Sustainable Tourism and Organic Farming in Togo, Africa
Jeremies Pimzi is a social entrepreneur with a creative spirit and big heart. A couple years ago he started Fly for Life, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism and organic farming. The purpose of the organization is to improve the environment, education, and incomes of farming communities in Togo, Africa.
As a tour guide Jeremies discovered that sustainable tourism was a win-win for the local community and the volunteers who participate. Both gain a rich cross-cultural experience and the local economy gets a boost.
This small but mighty operation has been churning out successful sustainability projects with the help of its eco-volunteers. The organization offers programs such as training in organic methods, sustainability education, and financial management.
Some funding from volunteers has supported education in the small farming communities of Havu, (population 700) and Soumdina Mountain Village (population 800). With many families unable to afford school for their children, donations from volunteers provided educational tools and paid for some school fees.
In 2015 Fly for Life received a small grant from Earth Guardians and Plant for the Planet to promote environmental education and plant trees around Soumdina Mountain Village. More than 300 teenagers became Ambassadors of the UN’s Climate Justice Programs, planting more than 600 trees.
Fly for Life has facilitated volunteer visits in several communities throughout Togo. Volunteers provide skills and training to disseminate the goals of sustainable tourism and organic farming. In return, volunteers learn about the local customs, culture, and develop close relationships with the families they visit.
If you’re not familiar with Togo (and neither was I) it’s a small strip of land sandwiched between Ghana and Benin in West Africa. Since the 1960s, when the country gained its independence from France, Togo has been governed by one family.
More than 90 percent of the small communities that Fly for Life engages with rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. The nonprofit is hoping to transform unsustainable farming practices through the use of organic methods.
This is not without significant obstacles. The government promotes the use of pesticides in order to increase rates of harvest. It should not come as a surprise that farmers do not recognize the benefits of organic farming and lack the resources to make the transition.
Fly for Life is educating the community about sustainable agriculture with an initiative they call Dream Village Project. The initiative promotes cultivation and production of organic goods to local farmers.
With the help of Lisette Min, a Dutch volunteer who spent two weeks teaching organic farming in Havu, farmers learned the dangers of pesticides and benefits of organic farming.
To facilitate shared learning of Fly for Life’s sustainable tourism and organic farming programs, volunteers formed two cooperatives in the Havu community. Traditionally, men do the farming and women do the selling so groups were divided not necessarily by gender but by function and shared activities. “It was easier to communicate a message when people are in a group than individually. It’s also nice to encourage people who have common interests to achieve results together,“ said Jeremies.
An informal study revealed none of the farmers had a financial plan, no bank accounts and therefore no savings. Residents learned about the importance of establishing a financial system to enable economic stability, encourage savings, and hopefully facilitate transition to organic farming.
Taking this message a step further, Fly for Life has been working with a U.S. nonprofit called FinMango, to train Havu farmers about how to keep a daily budget. The budget system is a beta test to be scaled up in other communities in Togo and around the world. FinMango promotes financial education to youth primarily in the U.S., and plans to provide microfinancing (at zero or low interest) to underdeveloped communities around the world.
Recently I spoke with the FinMango’s founder, Scott Glasgow and learned that he’s dedicated to eradicating poverty through financial education. “The goal of tracking your finances should be to save and get money back to do good,” said Scott.
Jeremies envisions farmers in Havu eventually growing organic cocoa, coffee, pepper, tomatoes, soy and corn (ideal crops for the region). Through training efforts and volunteer urging, one farmer took the challenge and successfully planted a crop of organic pepper. The farmer received a higher price for the organic specialty than what is typically grown by many farmers (for example corn and cassava). The farmer successfully harvested and sold the product to market and is now planning to plant more organic pepper for the coming season.
On a recent call with Jeremies, I learned the many obstacles of organic food production in Togo. Though organic foods can bring a higher price, often the farms must first be certified to sell at a premium. Farmers are unfamiliar with the environmental benefits and financial gains of growing organic crops. Jeremies asserted that more training is needed to help farmers with growing, producing, and selling organic foods in the market place.
Fly for Life hopes to one day start an organic farm and education center to serve as a demonstration and educational center for farmers, producers, and sellers to learn about sustainable agriculture. The farm would serve as a hub to bring volunteers with skills to spread the knowledge of organic farming benefits throughout the Togo communities. If you feel compelled to help support Fly for Life’s sustainable tourism and organic farming programs, please consider volunteering, donating to the cause, or joining Jeremies growing fan list.
Author: Kathryn Thomsen
Founder of Hundredgivers, a nonprofit supporting and accelerating sustainability initiatives benefiting local and global communities. Kathryn is a social entrepreneur, consultant, researcher, writer and urban farmer. She collaborates with individuals, organizations, and businesses to develop climate change solutions, clean energy, and sustainability strategies and programs.