Changing the Game in Togo, Africa
Photo courtesy of Morgan Gardner.
U of I faculty use their expertise to help communities in Togo, Africa, rebuild their environment and economy through native plant nurseries
Halfway around the world in Togo, Africa, there is a rustic native plant nursery in the village of Notsé. Villagers from the community care for seedlings in containers that stretch toward the tropical sun.
Togo has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world — these trees will be planted to help maintain plant and animal biodiversity, provide additional sources of food and shelter, and provide income to the community through the sale of renewable forest products.
The University of Idaho built this nursery in partnership with the local community and several nonprofit agencies.
The work began in July 2016, when a team from the University of Idaho traveled to Togo to build a native plant nursery with the local community. Participants included faculty and staff from the College of Natural Resources (CNR) Department of Forest, Rangeland and Fire Sciences; the Center for Forest Nursery and Seedling Research (CFNSR); the Martin Institute in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS); and the Institute for Community Partnerships and Sustainable Development (ICPSD).
The project is led by CNR Assistant Professor Andrew Nelson, who is the director of CFSNR, and Romuald “Ro” Afatchao, associate director of the Martin Institute and executive director of ICPSD. They receive in-country support from Entreprises Territoires et Developpement (ETD), a large non-governmental organization that provides assistance for rural development and manages many reforestation projects in southern Togo.
“Using the extension model in the U.S., we are very successful in connecting research, teaching and outreach to help our communities develop,” Afatchao said. “That extension model is what is missing in Togo and other developing countries. We want to use this model to help locals solve problems in their own communities. In this case, we want to help them come up with a holistic approach to overcome decades of degradation of their natural forests.”
During the first trip in 2016, almost 5,000 containers were sown with native seeds and a group of local women were trained to care for the plants. U of I representatives also started the conversation with the local University of Lomé on how they could collaborate on research and hands-on practical applications.
CNR professor and Extension forestry specialist Randy Brooks and his students got to visit a Togo high school to teach about native plants and reforestation, and later the high school students came out to work in the nursery.
Since then, teams that include undergraduate and graduate students have made several trips back to Togo. The U of I groups have expanded the nursery, and those first seedlings are now planted in a 4-acre test site. Along the way, the team continues to provide outreach and educational opportunities to community members and both high school and college students in Togo.
“This project is not just a collaboration between researchers at U of I and leaders in Togo — it is a game changer in that it offers a unique opportunity to local communities to regenerate and manage their forests.” Ro Afatchao
The nursery is a center for research, a hub for local and national outreach, and a place to train nursery staff and provide a blueprint for additional satellite nurseries. It has attracted a lot of attention in Togo. Afatchao and Nelson have met with representatives of the Togolese Forest Service and the Togo Minister of the Environment, who are interested in collaborating to improve nursery and restoration practices. Faculty members at the University of Lomé want to get involved and a memorandum of understanding is currently being developed to create a formal relationship between U of I and the local university.
“The partnership with the university in Togo is really important,” Nelson said. “If we can collaborate with them on ecosystem restoration and silviculture research, while we work on solutions that will help them improve their environment, it is win-win. We’ll also continue to work with the high schools. We want students to understand that careers in science and forestry are possible and can add value to their communities.”
The U of I team will go back to Togo several times this year and plans to formalize the relationship with the University of Lomé and kick off that partnership. There is also work to do at the nursery — right now, the community members who care for the seedlings spend many hours hauling water by hand to irrigate. The team is working to raise funds to help build a well to provide an on-site water source and is working to raise the $10,000 needed for the well. “This project is not just a collaboration between researchers at U of I and leaders in Togo — it is a game changer in that it offers a unique opportunity to local communities to regenerate and manage their forests,” Afatchao said. “This project could become an example of how communities in Togo and other developing countries can collaborate with their stakeholders to preserve their natural resources and tackle the challenges of climate change. I am so excited that we can be a part of that.”
By Kim Jackson, College of Natural Resources
Published in the spring 2018 issue of Here We Have Idaho.
Support This Project
If you are interested in contributing to the water well project, supporting the Togo partnership or other international opportunities for students, contact Jennifer Farnum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 208-885-5145. To learn more about this effort, contact Andrew Nelson at email@example.com.