the challenge of Togo where poverty rhymes with deforestation

Day and night, Komlatsè Koto watches with a vigilance committee over the forest of their village in southern Togo, to prevent it from turning into a huge clearing or disappearing completely.

Because for years, the inhabitants of the village of Ando-Kpomey, 65 km north of Lomé, have anarchically cut the trees of this equatorial forest of more than 105 hectares, for firewood and the manufacture of charcoal. .

“The development committee keeps an eye on the grain. The notables regularly educate the inhabitants on the harmful effects of deforestation”, confides Komlatsè Koto, guarantor of this forest which surrounds this village of 500 souls.

Each year, Togo suffers a loss of nearly 3,700 hectares of forest degradation, or more than 5 million trees destroyed, according to the Ministry of the Environment. This is a very high rate of deforestation in the West African region and which has accelerated in recent years.

Some 90% of households in Togo use firewood and charcoal as sources of energy for cooking. Financially, gas is beyond their reach. And even more since the Russian offensive in Ukraine, which made its price soar.

“The situation is very critical. Inside the country, there is no longer any forest. We have destroyed everything for firewood and the production of charcoal. We must act quickly”, warns Sébastien Balouki, executive director of the NGO Reboisons vite le Togo (RVT).

And yet, there is “a law that protects our forest resources and the penalties vary according to the extent of the destruction”, explains an executive from the Ministry of the Environment who requested anonymity.

A billion plants

The forest code passed in 2008 provides for penalties ranging from one month to two years in prison and fines of 20,000 to 1 million CFA francs (30 to 1,500 euros) in the event of violations.

But in this country where 60% of the rural population lives in the greatest poverty and where alternative energy sources are still underdeveloped, it is difficult to enforce the law, admits the official.

RVT employees prepare seedlings to replant the Togolese forest, in Lomé on June 28, 2022

Togo is no exception on the continent: nearly a billion Africans do not have access to a clean source of energy for cooking, according to a report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation published in 2022.

According to the same report, the air pollution caused by this lack of access is responsible for the premature death of half a million Africans each year.

After years of neglect, “the government has finally heard our cries of distress, by decreeing a reforestation campaign”, rejoices Mr. Balouki.

The reforestation operation started on June 1 and is spread over the whole year. At least 23 million plants must be planted in 2022 across the country. Main objective targeted by the authorities: to reach one billion plants by 2030.

“Our ambition is to achieve 25% forest cover,” said Forest Resources Minister Katari Foli-Bazi.

To motivate the Togolese, the government has designated prizes to the three best reforesters from all regions of the country.

But reforestation is not enough, it is above all necessary to slow down deforestation. Turning to gas remains unaffordable for the time being, so alternatives must be found.

Improved cookstoves

Thus, the authorities have entered into a campaign to popularize improved stoves, cookers made locally and very economical in the consumption of charcoal.

AFP

Rodolphe Teko, the boss of Tcha Tcha Business, inspects his improved stoves, in Lomé on June 28, 2022

“Today it is impossible to prohibit the use of charcoal in households: rather, an alternative is needed to reduce the impact of deforestation through the ecological management of the use of charcoal and firewood”, emphasizes Mr. Balouki.

“And experience has shown that improved stoves can reduce this prolonged pressure on the trees,” adds the director of the NGO.

These stoves, locally and whose prices vary between 5,000 and 25,000 F.CFA (8 and 40 euros), are made using recycled galvanized sheets and ceramics.

In April 2021, the government distributed 1,500 in the seven ecovillages of the country, including Ando-Kpomey. The goal is to reach ten more villages by 2025 and 500 by 2050.

In Ando-Kpomey, the energy-intensive homes of yesteryear have been abandoned. Rebecca Agbogla now prepares the meal on her improved fireplace placed on the ground in front of her hut. “I use twice, even three times less charcoal in one week than with our terracotta fireplace”, rejoices this mother.

More than an ecological alternative, for Rebecca Agbogla, it is above all a source of savings.

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