The importance of these associations to the strength of the value chain cannot be underestimated as it creates a solid community on which the members can rely.
Injecting funds into the sector
Access to credit has played an important role in the success of the soybean industry in Togo and the government has negotiated access to export credit. In total, 281 million West African CFA Francs were mobilized from three commercial banks in Togo and made available to more than 4,000 producers and exporters. This allowed exporters to grow their business by more than 80% between 2015 and 2018, increasing soybean export earnings by 353% over the same period.
However, "access to credit is a daily challenge, especially for producers," said Mr. Tchepan. "Even today commercial banks hesitate to lend to producers, so the latter often have to turn to micro-finance organizations to get the financial support they need to expand their field operations, acquire equipment or even pay field laborers".
But the situation is slowly changing for the better. With the boom in soybean production across the country, commercial banks are becoming more aware of the sector and its success. They are starting to see the potential in lending to soybean producers who supply the exporters.
Support from the top
The government of Togo is an active supporter of the soybean industry. It regularly meets with key industry bodies and validates ongoing reglementary tests. In addition, there is an interparliamentary coordination committee established by presidential decree to closely monitor the sector’s performance.
This government endorsement ensures the healthy and prosperous development of the soybean sector throughout the country. It is a prime example of how governments can support the development of private sectors. While the project to enhance the soybean sector ended in 2019, this close involvement of the government will ensure the sustainability of impressive progress in one of Togo's most important exports.
What's next for Togolese soybean?
As with any agricultural endeavors in the 21st century, Togo’s soybean producers have to contend with the threats of a changing climate. "The sector is especially vulnerable to climate change," noted Mr. Tchepan, "as Togo does not have irrigation systems. They mainly rely on Mother Nature to rain on the crops."
So far, the lack of irrigation has not deeply affected production. However, Mr. Tchepan said that it had rained less in the north of the country last year, which had slightly impacted production.
"This is an issue that increasingly comes up during inter-profession meetings and has been identified by agronomic studies," he said. "Everyone is talking about irrigation and the need to facilitate the access to water." There is a real concern around ensuring that climate change does not wipe out the impressive gains that Togo has made in the past five years in increasing the volume and quality of this production.
From €500 per ton in 2020, soybeans are now selling for more than €900 or even €950. Soybeans thus continue to offer a bright future for Togo's economy. The next move by the government and inter-professional associations lies in protecting these gains by building a climate-resilient soybean agricultural value chain.
In the English fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, magic beans lifted a young boy out of a life of poverty; in Togo, soybeans are bringing similar real-life miracles to the country’s farmers and exporters.