Agroecology: A Sustainable Lifeline for Lake Toho in Benin
Pollution poses a grave threat to the once thriving Lake Toho in Benin, endangering its delicate ecosystem. However, a ray of hope emerges in the form of agroecology, a holistic approach to agriculture that offers a promising solution for saving the lake from pollution and restoring environmental balance. In this article, Edwens Daniel, a project officer at CEVASTE, explores how agroecology has played a key role in preserving Lake Toho by harmonizing sustainable farming practices with the preservation of nature.
Benin, in West Africa, boasts a rich tapestry of natural resources, among them the magnificent Lake Toho located between longitude 6° 23’N and 6° 27′ N and latitude 2° 07’E and. 2° 13′ E. Yet, regrettably, this once flourishing lake is now confronted with a formidable adversary: pollution. Intensive agricultural practices, characterized by the excessive use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, have unleashed an ecological imbalance of alarming proportions, jeopardizing the wellbeing of this delicate ecosystem. A crucial turning point took place in 2018 when villagers witnessed a staggering death toll of fish and an ominous change in the water’s hue. Nonetheless, a glimmer of hope shines through, with the introduction of agroecology—a holistic agricultural approach offering sustainable farming practices
Martial Agassounon (31) and Dorothé Agossounou (40) are two brothers who inherited an 18-hectare plot of land on the southern shores of Lake Toho in the community of Ouidah from their late father, Alitondji Agassounou. They have found themselves at the centre of this narrative. Adhering to their father’s wishes, they refused to sell the land but embraced a life of subsistence farming. These brothers’ agricultural activities, much like those of the other community members in the region, are closely intertwined with the lake, utilizing its waters for irrigation and relying on fishing as a vital food source.
Initially, Martial followed his parents’ traditional farming methods, eschewing chemicals and inputs. However, he soon discovered that this approach failed to yield the expected results, resulting in disappointing harvests and heightened vulnerability to pests. Following in the footsteps of many farmers in the region, he transitioned to conventional farming practices, resorting to chemical fertilisers for nourishment and pesticides for pest control. Nevertheless, personal experiences of pesticide poisoning, coupled with observations of declining soil fertility and escalating insect resistance to chemicals, compelled him to seek an alternative to these environmentally destructive methods.
Dorothé, likewise, engaged in conventional farming practices and now acknowledges his contribution to the lake’s plight. “Today, fish are scarce, and soil fertility has significantly diminished,” Dorothé laments.
Agroecology offers holistic balance
Thankfully, in 2018, these brothers crossed paths with CEVASTE, an ABN partner, and became beneficiaries of an agroecology project being implemented in Benin by CEVASTE in collaboration with ABN. The project aimed to promote indigenous seeds and agroecological practices. Martial and Dorothé learned the art of preparing organic fertilisers and natural repellents while recovering their indigenous seeds. “Thanks to these adopted agroecological techniques,” Dorothé observes, “pollution levels in the lake have significantly reduced.” Presently, approximately one hundred farmers in the surrounding villages embrace agroecology as their guiding principle.
Since adopting agroecology, these brothers have successfully managed soil fertility by utilizing compost produced from their garden waste. They assert that unlike the costly purchase of chemical fertilisers, compost production is both economical and efficient, requiring only three months. Martial emphasizes that protecting the lake entails abstaining from fertilisers and pesticides that could be washed into its waters during the rainy season.
Dorothé stresses the importance of collective adoption of agroecology, as the beneficial effects remain limited if only a single individual embraces the methods while their neighbours continue with chemical-based practices. Consequently, the brothers are devoted to promoting agroecology among fellow farmers in the region, raising awareness, and providing guidance on the diverse benefits of this sustainable approach.
For as Martial concludes, “It is vital to produce our food in harmony with nature, protecting the fragile balance of Lake Toho for generations to come.”
CEVASTE partners with ABN to accompany communities in Benin, encouraging them to continue practicing agroecology for sustainable food production, while caring for biodiversity.