Tapioca tech in Togo – how producers are organising to transform lives and land

Togo’s expanding populations need both food and means of generating income. After a recent visit, Duncan Macqueen reflects on how multi-tiered self-organisation is supporting sustainable solutions among tapioca producers.

Duncan Macqueen's picture
Duncan Macqueen is principal researcher in IIED's Natural Resources research group
05 February 2020
Women preparing tapioca

Tapioca production in the new hygienic production facility of NOVI VA Cooperative (Photo: Duncan Macqueen, IIED)

Natural forests in Togo’s Maritime region have largely disappeared, with only a few relics remaining in protected areas. Expanding populations have converted most forest north of the coastal lagoons and mangroves into agroforestry mosaics (now covering 85% of the land).

Intense use is degrading soils. Erratic rainfall patterns are emerging as a result of climate change. Life is increasingly precarious for the communities who depend on these lands for their food and income. 

Tapping into tapioca’s benefits

Cassava (locally manioc) is one of those tenacious staples that will grow almost anywhere. It flourishes in Togo’s Maritime region. Fleshy roots can be processed into tapioca flour to make gelatinous, crunchy or bread-like products. 

Farmers survive by interplanting cassava with sweetcorn, beans, market garden vegetables, and palms or trees that produce fruit or leafy nutrition (such as Moringa). They may rear poultry, livestock or fish. Mix in the odd nitrogen-fixing tree such as Leucaena, whose leaves can be mulched into the soil to improve fertility, and the agroforestry system provides a basis for sustainable subsistence – at least if populations do not grow too much more.

But how can desperately poor people do more than just survive? Earn enough cash to invest in their own futures? The Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), co-managed by FAO, IIED, IUCN and Agricord, has been working with local producers in Togo to tackle this challenge.

Organising their way to better productivity

Cassava producers have little more than their agroforestry fields, and each other, to depend on. But by joining forces they can mobilise money, share costs, negotiate better prices and attract support. That is exactly what cassava producers in Tokpo have done in the Lacs prefecture around 10km from Aneho. This district is one of FFF’s sites and the programme is supported by GIZ. 

First, the cassava producers formed a local or first-tier cooperative society called NOVI VA. They joined a second-tier umbrella professional organisation, Centre for Producers of Cereal (CPC), which provides technical support to develop cereal value chains across Togo. CPC is part of a third-tier national organisation (CTOP) that unites all forest and farm producer organisations across the country. Both CTOP and CPC have received funding from FFF.

Through self-organisation, NOVI VA secured FFF support in August 2019 to improve their organisational and financial management. A NOVI VA representative, along with CPC staff, took part in FFF-funded business training called Market Analysis and Development

The training inspired ideas about how to better organise for business, including developing a more hygienic and professional cassava processing centre. And by working together they convinced the local chief to allocate scarce community land for the centre.

Organogram of Forest and Farm Facility support to different levels of forest and farm producer organisations

Click on the image to expand it. Organogram of Forest and Farm Facility support to different levels of forest and farm producer organisations such as CTOP, CPC and NOVI VA across four regions of Togo through letters of agreement (Image: FAO/FFF – Togo)

Through hard work and using their own investment, NOVI VA fenced around the site (to keep goats and other livestock out) and constructed a processing unit and a thatched meeting space. They have also worked with CPC and CTOP to develop a new logo for their cooperative that will help distinguish their higher quality product in the market. 

NOVI VA have also experimented with new packaging that would enable access to higher value, but more distant, markets in urban supermarkets. 

Business incubation: nurturing growth

NOVI VA, CPC and CTOP have worked together to improve forest and farm business incubation – a support process that accelerates the successful development of sustainable businesses in forest landscapes – in Togo. And both CPC and CTOP have provided mentoring and follow-up support and networking services to NOVI VA as part of that process. 

Last September, IIED and FAO organised business incubation and risk management training in Madagascar for national-level organisations and government representatives from five African countries. Participants from Togo included CTOP and women producer group RENAFAT. 

Within Togo, a national kick-off workshop has been followed by institutional plans to establish a national centre for forest and farm business incubation (CNIEAF). This will initially span 12 umbrella professional organisations like CPC and their members, such as NOVI VA.

CTOP has obtained a partnership agreement with the National Project for the Promotion of Rural Entrepreneurship (PNPER). This will allow them to support 200 cooperative organisations, including the ten supported by FFF, with business plans and access to finance from 2020.

A sign on a fenced enclosure and a bag of tapioca

Newly fenced production area with new marketing logo that also features on new product packaging in Topko, Togo (Photo: Duncan Macqueen, IIED)

Making higher productivity more sustainable

Improved working conditions for NOVI VA members and improved quality of products are paving the road to better market access and more secure livelihoods. 

But what of sustainability in these fragile landscapes? 

FFF’s vision is to achieve climate-resilient landscapes and improve livelihoods. CPC has trained NOVI VA members in establishing tree nurseries in the Maritime region. Adding this to their portfolio will increase incomes and help agroforestry members diversify into a range of other tree-based options, fruit and timber, alongside fertiliser trees to improve crop yields. Ensuring that staple crops like cassava go hand in hand with more diverse agroecology is part of FFF’s long-term plan.

NOVI VA’s small interventions can be scaled up quickly through peer-to-peer exchanges by umbrella organisations such as CPC and CTOP.

These exchanges are part of the regular arsenal of approaches used by FFF, not only to improve livelihoods, but to contribute to national commitments to climate resilience, such as Togo’s commitment to restore 1.4 million hectares of degraded landscape within their AFR100 pledge by 2030.

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