I am writing this from the north of Togo where I have spent the past few days in the field accompanying a team to meet with farmers and local authorities about a new government program, Le Mecanisme Incitatif de Financement Agricole (MIFA). The aim of the program is to facilitate better market access as well as risk-sharing and access to finance through loans and insurance given to smallholder farmers. To get here, we traveled by car up a road that covers the entire length of the country from Lomé to Burkina Faso and arrived Monday night to Kara where we are based for the week. The two villages we have visited were selected as initial sites to roll out MIFA in part because they are already benefitting from government programs working to increase agricultural productivity. We saw this pre-existing support when we visited the ZAAPs, or “Zone d’Aménagement Agricole Planifiée,” of each, which are part of a government initiative for increased mechanization of agriculture. For both sites, we began the visit with a meeting with the prefect of the area to explain the project and answer questions to ensure local buy-in. We then spent time speaking with the farmers, many of whom voiced concerns around the price they would be able to receive for their rice as well as the interest rates the banks would impose with the loans. Lastly, time was spent talking with the enumerators performing data collection both for the carte d’identité given to project participants as well as for baseline information. All in all, as most of my work in Togo thus far has been within government offices, I have felt grateful for this opportunity to accompany the MIFA project team this week to see what government implementation looks like in the field.
Interestingly, this work on MIFA is being coordinated both through the Presidency as well as an independent MIFA agency rather than through the Ministry of Agriculture. Navigating who in the government and which industry oversees specific projects has been a challenging aspect of government work. This challenge relates to my evolving role at work since arriving in Lomé. While I expected to be directly embedded in the Ministry of Agriculture, I have instead spent more of my time embedded in the Presidential Delivery Unit (PDU), which reports directly to the President’s senior advisor. Despite this shift, I have really enjoyed seeing the day-to-day operations of a recently-established and fully functioning Delivery Unit (DU). DUs, I have learned, are government structures that have been introduced in other developing countries as part of a development strategy to help prioritize and provide strategic management to government priorities and projects. TBI Togo set up this DU in the Presidency and helped identify priority sectors and corresponding workstreams for the analysts hired to work within the DU. I have benefitted most from my work with my colleague Aïcha who handles the Agriculture portfolio within the PDU. Furthermore, through my work at the Presidency, I have been able to attend senior-level government events. These have included a technical working group meeting to inform the launch of Togo’s new Plan du Développement National, as well as the official launch of MIFA at the end of June. The launch was hosted by the President himself and involved remarks by the Head of AfDB, traditional Togolese dances and a symposium filled with Togolese producers and processors showcasing their Togo-made products.
Apart from the time I am spending within the PDU, I have also been working with TBI’s Investment Promotion team, which works directly within the Ministry of Digital Economy. More specifically, I have spent time conducting a market and value chain analysis of coffee production in Togo, which I am now using to create a pitch document for potential future private sector investors in Togo’s coffee sector. Prior to this, I had no experience working on agricultural projects focused on coffee production, so it has provided me the chance to learn both about the cultivation of coffee as well as how you translate market and production data and trends and frame them to attract private sector investments. In general, we have found that with a growing global demand for specialty coffee, Togo is well-positioned to contribute to this niche market as it is already practicing organic and environmentally-friendly growing and processing methods. Overall, if the private sector can help to enhance production to directly increase exportation, smallholder coffee farmers can greatly benefit from the higher price premiums specialty coffee receives on the world market. Looking forward to my last month here, I hope to potentially visit some of the coffee cooperatives here in Togo to learn more about the growing methods and unique qualities of their coffee.
My final area of government support has been to the Ministry of Agriculture, which has taken the form of direct work for their main research institution, Institut Togolais de Recherce Agronomique (ITRA). More specifically, within their new Plan Strategique, they have identified insufficient resources and funding as a key constraint to agricultural research in the country. I therefore will use past and current budgets as well as research on the necessity of well-funded agricultural research programs for agricultural and economic growth to produce an advocacy tool for their use as they work to increase funding for years to come. Interestingly, IFPRI, through its Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) database, has been performing data analysis on the impact of underfunding agricultural research in countries. Thanks to Professor Byerlee, I have connected with some of the lead analysts there who have provided me access to soon-to-be-released data on agricultural research and technology indicators for Togo and West Africa. For the month ahead, I hope to continue to coordinate with those at IFPRI and to potentially draft recommendations for how to better drive data utilization amongst the Presidency, Ministry of Agriculture and other key agricultural stakeholders in Togo so that they can ultimately be more aware of the gaps in agricultural research and highlight its benefits.
As for my direct work with TBI, I participate in weekly staff meetings, helped facilitate (en français) an activity at our staff retreat and have really enjoyed learning from and socializing with my wonderful coworkers. I have taken on a few projects directly with my supervisor, Antoine, including work on an “Advocacy Toolkit” that will be disseminated to TBI teams as they work with governments to identify key potential policies to support on in order to achieve economic growth and job creation. I personally worked on part one of the toolkit, which overviews and explains strategies for driving agricultural transformation. For my final weeks, the TBI Rwanda team has asked for support in developing their investment promotion strategy so I am looking forward to starting work on this soon.
In general, my work here has looked very different from what I have known development work to look like in the past. Whereas at WFP we had deliverables to meet every day and the focus of the work was predominantly on implementation, my work this summer has been much more research and analysis-based. Whilst getting used to a bit less structure and the pace of government support and strategy took a bit of time, I have felt both stimulated and challenged by my ongoing work with the Togolese government and TBI Togo team. I have also found real value in witnessing how governance and economic development is happening at a national level, specifically in West Africa. And of course, the chance to work in French has been both incredibly challenging and rewarding.
Life in Togo has continued to be quite enjoyable, due largely to the friendly and warm Togolese people. I’ve made a few trips to the nearby beaches, indulged in purchasing African fabrics (“tissus”) as well as a traditional Bazin dress, attended a traditional Togolese engagement party with my friend and coworker Aïcha, swam in the cascade (“waterfall”) in the beautiful Kpalimé region, visited the Marché du Fetish (known more commonly in the US as the “Voodoo Market”) and enjoyed spending time around Lomé with some new friends. Finally, because I found myself in Kara during their big annual Evala Festival, I was able to attend the finals for their traditional “coming-of-age” wrestling competition that all 18-year-old boys from the region partake in. It is said that once they have fought, the boys return to their villages as men. The event was filled with dancing, chanting and of course “la lutte” (wrestling) and offered yet another opportunity to partake in a bit of Togolese culture while here.