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Mother, housewife, farmer

FAO and EU help most vulnerable in north Togo restart agriculture

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
Female farmers in Togo work with their newborn children nestled safely on their backs.

3 August 2011, Nansongue, Togo - Nursing and pregnant women were among the most affected by climatic adversities and high food prices in Togo. Under its EU-funded response operations, FAO paid special attention to their needs.

Despite her pregnancy Lengue Kombate is still working in the vegetable garden. After all, it's harvest time in northern Togo. Lengue has already picked the tomatoes, onions and okras. Now only the green chillis remain.

It's been a good year, says her husband Jean. For his family, living off the land and a few heads of cattle and poultry, this means that there is enough to feed the children. Jean still remembers 2007, when floods ravaged his crop and he had to use his savings to buy food.

The floods of 2007 not only destroyed crops, says Robert Gbengbernabe of RAFIA, an FAO partner in the north of Togo. The water also swept away homes, took human lives and killed livestock.

For many in Togo's northern Savannah region, where a majority of people lives on less than one dollar a day and depends heavily on agriculture for a living, it was a major disaster.

Help farmers restart

But there was more. Crop failures led to shortages on the market, provoking a food price hike. The cost of maize nearly tripled, Robert says.

On occasions, even using saved-up money like Jean did wouldn't buy food because there was none to be had. In order to survive, people ate no more than once a day, and even started consuming the seeds they had kept for planting the next season.

Given the scale of the catastrophe, the government launched emergency actions, involving international organisations like FAO"because farmers needed help to restart their production," Gbengbernabe explains.

In 2009, less than a year after food prices reached their peaks in Togo, the European Union (EU) channelled €2.5 million from the EU Food Facilty — Europe's global response to high food prices — through FAO for agricultural rehabilitation in Togo.

In the Savannah region, FAO worked with RAFIA, a local non-governmental organisation, reaching over 3,200 farmers with seeds and fertilisers to produce staple crops, such maize, sorghum and rice.

Lots to do

Special efforts were made to support the most vulnerable groups, including pregnant or nursing women. RAFIA helped 500 of them grow vegetables during the lean season, providing seeds and training, aiming to boost their nutrition level and to provide them with means to generate income from sales.

"In Togo, a woman is capable of organising herself as a mother, as a housewife and as a farmer," Robert says. Women work until the day of delivery. And when the baby is born, they carry them on their backs or put them under a tree with someone to watch over them.

Lengue is due in August. It's going to be tough, she admits, but there is a lot to do. She has already started selling the harvest. A 125 kg drum of tomatoes brings in 10,000 CFA francs (€15). A good price, she says.

Half the proceeds will go into seeds and fertilizer for the planting season that is about to start. With the other half Lengue wants to buy red millet to brew tchakpalo, the local beer. She intends to sell it, using the profits to feed her children and pay their school fees. If possible, she'd love to get another goat for the family.

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