Agriculture / Dairying / ILRI / Mali / Niger / PIL / PIM / Research / Togo / Value Chains / West Africa

Of platforms and tables, cows and chillies: Scrutinizing numbers in Togo opens worlds of new ideas to explore

Early this month, Jo Cadilhon, an agricultural economist with ILRI’s research program on Policy, Trade and Value Chains, spent four days in Lomé, Togo, facilitating a workshop for a project on ‘Resilience of smallholder agriculture through dairy and market gardening value chains’. In this blog post, he tells how the analysis of data during the workshop led to some new ideas to explore in research on value chains.

Agro-economists from CORAF, Togo, Mali and Niger

Agro-economists from CORAF, Togo, Mali and Niger at the CORAF-ILRI workshop on calculating value chain production costs and margins at Lomé in Togo, 4-7 June 2013 (photo credit: ILRI/Jo Cadilhon).

I recently completed facilitating a workshop in Lomé, Togo, with agricultural economists of a ‘Dairy and Vegetable Project’ (or PLM for the French version, Projet lait maraîchage). This project is implemented by the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (WECARD/CORAF) and funded by the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), where I work, is providing technical support on tools and methods for value chain analysis, and monitoring and evaluating innovation platforms.

One of the objectives of the project is to improve the resilience of smallholder dairy and market gardening communities through their better integration into value chains. The purpose of this workshop—which gathered together three agricultural economists from Mali, Niger and Togo, my economist counterpart from WECARD, the Togolese national project coordinator, and an editing consultant—was to analyse data on the production costs incurred by all of the value chain actors so as to identify the margins and value additions of each of them, to compare those figures with the final prices paid by consumers for milk or vegetables, and to start writing up these results for publication in scientific journals.

Five agricultural economists gather to analyse production costs data!—definitely not headline news. Yet I was startled at how looking deeply into production cost data tables enabled us to uncover fascinating new areas of possible research for us and our agronomics and genetics colleagues. Here are just three examples of ideas for further research that were generated by our analysis of dairy and vegetable value chains.

(1) One of the first steps in value chain analysis is value chain mapping, where one identifies the various actors involved in the value chain, their relationships with one another and their links with the value chain product.

Our mapping of Togolese dairy value chains identified three intricately linked stakeholders at the production level. The owners of many of the dairy cows do not live in Togo but rather abroad; they keep cow herds for prestige and as ready sources of cash in case one of their Togolese relations need money urgently. So the cow owners employ cow herders, who take care of the herd, paying for any feed and veterinary inputs that will keep the animals productive and in good health. But the cow herder does not tend to the cows directly: rather, that is left to two or three cattlemen. The latter lead the cow herds to grazing, tend to them, and, crucially, milk them. While the cattlemen are paid a small salary, they are free to use all milk not drunk by the calves.

Each of this rather complicated threesome—cow owner, cow herder and cattleman—has a very different stake in the cows. Further socio-economics research could help uncover the verbal or written contractual arrangements that exist among them, regulating who gets what and how much from the cows.

(2) Our analysis of the production costs of Sahelian Peul dairy cow herders led to our discovery that producers were selling only a small fraction of the milk they were producing. Most of the milk they obtained from the cows was consumed by households, given to friends and neighbours, or even discarded while still perfectly drinkable. That came as a surprise to some of us. Our Nigerien colleague described a cultural taboo of the Peul: Selling raw milk would bring bad luck to the herd, which is the most important asset of these pastoralists. So they prefer to throw milk away rather than sell it to somebody.

Many dairy plant projects set up by the Nigerien Government, it was explained, had failed because herders refused to sell their milk to the processing plants. Wanting to find ways to widen consumption of this scarce food resource in one of the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa, we strategized ways by which one might circumvent the taboo. Would establishing dairy plants collectively owned and managed by the herders work? Would that allow more milk to find its way to city dwellers in search of nutritious animal products?

(3) Finally, consider Togo’s so-called ‘white chilli pepper’. This small chilli was introduced by the project to benefit farming communities. When young, it is white in colour and very spicy, but as it matures, it becomes red and bland, making the mature chillies less attractive to household cooks. The question the chilli pepper farmers have is: How should they tend the crop so as to harvest the fruits when they are still white and spicy, and keep on harvesting the chillies for as long a period of time as possible? Perhaps our CGIAR geneticists and breeders would like to look into selecting these colour and taste traits in chilli varieties for the Togolese market? Perhaps agronomists can recommend techniques with which to stagger-sow the chilli seeds so that producers can stagger-harvest spicy, white chillies throughout an entire growing season.

Whole new worlds of possible research, and research benefits, thus opened up by our poring over (seemingly) boring tables of numbers.

Editor’s note: If you’re attending or participating virtually in the jamboree in Accra next week—the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6)—being organized by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the Government of Ghana, seek out one of more of than 20 livestock scientists and directors from ILRI who will be participating. You’re invited to join ILRI and partners at ILRI’s side event, on the topic of ‘Livestock research for Africa’s food security‘. This three-hour morning event will be facilitated and highly participatory in nature. We welcome your participation and views. The ILRI side event will be held 9am–12 noon this Monday, 15 Jul 2013, in executive room 4 of the Accra International Conference Centre. If you plan to attend this session, please shoot an email confirmation to Teresa Werrhe-Abira (t.werrhe-abira [at] so we can organize refreshments.

If you will not be attending the Accra conference, you can follow and its discussions (and participate virtually) on Twitter via @FARAinfo and the hashtag#AASW6, on FARA’s Facebook Page and on the AASW6 blog.

And if you have an answer or response for Jo, please insert it in the comment box below or contact him at j.cadilhon [at]

3 thoughts on “Of platforms and tables, cows and chillies: Scrutinizing numbers in Togo opens worlds of new ideas to explore

  1. Nice story about Togo’s white chili pepper. Many Capsicum peppers that I know continuously produce fruits allowing consecutive harvests of immature fruits. Probably with some management and the right germplasm you can optimize that. I would be interested to know more about the Togo white pepper. I am working with Bioversity International in a project on a better use of Capsicum pepper diversity in the Americas,

    • Thanks Maarten for your feedback. To learn more about the Togoloese white chilli pepper, I suggest you contact the national coordinator of the project in Togo, Mr Rémi Dao from the Togolese agricultural research institute. His email address is: balabadidao [a]

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