Togolese inventor removing climate change barriers

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Gnizim Atto, a Togolese young farmer and inventor, showing a project he is developing to make life easier for farmers. Photo credit: Kossi Elom Balao

High hopes are being raised by a Togolese inventor and young farmer who has impacted 788 agricultural producers to beat climate change in a region where drought and heat extremes are making it difficult for farmers to survive.

Twice a week, every night, around thirty young people who are passionate about agriculture gather in Gnizim Atto’s office, a Togolese young farmer, to learn from his skills and experience. “I shared with them and other agricultural producers how to become much more productive and make profits in a context of climate change”, he said.

Techniques that have been developed by this teacher of mechanic at Granada Technical High School (located à Tchebebe, 317 km from Lome, Togo’s capital) are overcoming climate change in the agricultural sector. He claimed that he inherited his knowledge and farming methods from his late father. “I learned a lot from my father who was a great farmer”.

Now, he becomes a model of success for youths in his community where he’s empowering them by teaching how to cultivate bio soya, bio groundnut, and bio cashew and how to better produce yam that can resist to climate change impacts.

When you are passing by Sotouboua, a town located in the northern part of Togo, 300 km from Lome, where he lives and known as Omer, almost everybody can lead you to his house. “He is very famous here. Thanks to him our young people are starting farming”, said Peleï Yao, the chief canton of the town.

The eve of the day I went to interview him bags of agricultural products have been stolen from his storehouse. “This is not the first time it's happened”, he told me, before attributing the origins of theft to youth unemployment which has been exacerbated by a number of challenges like poverty and climate change.

Climate change has been a threat causing a terrible lost to farmers cultivating tubers in Sotouboua. “Even last year, it was nightmare. I got losses despite the fact that I took all the precautions needed to avoid such a result”, deplored Agoro Kolani, an old farmer.

In the center of the country, thirteen women from an agricultural cooperative have stopped cultivating rice after terrible losses. Hundreds of miles apart, these two situations shares a common cause: extreme heat.

“Heat extremes affect the economy of rural areas, as both crop and livestock production decline with extreme temperatures’’, revealed a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists which found that rigorous impacts associated with heat—such as agricultural losses and ecosystem changes—would become more frequent or severe.

The study entitled “Killer Heat in the United States” and published in July 2019 explained that “temperatures around the world have been increasing for decades in response to rising heat-trapping emissions from human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels. In the study, it emerged that, the African continent setting a new heat record in Algeria at 124°F.

Heat-related threats are raising many concerns among Togolese farmers. To address the problem, Gnizim Atto is teaching agricultural producers how to develop and multiply new seed varieties of yam and other tuber crops. This technique, he said, consists of selecting the variety of plant resistant to climate change and then multiplying the new sprouts obtained from it.

In its region, 788 agricultural producers with an area of around 2000 hectares of land have already joined his initiative. According to Kolani who is now happy to receive mentoring from Atto, “this technique has shown great promises”.

“I used to plant yam in November and start harvesting by late June. But, when there’s lack of insufficiency of rain in April and Mai, it could make the land hot and the extreme heat decayed the yam. This year with my experience from Atto I’m hoping better result”, said this farmer who depends on agricultural to feed his family.

Drilling project

Gnizim Atto who is also cultivating various agricultural products such as tomatoes, maize, rice, soya and bean, is currently working on a drilling project powered by solar panels to supply water for farmers in the dry season.

The project will enable smallholders to continue farming even in the dry season and will cost less than 9 million Francs CFA, around 16 00 USD. According to him it will benefited low-income people and families who heavily depend on agricultural to improve their livelihoods and maintain economic prosperity, he said, before adding that, “his initiative will also allow youths who face rural exodus to stay a home”.

Prior to that initiative, he failed many times when dealing with water issues which was a significant challenge for him. He owned one hundred hectares of agricultural land nearby a small river but extreme flooding is devastating his planting and destroying all of his livestock’.

Partial view of Gnizim Atto's agricultural land. Photo credit: Kossi Elom Balao

“To solve the problem, I used storage packaging of maize that I filled with sand. I stored them alongside each other in such a way that they can prevent water from keep coming in my farm, but relentless rains have taking them off”. This failure leads him to create a water retention using mechanical excavator. “Water is the key of agricultural success”, Atto explains, “So it’s important to keep and stored it”.

Fall Armyworm

Atto comes up with solutions that work for yam producers to tackle heat impacts of climate change. But what happens to fall armyworm that is also causing extensive damage to him and other Togolese farmers? ”Fall armyworm is serious threat to us”, conceded Atto.

According to a study, titled Fall Armyworm in Africa: A Guide to Integrated Pest Management, that describes a variety of products, practices, and knowledge that can be applied to combat FAW in sub-Saharan Africa, « Fall armyworm is capable of feeding on over 80 different crop species, making it one of the most damaging crop pests ».

While it has a preference for maize, the main staple of Sub-Saharan Africa, it can also affect many other major cultivated crops, including sorghum, rice, sugarcane, cabbage, beet, groundnut, soybean, onion, cotton, pasture grasses, millets, tomato, potato, and cotton.

The guide was published in January 2018, as the result of contribution of four organizations, Feed the future, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), The CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

To date, no single method has proven effectiveness against this pest. A professor-researcher at the University of Lome, Togo, Komi Agboka, who was one of the authors of the guide, revealed that Emacot is currently the insecticide that has proven effective against fall armyworm.

At the University of Lome, researchers rely on pheromone traps to capture adult male moths. But for Gnizim Atto, who need investment to make research and develop natural methods to combat this pest, there is no doubt that if efforts are made together we can win the uphill battle against climate change and its effects that poses a threat to food security, nutrition and livelihoods.

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