “If we manage to process groundnuts, this will create demand and producers will increase their acreage.”
To meet this challenge, the Technological Institute for Agronomic Research offers training for young people. Mr. Essohouna believes this will create jobs and secure opportunities for producers.
This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) implementing the Green Innovation Centre project.
Photo: Anna Paulo’s hands while she works in her cabbage field in Langali village near Morogoro, Tanzania on May 28, 2014. Credit: Frederic Courbet, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation