Although savannas remain the dominant feature in Togo’s landscapes, agricultural expansion has greatly changed land cover in all parts of the country. In 1975, savannas covered 70 percent of Togo, and cultivated areas were mainly found around urban settlements and along the major roads. Between 1975 and 2013, agriculture increased by 14,000 sq km, or 266 percent. Togo’s 7 percent annual expansion rate over this time period ranks as the highest in West Africa. Agricultural expansion occurred at the expense of natural ecosystems such as savannas, woodlands, and gallery forests. The natural landscapes have also become highly fragmented, further degrading ecosystem services. Cultivation has extended beyond the country’s most suitable land and is now encroaching into areas of marginal soils. Furthermore, croplands encroach on most protected zones in Togo, including the Kéran National Park.
The Forêt de l’Atacora (FA – Atacora Forest), which was largely intact in 1975, has experienced a large incursion of cropland, in particular around the towns of Kpalimé and Atakpamé. Dense tropical forest that accounted for 5.9 percent of Togolese land surface in 1975 has now been reduced by half. The deforestation rate in the past decade appears not to have slowed. Without protection initiatives, the current rate will lead to the complete disappearance of Togo’s forests by 2025. Degraded forests and gallery forests are also succumbing to deforestation and have decreased by 21 percent and 36 percent, respectively, between 1975 and 2013. Forest disappearance is particularly worrisome because it reduces biodiversity and negatively impacts a variety of ecosystem services that benefit humans. These trends of land cover and land use changes stem directly from the increasing pressure on natural resources driven by population growth.
Togo’s population grew from 2.4 to 6.9 million between 1975 and 2013, a 288 percent increase. Similarly, the area of Togo’s cities and towns increased 176 percent.
At a more local scale, irrigated agriculture and land devoted to plantations have also greatly increased. Irrigated agriculture hardly existed in Togo in 1975; it grew to 108 sq km in 2013. Plantations, formerly concentrated in coastal areas, have expanded greatly over the 38 years, covering almost 200 sq km in 2013. In contrast, wetlands in the Oti River floodplain were quite limited in 1975, owing to years of drought. They increased by 44 percent between 1975 and 2000 and have remained quite stable since then.