An Ongoing Threat to Ivory Coast Smallholders

In Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), the world’s largest cocoa producer, 90 percent of the crop is grown on small family farms, where it can provide a reliable income. But vector-borne diseases such as malaria represent a massive threat to these farmers. To advance productivity and community health, initiatives aimed at reducing the burden of malaria are crucial.


Credit: Fotolia, Bayer AG 

The lives of many smallholder farmers in West Africa bear similarities to the life of Kirikou, a boy in a well-known West African folktale. Kirikou, though young and small, is incredibly brave: He manages to save his village from an evil witch, leading to peace and joy among his people. Smallholder farmers in Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) also have to fight a considerable enemy – not a fairytale witch, but something all too real, namely vector-borne infections, and most notably malaria.

 sarah de SouzaCredit: Kubikfoto, Bayer AG



Sarah de Souza is Marketing Analyst for Southeastern Europe, Middle East and Africa with Environmental Science at Bayer in Ivory Coast.

Diseases like malaria constantly threaten smallholder farmers’ health and their livelihood. On their land, mostly less than two hectares, these farmers often grow cocoa beans, which is usually their only source of income. “The impact of malaria on health, productivity and development is profound,” explains Sarah de Souza, Marketing Analyst for Southeastern Europe, Middle East and Africa with Environmental Science at Bayer. “It is a huge burden for smallholder farmers and their families, whose livelihood depends solely on agriculture. A sick farmer is a poor farmer, and in a poor environment, disease can flourish.“


Moayé Project: 2019 Aims
Raising the revenue of the farmers, increasing their productivity, the quality of cocoa, and introducing alternative food crops such as vegetables rice or maize.

Increasing the use of crop protection products, educating and training the farmers in using these products safely. 

Improving health and wellbeing of the farmers, reinforcing the fight against malaria.

Avoiding environmental pollution, enforcing the safe disposal of empty product containers.

 Cocoa pods
Credit: CHARRETIER, Christian, Bayer AG


Brown gold: Ivory Coast is the world’s leading supplier of cocoa. About six million people in the country are employed in its cocoa industry. 

Smallholder Farmers are the Life Blood of Ivory Coast

More than a million smallholder farmers represent the economic backbone of Ivory Coast, where 70 percent of the population is engaged in some form of agricultural activity. The nation is the world’s leading producer of cocoa supplies – with an annual production of two million metric tons, contributing one third of the world’s cocoa.[1]  

The daily lives of these smallholders is in rhythm with their work in the fields. “My day starts at dawn,” says Ganssoure Daouda, a 35-year-old farmer who lives near Duekoue, a city in western Ivory Coast. “I then go to the fields and work there, pruning the trees and collecting the pods. In the evening I go back to my family and bring some manioc tubers to eat. The next day this routine starts again. I do not grow any other crop aside from cocoa, and sometimes it is difficult to take care of my family of six.” 

 Credit: Bridget Corke, MantaRay, Bayer AG


Malaria hampers children’s education: When children contract malaria they cannot go to school and even if they survive the disease, they often suffer physical and mental impairments. 

Ganssoure’s farm is located near a school that his children attend. Similar to many other farmers, he sells his cocoa to Coopaso, one of the 1,500 registered cooperatives in Ivory Coast. Farming cooperatives are organizations that pool their resources to address their biggest challenges. 

“The main objectives of our cooperative are increasing the price of cocoa, ensuring the farmers a stable income, improving their quality of life and building schools, roads, and wells,” explains Soumahoro Brahima, the administrator of Coopaso, which unites 625 farmers. “As malaria represents a major cause of illness in our region due to the heavy rains, we also support the farmers when they need medical treatment. There are first-aid boxes in our offices; we have a free phone number in case of an emergency and we send a car to transport sick people to the nearest hospital.”


Malaria: A Serious Threat to the Farmers’ Wellbeing

Cooperatives like Coopaso are strongly aware that malarial illness is still very high in Ivory Coast; in 2017 alone, more than three million people fell sick from the disease.[2]  Farmers and people living in rural areas are at high risk of contracting the disease because agriculture and malaria thrive on the same three key elements: water, sun and humans. “Malaria is the first cause of medical consultations in Ivory Coast and is estimated to be responsible for 50 percent of agricultural losses,” remarks Sarah de Souza. “It is estimated that 3.8 billion agricultural working days could be saved if malaria was eradicated by 2030,” she adds. 

For Ivory Coast’s cocoa farmers, who already have modest incomes while being highly dependent on family labor, a malarial infection could mean a dramatic loss in productivity. Therefore, it is crucial to implement effective malaria prevention strategies, including controlling the mosquitoes which transmit the parasite.

Tools such as insecticide treated nets (ITN) can prevent the transmission of the disease; however, their usage is very low among farmers. “Many farmers are not using anything to protect themselves against malaria,” adds de Souza. “Some do not have bed nets, some have bed nets but are not using them because it is too hot, and some use the nets just for their children. Other farmers use the nets just to protect their crops. We need to increase the use of other vector control solutions such as indoor residual spraying in order to decrease malaria incidence and leverage productivity.”


 Cocoa farmer Ganssoure Daouda
Credit: Theodore Gounongbe, Bayer AG



Supporting the farmers: Soumahoro Brahima works for the COOPASO cooperative, which unites 625 farmers in Duekoue. He helps the farmer s in the product ion, marketing and procession of cocoa and other crops.


 Soumahoro Brahima, COOPASO
Credit: Theodore Gounongbe, Bayer AG



A life in the field: Cocoa farmer Ganssoure Daouda is 35-years-old and has spent the last three years of his life working in his 15ha farm in Duekoue, in the western part of Ivory Coast.

The Moayé Project: Supporting Farmers

In a local language, the word “moayé” means happiness. This word is also now symbolic for a project to help farmers to make a better living. In order to support them, Bayer started a food chain partnership initiative – called the Moayé project – in 2014 together with the traders Olam Cocoa and Cémoi and 13 cooperatives. Two additional main cocoa traders, Cargill and Barry Callebaut, have also joined the project. In 2018, 60,000 farmers cultivating 12,000 hectares participated in the Moayé project. “We try to focus on the challenges and the needs of the farmers,” explains Theodore Gounongbe, Bayer’s Food Chain Manager for West and Central Africa. “We want to help them to enhance sustainable production of high-quality cocoa by giving them tools and education to implement good agricultural practices.”

The close collaboration among traders, cooperatives and Bayer is a key aspect of the project and has had a positive impact on the cocoa value chain. “The partnership works very well,” remarks Gounongbe. “Following the good results achieved in Ivory Coast, we have initiated the project in Ghana and plan to start it soon in other countries such as Nigeria and Cameroon. When moving to other countries, we need to adapt to the needs of the local farmers starting with simple actions and then add new services each year.”

Indoor Residual Spraying: An Effective Tool for Improving Vector Control

The fight against malaria is another key aspect of the Moayé project and requires close collaboration between the crop protection and public health sectors. In order to ensure a malaria-free environment to the farmers, Bayer’s crop science and environmental science teams started a joint project, a subproject of the Moayé project, in 2018 in ten different areas in Ivory Coast. The objective: Enhancing the use of indoor residual spraying (IRS) in the rural communities and proving the efficacy of this tool. This is because IRS has proven to be a very efficient vector control tool. It requires the spraying of insecticides on the interior walls of homes in order to kill mosquitoes and interrupt malaria transmission.

IRS was given free of charge to the farmers, and sprayer operators were trained in each village. “We explain to the famers what malaria is and show them that what they call “the small fishes” are actually mosquito larvae,” highlights Laurent Perez, Country Commercial Lead for West, Western and Central Africa with Crop Science at Bayer. “We sensitize them to the importance of eliminating the breeding sites for mosquitoes and teach them how they can protect themselves and their families with IRS. It is important to have people of a community protecting their own community.” 

Laurent Perez
Credit: Laurent Perez, Bayer AG




Laurent Perez, Country Commercial Lead for Western and Central Africa with Crop Science at Bayer. 

The acceptance of the IRS on the part of the farmers is very positive since malaria represents a major concern for them. “The Moayé project is crucial for the region. Besides the economic perspective, the social impact can be very positive,” continues Perez. “When you are successful in spraying and you see all the mosquitoes dying, you know that you are doing something for the wellbeing of the people. I’m convinced that our action is key for sustainability, for the cocoa value chain and, most of all, for the people.” After the successful completion of the project’s pilot, the next phase will see the development of a sustainable way to involve more cooperatives in order to proceed on the road towards the eradication of malaria by 2040.


The Value Cycle of Cocoa

Cocoa pods are harvested twice a year by hand from trees which grow in a warm, humid tropical climate in a narrow belt 10 degrees on both sides of the Equator. In this region, regular rain and a short dry season ensure optimal conditions for cocoa trees to thrive. After farmers collect and open the ripe pods one by one, they let the beans ferment for almost a week under large banana leaves. The fermented beans are then put under the sun to dry and sold to traders or governmental agencies. 

The majority of the beans will be processed, roasted and ground into cocoa mass in plants in the destination countries. The addition of cocoa butter, cocoa powder, sugar and other ingredients such as milk or nuts to the cocoa mass is the next step in the creation of chocolate, which is then sold to retailers. The final link in the chain are consumers, who buy the finished product.[3] 


Mosquito on skinCredit: Paul Bertner, Getty Images, Bayer AG 


It is just a bite, but it can be fatal: Anopheles mosquitoes can transmit malaria when taking blood meals from human hosts.

 Bayer provided IRS devices and training to farming villages in western Ivory Coast.Credit: Credit: Bayer AG

IRS (indoor residual spraying) is a highly effective malaria control measure: Supporting farmers’ wellbeing is one of the main objectives of the Moayé project. In a pilot project, Bayer provided IRS devices and training to farming villages in western Ivory Coast. 

 Old farmer opening a cocoa podCredit: Getty Images, Bayer AG



A manual activity: Ripe pods are removed from the cocoa trees and opened to extract the wet beans. After fermentation the beans are dried under the sun and bagged for delivery to processing plants.


The Fight Against Malaria: A Priority of Ivory Coast

Dr. Tanoh Méa Antoine is the Coordinating Director of the ”Programme National de Lutte contre le Paludisme“ (PNLP, the national malaria control program) of the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene in Ivory Coast. He comments on the malarial burden and the government’s objectives for the next few years: “The fight against malaria is the priority of the national malaria control plan. The last few years have witnessed some progress in Côte d’Ivoire, with a decrease in the prevalence of nosocomial infections (from 50 percent to 33 percent between 2012 and 2017) and of parasites (75 percent to 37 percent between 2012 and 2016). 

 Dr. Tanoh Méa Antoine
Credit:National Malaria control program in Cote d’Ivoire 





Dr. Tanoh Méa Antoine  


Nonetheless, malaria remains a major public health problem in Côte d’Ivoire. It is, in fact, the first reason for medical consultations (33 percent in 2017) and has significant and dramatic socioeconomic consequences such as school and work absenteeism, losses of agricultural productivity and economic losses. People spend 12 to 14 percent of their average household income just for malaria-related medical care. It is important to note that agriculture is a vital sector of our economy. We want to focus on the rural communities, which experience difficult conditions. Malaria can strike the farmers throughout the year, with peaks in the rainy season.

The PNLP’s objective is to reduce malaria incidence and mortality by at least 40 percent by 2020 compared to 2015. We will achieve this goal by:

  • Ensuring universal access to preventive measures and introducing IRS into rural areas;
  • Ensuring universal access to malaria diagnosis and treatment;
  • Strengthening malaria monitoring, follow-up and evaluation;
  • Strengthening social communication among people.

As a coordinating body for the fight against malaria in Côte d’Ivoire, we are committed to achieve this goal and erase the word malaria from our vocabulary, as it has been successfully done in other countries. Together with our partners, we will manage to get there.


Cocoa Production in 1,000 tonnes 2017/18
Credit: Cocoa Barometer [4]

A United Fight to Eradicate Malaria

The “ZERO by 40” initiative – a joint project of the world’s leading agricultural companies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC) – is a product development partnership for finding new malarial vector control solutions. The project aims for a malaria-free world by 2040.[5]  “But in order to achieve this goal, several actions are required,” continues Sarah de Souza. “Researchers should focus on finding new vector control solutions. Public health and agriculture stakeholders should collaborate to make sure that these vector control solutions are deployed effectively.” 

In addition to current efforts from “ZERO by 40,” the Moayé project shows that smallholder farmers can benefit from education and training on using vector control solutions to protect themselves from diseases such as malaria. “With Bayer’s expertise in agriculture and public health, strong African presence and close relationship with farmers, our company is in an ideal position to help make a difference: We can support better understanding of the link between malaria and agricultural practice,” remarks de Souza. “We are also able to facilitate the dialogue between the agriculture and public health sectors in order to develop sustainable solutions for the millions of smallholder farmers.” 

The implementation of sustainable agricultural practices is key for improving not only crop yields but also for reducing malaria transmission. “Less malaria means farmers can work their fields more consistently, ensuring a better harvest, contributing to food security and ultimately to a better quality of life,” de Souza adds. And so the story of Kirikou replays daily in the lives of many cocoa farmers, who walk to their fields every morning with optimism and hope to give their families a better life, no matter the challenges awaiting them.



[1] The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

[2] WHO

[3] Swiss Platform for Sustainable Cocoa

[4] Cocoabarometer

[5] Zero by 40

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