December 20, 2022

Can coffee production become more important for Togo?


Togo (also known as the Togolese Republic) is a small country located in the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa. The country is essentially a narrow strip of land with a relatively short coastline, and shares its borders with Ghana, Benin, and Burkina Faso. 

Despite its small size (approximately 57,000km2), Togo has a diverse climate. While the northern part of the country is more dry and arid, central Togo is home to many plateaus and mountainous regions which are suitable for coffee production.

Like many other West African countries, Togo’s economy is significantly dependent on agriculture – with coffee, cotton, and cocoa being the major cash crops. Cotton is by far the country’s biggest export, while coffee accounts for around 5% of its export revenue. 

Sadly, a substantial lack of investment in the Togolese coffee sector has forced many farmers to abandon production altogether. In turn, many Togolese coffee plants are becoming older and less productive.

To learn more about Togo’s coffee sector, and the challenges which producers face, I spoke with two local professionals. Read on to find out what they had to say.

You may also like our article exploring coffee production in Sierra Leone.

A Togolese farmer dries cherries on patios.

A brief overview of coffee production in Togo

Compared to other coffee-producing countries in Africa, Togo has a relatively short history of coffee production.

It’s believed that coffee was first cultivated in the country during the 1920s, when the country was under French colonial rule.

For the first few decades, the country’s coffee sector was controlled by several foreign exporters who purchased coffee directly from producers. However, after the formation of the Togo Office of Agricultural Products (OPAT) in 1964, the Togolese government started to oversee and manage production.

According to the International Coffee Organisation (ICO), OPAT was largely responsible for marketing coffee to international markets and setting annual domestic prices for coffee, while domestic marketing was managed by private sector stakeholders. Under this model, former exporters became coffee buyers.

During the 1980s, as per figures from the ICO, coffee production in Togo reached an average of around 260,000 60kg bags per year – a figure that has since steadily decreased for a number of reasons. In the early 1990s, according to the ICO, low coffee prices and less productive farms and plantations led to market liberalisation. Ultimately, this resulted in a number of radical reforms in Togolese coffee production – which included more simplified quality control measures.

Amuzu Koffi Mensah is an operations manager at Café Kloto, a roaster which sources coffee from the Togolese highlands. He tells me that coffee is the country’s second-largest export crop.

“More than 40,000 households in the country work in coffee production,” he says. “The major producing areas are in the southwest of the country in the Agou, Kloto, Danyi, Amou-Okposo plateau, and Wawa regions.”

Today, Togo mainly grows robusta – most of which is grown by smallholder farmers who also produce cocoa. For many years, the country’s robusta was highly sought-after thanks to its high quality, but over time, demand has steadily decreased.

Prior to 2000, the total acreage of Togo’s coffee production was 40,000ha, but this has since halved. Amuzu explains that many coffee trees in the country are very old and have become incapable of producing high yields.

In 2017, the ICO reported that Togo produced 6.9 million tonnes of coffee. However, by 2020, this volume had plummeted to 2.4 million tonnes, representing a drop of nearly 35% over a three-year period.

Many Togolese producers grow an old robusta variety which is locally referred to as “Niaouli”. It’s believed that this robusta variety was first cultivated under colonial rule in the 1920s. 

“After harvesting and drying, coffee is sent to a processing plant,” Amuzu says. “Here, it undergoes natural or washed processing.”

A pile of coffee cherries.

Support for Togolese coffee producers

Historically, there has been a distinct lack of government support for the country’s coffee farmers, which has made it difficult for smallholders to gain access to fertilisers and other agricultural inputs. 

Furthermore, the coffee sector’s market liberalisation has largely favoured more established farmers who grow higher volumes of coffee – granting them more access to finance and resources.

Today, the Coffee and Cocoa Sector Coordinating Committee (CCFCC) is responsible for the management of coffee production in Togo. The CCFCC provides farmers with access to training and education, but its system is largely still more beneficial to larger producers.

Local farmers say that there is support from private sector stakeholders to improve access to agricultural inputs, but this is often minimal. Moreover, demand for these resources remains relatively low as many farmers are unable to afford them.

In recent years, the Coffee and Cocoa Technical Unit (UTCC) developed an extension services system that provides support to farmers in more rural areas. As part of this initiative, trained professionals are sent to coffee farms to assist producers with agricultural best practices.

Currently, the UTCC operates an office in Kpalime – a town in southwest Togo. The office trains specialists for each of the country’s eight administrative districts. In turn, these district specialists train and supervise technical advisors who work in each of the country’s coffee-growing regions.

A woman grinds coffee beans in a large pestle and mortar.

Marketing and value addition

According to Amuzu, around 98% of Togo’s coffee production is exported, with major importers including France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Poland.

However, Covid-19 had a significant impact on the country’s coffee sector, which led to a steep decline in exports. Amuzu also believes that the situation was exacerbated by the mismanagement of funds for its coffee sector. 

“Moreover, domestic coffee consumption remains low because of a lack of technical and financial support,” he adds.

A steady decline in demand for Togolese coffee is undoubtedly adding to existing issues, too. In spite of this, there is a growing focus on increasing domestic consumption of Togolese coffee, with a number of initiatives in place.

Father François Komi Amouzou is the coffee processing manager at the Abbey of the Ascension in Dzogbégan, which is located in Togo’s plateau region. Here, monks have been growing arabica, robusta, and hybrid varieties since the 1970s – largely motivated by the purported medicinal effects of coffee, but also by the number of visitors the monastery receives.

“The original idea was to grow and process coffee for our own consumption, as well as for visitors,” he explains. “However, we then decided to sell roasted coffee for the local community.

“We want local people to experience the flavours of Togolese coffee,” he says. “We currently roast around eight or nine tonnes every year.”

For the most part, the majority of coffee consumed in Togo is instant coffee. Father Francois tells me that there are no coffee shops in the plateau region, but the Abbey is attempting to shift local perceptions about drinking higher-quality coffee.

To help increase local demand for Togolese coffee, the Inter-African Coffee Organisation (IACO) partnered with the CCFCC to establish coffee kiosks in the capital city of Lomé, with plans to extend the project to other areas of the country.

As part of the same initiative, some Togolese roasters take part in training workshops held in Gabon.

Two researchers from the Togo Cultivation of coffee Research Centre assess coffee cherries on branches.

Addressing challenges in the sector

Amuzu explains that the lack of technical support for harvesting and post-harvest processing is a serious issue for smallholder producers.

“In addition to this, improving quality control measures is a major challenge in Togo’s coffee sector,” he adds. “There are few local processing units that meet good hygiene standards, and access to finance is also a big issue.”

Furthermore, the sector is also facing a labour shortage. Koffi believes that this is because many young people in the country don’t view coffee production as profitable enough, causing them to search for work opportunities in more urban areas.

To overcome some of these challenges, Togolese authorities largely rely on surplus coffee production that can be sold in the following year. Moreover, the proposed National Development Plan (PND) aims to focus on improving processing methods to add more value to coffee, as well as boosting local consumption.

Amuzu believes that the CCFCC plays an important role in strengthening Togo’s coffee sector – particularly by encouraging more women and young people to take part in coffee production.

He adds that the CCFCC is also directly addressing Togo’s ageing coffee tree population. The committee has so far replanted more 300ha of coffee trees, as well as grafting thousands of seedlings onto existing rootstocks

As well as these programmes, the Centre for Agronomic Research for Forest Zones (CRA/F) has cultivated seven new varieties, although volumes are still too low to disseminate to farmers across the country.

A farmer dries coffee cherries on raised beds.

Despite many historic and current challenges, the Togolese coffee sector has shown that above all else, it is resilient. And while there is certainly potential for its robusta to increase in quality, more support will certainly be needed to help smallholder farmers in Togo improve their agricultural practices.

With the appropriate level of financial and technical support, Togo’s coffee producers may be able to improve quality and yields, and thereby help to gradually grow the country’s coffee sector. 

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on fine Togolese cacao.

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