Theodore Gounongbe

Supporting African Farmers in the Pursuit of Happiness

Many farmers in Africa have only limited knowledge of good agricultural practices and lack access to proper seeds, equipment, and crop protection products. In my role as Food Chain Manager, I’ve been working very closely with farmers in West and Central Africa. One thing I’ve realized is that it takes combined efforts if we truly want to make a difference.

For most countries in Africa, agriculture continues to be the foundation of the economy. In the Ivory Coast, for example, almost 70% of the population is engaged in some form of agricultural activity, and agriculture contributes almost 20% to the country’s GDP. The Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, with annual production reaching a record 2 million tons last season, most of which is exported to Europe, North America, and Asia.

As you can imagine, the livelihoods of many Ivorians depend on cocoa production. Heavy rainfalls such as in July or erratic market developments seriously threaten their existence. That’s why we started a Food Chain Partnership initiative with the aim of supporting cocoa growers in improving their business. The name of the initiative, MOAYÉ, is symbolic: it means happiness in a local Ivorian language and underlines our joint intention of making Ivorian cocoa growers happier.

In 2014, we started out with just two partners, Olam Cocoa and Cémoi, and 13 agricultural cooperatives. We’ve added new partners over the years, among them the processing company Cargill, and we’re now working with 150 agricultural cooperatives and more than 50,000 cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast, cultivating more than 90,000 hectares in total.

Theodore Gounongbe is Food Chain Manager at Bayer West-Central Africa
Theodore Gounongbe is Food Chain Manager at Bayer West-Central Africa
Theodore Gounongbe is Food Chain Manager at Bayer West-Central Africa

What we want to achieve is to help farmers enhance sustainable production of high-quality cocoa. Aging and the low literacy rate among farmers, combined with the ongoing debate about land ownership in many African countries, make this quite a challenge. Moreover, since many farmers have no access to working capital and lack the skills, knowledge, and know-how to do this on their own, it’s our job to equip them with the capacity to reach this goal!

Just giving them access to the right crop protection products and the latest tools and equipment is not enough. It’s important to work very closely with the farmers and listen to their specific needs. Training them in good agricultural practices is then the next step in helping them produce high-quality cocoa for international markets. Farmers who want to export their produce need to be certified to show that their produce complies with maximum residue levels (MRLs) and that it’s grown sustainably – that way consumers know where their food is coming from and they can rest assured that it’s safe to eat.

So what we’ve been doing as part of the MOAYÉ initiative is conducting demo trials with an integrated pest management program. By adapting the spraying program and using insecticides and fungicides from the Bayer portfolio, we’ve increased productivity by more than 40% and have substantially enhanced crop quality. We also train farmers in using crop protection products safely, without any risk to the environment or human health. So far, we’ve already trained 891 applicators in the Ivory Coast! As part of our BayG.A.P. training sessions, which we’ve been organizing together with local partners, we also train farmers in application technology, traceability measures, and safe disposal of empty product containers.

Since I first became involved in Food Chain Partnership four years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to work with farmers all over West and Central Africa, growing different kinds of crops such as cocoa, mangoes, cotton, and bananas. It goes without saying that every farmer faces different challenges and requires individual advice and input. At the end of the day, what matters most is that we do what’s best for the environment and the people – and by supporting farmers in Africa in implementing good agricultural practices, I truly believe we’re doing both. Whenever I work directly with the farmers, I can see firsthand that their livelihoods have improved. How? By taking care of the land they cultivate and by growing safe, high-quality crops!

I know it might sound corny, but the MOAYÉ initiative has helped Ivorian cocoa farmers in their pursuit of happiness. Together with existing and new partners along the food value chain, we’re implementing good agricultural practices in other African countries as well, helping farmers access new markets. This year, for example, we started a mango initiative in Mali with Greenyard. Plus, in September we’ll start a cocoa initiative in Ghana with Cargill, and next year we’ll launch a cocoa initiative in Nigeria with Olam. Because the happier farmers there are, the happier the consumers – and our planet!

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Thriving for Change - Championing Agriculture for a New Generation