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Taungya practices in Togo

O. Nadjombe
Directeur General de l'Office de Developpement et d'Exploitation des Forêts (ODEF), Lomé, Togo


This report briefly describes the development, brought about by demographic pressure, of agro-forestry practices in Togo. The first part describes the balance that existed between traditional land-use methods and the land's capacity for natural regeneration at a time when population density was still low. With population growth and the need for increased agricultural production, this balance was upset, the forest ecosystems were destroyed, and the traditional farming methods were made obsolete. The second part describes the taungya system, as it was introduced for the first time in Togo in 1954, and its development up to the present

Togo has approximately 4,794 km² of dense, semi-deciduous forests, generally divided into clumps of fewer than 5,000 hectares, for the most part heavily planted with coffee and cocoa. Present agro-forestry practices are closely linked to the traditional land-use system.


Traditional land use derived from the tribal organization of the population, and is characterized by the occupation of independent pieces of land by communities made up of descendants of a common ancestor. The basic principle underlying traditional land tenure was collective ownership, whereby land did not belong to anyone in particular; all land within the territorial boundaries of a tribe was regarded as a unit, at the disposal of all members of the tribe. The traditional land-tenure system was perfectly suited to the extensive shifting cultivation that was, and still is, practiced by the populations concerned.

Shifting cultivation has gradually claimed vast areas from forests through indiscriminate clearing practices. Forests have been progressively and unavoidably destroyed in direct proportion to the increase in population density.

As the tribal forest reserves diminished, the natural capacity for regeneration of the "grassed" lands was also endangered by bush fires. Only a few species of grass vital to the life of the rural people were preserved and cultivated. Human activities had a remarkable effect on the landscape, with Butyrospermum parkii (or Vitellaria paradox&l, Parkia big/obosa, and Adansonia digitata stands being maintained because of their importance to the life of the local communities while many other species of trees practically disappeared.

Agro-forestry, defined here as the combination of trees and agriculture to obtain ligneous products, does not exist as a farming system in Togo. Nevertheless, in the south-west of the country, coffee and cocoa are cultivated among tall shade trees to the extent that at present all the woodlands of this region have been replaced by coffee and cocoa plantations.

Taungya System

Aware that the forests in the vicinity of rural settlements were in serious danger of extinction, the forestry department decided to introduce taungya. As early as 1954, farming in forests was authorized in some areas of the country on condition that the farmers would not only plant food crops but would also cultivate teak, a forest species that was introduced during German colonization and is well adapted to conditions in Togo.

At first, the farmers were allowed to select their own site and desired acreage in a forest reserve, according to their own criteria and abilities. Using traditional methods, they prepared the ground and planted and nurtured the seedlings supplied by the forestry department, which, in principle, supervised all operations. The food crop harvests belonged entirely to the farmers, who were authorized to open up new plots according to their needs. When the cover of the teak plants began to hamper the development of food crops, the forestry department resumed responsibility for the care of trees. The farmers were also allowed to choose the food crops they wanted to grow, according to practical experience. Only perennial crops, such as oil palms, citrus fruits, coffee, and cocoa, were forbidden. Later, following an evaluation of the results by the forestry department, some changes were made to the formula.

As early as 1958, farmers were compelled to cultivate plots in a continuous block rather than interspersing them throughout the forest. This regulation derived from the difficulties associated with managing small heterogeneous plots that were spread throughout the forest and that included seedlings of many different ages.

With regard to the kind of crops to be grown, it was recommended that only corn, yams, and beans be cultivated together with teak. This recommendation was based not on scientific evidence but rather on observations of poor teak growth in combination with other crops such as cassava, cotton, and sorghum.

In spite of the generous concessions by the forestry department in allowing food crops to be grown in reserved forests, the hostility of traditional farmers towards the principle of reserving forests intensified and resulted in a massive and uncontrollable invasion of the forests by the traditional custodians, who went as far as planting forbidden crops- oil palm, coffee, cocoa, etc. This situation led the forest service, in the early days of the country's independence, to suspend the taungya system in order to protect the reserved forests. The hostility shown by the population towards the taungya programme stemmed from discontent with the principle of systematically setting aside forest reserves. The farmers felt the reserves were unjustified because no development was carried out in them.

With FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) assistance, the Office de Developpement et d'Exploitation des Forêts (Forest Development and Exploitation Authority: ODEF)

  • a government organization set up in 1971 to stimulate reforestation activities-reintroduced the taungya on its sites in 1972, adding new elements such as incentives in the form of bonuses in cash and in kind. The cash bonus was fixed at 6,000 fr CFA (in 1981, 400 fr CFA = US$1 ) and there were supplies worth 23,000 fr CFA for the first year of the contract. These incentives made it possible to plant more than 1,200 ha of Terminalia superba before the system encountered two difficulties that led once more to its abandonment:
  • The Terminalia superba plantations were established in dense, semi-deciduous woodlands that are much sought after by farmers, who clear them for food crop production. The new taungya system allowed the planting of corn, which in Togo is generally grown on forest clearings and is not the leading rotation crop. Because the ODEF was unwilling to allow rotation of crops under the taungya system, farmers felt it was pointless to continue with the system, as grasslands were readily available all around the forest reserves; and
  • T. superba and teak plantations were usually handed over to the forestry department after two years of cultivation by farmers. Since these plantations were far from human settlements, there was inadequate labour for maintenance and reforestation activities. A great many of the plantations were thus left in a deplorable state.

Given that the taungya system faced virtually insurmountable difficulties at the sociological and technical levels, a new formula had to be found. Thus, under state supervision, a semi-mechanized eucalyptus reforestation site was established near a major urban centre capable of supplying needed labour. Both food and tree crops were to be cultivated as before but the state would reap the benefits of all harvests and would pay labourers a wage (often described as "departmental taungya"). This formula was expected to solve some of the problems of the taungya system for T. superba plantations.

For the first time in Togo, the theory of maximum gross yield from land under agro-forestry was advanced. Although this theory is inherent in the taungya system, the basic difference is that in conventional taungya the aim is to get maximum food and timber production, regardless of cost (with the main cost being the farmer's labour), whereas in the new statesupervised version, the production cost must be taken into consideration. Experiments have been conducted and will continue, stressing both improvement of yields and appropriate technology (e.g., food-crop density in forest plantations).

At present, the cost of food crop production under state supervision and within the framework of agro-forestry exceeds acceptable limits. This situation is not peculiar to agro-forestry but applies also to the traditional system of agriculture, which is based on obtaining staple foods through the investment of minimum human effort.

Besides efforts to alleviate both timber and food shortages through the taungya system, the state is also supporting an experimental programme in north Togo to shorten fallow periods. In this part of the country, where the population density (40 people/km² ) makes it impossible to observe the traditional fallow period of 25 years, techniques that accelerate the natural regeneration of soils are essential because farmers are financially unable to maintain fertility through the use of chemical fertilizers.