sustainable agriculture in TogoTogo is a West African nation on the Gulf of Guinea known for its palm-lined beaches and hilltop villages. With 32 percent of the population living below the poverty line, there have been efforts made toward improving sustainable agriculture in Togo.

Togo’s small sub-Saharan economy is dependent on both commercial and subsistence agriculture, with cocoa, coffee and cotton generating about 40 percent of export earnings. Additional products include beans, cassava, fish, livestock, maize, millet, rice, sorghum and yams. Of the nation’s total land area, 44 percent is used for cultivated crops and two percent for permanent crops like fruit- and nut-bearing trees.

The organization Fly for Life is a nonprofit with the mission to promote sustainable tourism and organic farming by improving the environment, education and incomes of farming communities. Jeremies Pimzi, a social entrepreneur, founded Fly for Life. With help from eco-volunteers, the organization has been able to successfully provide more sustainability in Togo, such as training programs in organic methods, sustainability education and financial management.

Eco-volunteers provide skills and training on increasing sustainable tourism and organic farming. In exchange, the volunteers gain firsthand knowledge about the local customs and culture and develop close relationships with the Togolese. Some of the funding from volunteers has also supported education in the small farming communities of Havu and Soumdina Mountain Village, helping families afford school for their children.

Over 90 percent of the small communities that Fly for Life engages with are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Environmental issues in Togo include deforestation due to slash-and-burn agriculture, the use of wood for fuel and water pollution. The nonprofit aims to transition the nation from unsustainable farming practices to organic methods.

Another key project that addressed sustainable agriculture in Togo was USAID WAFP, or West Africa Fertilizer Program, which occurred from 2012-2017. The project was meant to improve the supply and distribution of appropriate and affordable fertilizers in West Africa. The project broadened its reach to have regional impact across the West Africa sub-region, benefiting 15 ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) countries as well as Mauritania and Chad.

To accomplish its goal, WAFP focused on creating a conducive policy for increased investment in the fertilizer business. It facilitated access to business, investment and financing information that allowed the private sector to deliver quality and affordable fertilizers to farmers.

Because of the work of organizations and the implementation of eco-friendly ideas and practices, there can be better, more sustainable agriculture in Togo.

– Julia Lee

Photo: Flickr

A team of scientists from Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom recently collaborated to study nanotechnology-based fertilizer delivery to crops. What they discovered has the potential to revolutionize farming worldwide, reduce environmental impact and mitigate future global food shortages.

The study, which was published in the Jan. 25, 2017 edition of American Chemical Society Nano (ACSNano), acknowledges that fertilizer prices in developing countries are substantial, and the costs often negatively impact food supply. Scientists determined that developing technology to reduce fertilizer costs was necessary, and began testing a trial fertilizer on rice farms in Sri Lanka.

The results were nothing short of impressive. Initial trials showed a 20% increase in production using about half the amount of fertilizer. These findings are a boon for future generations. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that crop production needs to increase by approximately 60% by 2050 in order to supply the world’s population and avoid global food shortages.

The Science Behind the Results

The scientists in this study didn’t reinvent the wheel. They focused their attention on urea, a common fertilizer. Although urea has been used for decades, it has major weaknesses. When urea comes in contact with water, it breaks down prematurely and cannot be efficiently absorbed by crops. Farmers then have to use more fertilizer — if they can afford it. Calling this issue a “major challenge for global agriculture” that “threatens future food security,” the team settled on a nanotechnology-based principle for fertilizer delivery. This method has wide applications in pharmaceutical delivery, and the scientists thought it showed promise.

The team combined Hydroxyapatite nanoparticles with urea to create nanohybrids. Then, they applied the mixture to crops at test farms. It pleased them to discover that the nanohybrid fertilizer decomposed the urea at a slower rate than urea alone. The scientists reported that they reduced the amount of fertilizer application by 50% while increasing crop yield by more than nine percent.

Larger Harvests with a Smaller Footprint

Money isn’t the only thing saved when nanohybrids are in play. Less fertilizer applied to crops means that less washes away into bodies of water, avoiding unnecessary pollution. Gehan Amaratunga, one of the scientists on the team, says “this goes a long way to reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture…It is a Green Revolution.”

Gisele Dunn

Photo: Flickr

In an interview with CBS’ Charlie Rose, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates discussed the importance of innovation in agriculture. At first, Rose and Gates discussed Gates’ annual letter, including a call to the United States and other developed countries to further agricultural research. However, the conversation took an unexpected turn to a related topic that Gates finds fascinating: fertilizer.

Developing nations continue to face food shortages due to many causes, including climate change. Demand for food is constantly rising and the price of food is increasing as a result. Gates believes that the problems surrounding food-production goals can be alleviated if more investment is made in agricultural research, which includes research in fertilizer.

Fertilizers improve the growth of plants, and are made up of substances consisting of chemical elements such as manure. Fertilizers provide crops with the essential nutrients they need to fight off pests, disease, and the elements. However, insects and disease are only one issue that affects crops. Another major concern for crop sustainability is soil condition, which is drastically affected by changing weather. Fertilizers enhance the soil by allowing the soil to hold more water and nutrients, where forces like rain and wind would usually create unstable soil not suitable for sustained growth.

It appears that Gates’ fascination with fertilizer has developed since his interview with Charlie Rose. On November 12, 2013, Gates wrote an essay that appeared on saying, “I am a little obsessed with fertilizer. I mean I’m fascinated with its role, not with using it.” Fertilizer plays an important role in the lives of people all over the world. Specifically, 40% of the world benefits from crop output that fertilizer has made possible. Gates compares the innovative development of fertilizer to the creation of synthetic ammonia and polio vaccines.

One of the ways that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has advanced research in fertilizer is through supporting a joint project by the Swiss Aquatic Research Institute and the South African Water Utility. The project involves developing urine from conventional sewer-based sanitation and central wastewater treatment systems as a commercial fertilizer and is set to be complete by 2014.

– Daren Gottlieb
Sources: EAWAG, Wired, Southwest Farm Press, The Green Book
Photo: BBC

Instead of using the traditional nitrogen-rich fertilizer typically used to encourage crop growth, researchers in Nepal are experimenting with an unlikely candidate for fertilizer: human urine.

Urea, which is typically used as fertilizer, was found by researchers in Nepal’s capital to be inferior to human urine in fertilizing crops. As part of their research, compost was mixed with different types of fertilizer sources, including urine mixed with compost, and the combinations were tested on pepper plants. The plants in which a mix of urine and compost was used grew the tallest plants that bore the most peppers.

Scientia Horticulturae, who released the study, attributed the positive affect of the unique mixture to “reduced nitrogen loss and enhanced availability of organic carbon in the soil.” The researchers conclude that human urine could be a possible alternative to traditional fertilizers in enhancing sustainable agriculture.

The study goes on to point out that although the use of urine may enhance crop growth, the use of it alone is not sufficient to have a positive effect on plants – it must be used in addition to compost. Currently in Nepal, farmers are applying urine directly to soil, which is not efficient.

Urine alone does not contain organic matter to become a viable source of nutrients for crops, but does provide “faster-releasing nutrients that complement slow-release nutrients from compost, which has a higher content of organic matter and beneficial microbes.”

Researchers acknowledge that although the combination of urine and  compost is sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective, marketing this to farmers may be difficult due to “cultural factors” and reluctance of farmers to handle human urine. Experts also cite that government subsidies to mineral fertilizers will stand in the way of widespread use of urine in agriculture.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Guardian