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Points of View
Malaria and agriculture

In any conflict the foot soldiers take the most casualties; in the fight to increase food production in the tropics, farming communities suffer most from malaria. The World Health Organisation estimates that in Africa alone, more than a million die from malaria each year, many of them children under five, and the survivors are more susceptible to anaemia and other diseases. Overall, malaria has a dramatic impact on agricultural productivity. Conversely, agricultural practices can have both positive and negative impacts on the levels of malaria in rural areas. Yet there has been little research on the linkages between malaria and agriculture and little exchange of views between medical and agricultural scientists.

The Systemwide Initiative on Malaria and Agriculture (SIMA) has been established to address this issue. Led by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and supported by other CGIAR/Future Harvest Centres, including IITA, ILRI, ISNAR, IPGRI, CIP and WARDA, SIMA held its second regional meeting for Africa (West and Central) at IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria in March. Specialists from medicine, public health, nutrition, agriculture and NGOs attended from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria. (Last year the first SIMA meeting focused on East and Southern Africa). Points of View reflects some of the issues raised and opinions expressed by participants. Further information about SIMA is available at www.iwmi.org/sima


Linkages and impacts

"Malaria is a disease that is preventable. People have taken it so much for granted that they don't want to do something about it. The knowledge about malaria is so low but, with the knowledge being created, people are beginning to accept that malaria is a challenge that can be reduced."
Dr Dayo Mosanya, National Malaria Programme Coordinator, Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria.

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"I believe that agricultural productivity is highly influenced by malaria. Malaria has a big impact on what people can actually achieve in agriculture, how intensively they can work their fields, and how high their yield is eventually. On the other hand agriculture can impact on malaria; it can increase malaria or it can hopefully also decrease malaria."
Dr Eline Boelee, IWMI, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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"One of the most important aspects of malaria is its impact on the economy. People who work in agriculture are more exposed to malaria and malaria has an impact on their productivity. But, at the same time, agricultural practices can modify the pattern of malaria endemicity, malaria vector density, and so on. The first priority is to identify which agricultural activities modify vector density, and that should be a research question."
Professor Roger Moyou Somo, University of Yaoundé, Cameroon.

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"One of the principal inputs to agricultural productivity in West and Central Africa is human labour, particularly female labour. Now we are aware that most people are exposed to endemic malaria in this part of the world, and much of that labour time is either lost or rendered more inefficient due to incidents either from the individuals themselves or within their family. So therefore we are interested because it is affecting agricultural productivity."
Dr Dyno Keatinge, IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria.

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"The best way of tackling malaria is in the rural areas: urban areas have a higher standard of living. Farmers are the most vulnerable to malaria, sometimes because they don't have money, sometimes because they don't have health care in the rural areas."
Sidibe Daouda, Institute of Rural Economy, Mali.

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"A lot of people are looking at the irrigated lowlands, the rice paddies, to see if they are contributing to malaria. So, we are here trying to understand better what are those crop management practices that we can put in place, such that we can contribute to reducing opportunities for vectors growing around where people live.
Dr Frank Abamu, WARDA, Bouake, Cote d'Ivoire.

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"Agriculture in certain cases contributes directly to the causation of malaria. Secondly, within agriculture, we've got opportunities that we could identify that could help us mitigate malaria risks".
Dr Clifford Mutero, IWMI, Nairobi, Kenya.

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Options for reducing impact of malaria

"One of the things that we have been doing for the Heveacam Plantation is to advise them to use mosquito nets in the house to reduce human-vector contact. The second thing is we do is a survey of drug sensitivity to determine the treatment policy: if the people are well treated, you reduce the number of working days lost and you increase the productivity."
Professor Roger Moyou Somo, University of Yaoundé, Cameroon.

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"So far we have concentrated on the medical aspect of control and now it is good to have a larger view about the control of the disease. Maybe, from the agricultural side, there is something that can be exploited to control malaria. Irrigation is a problem, and the way that people conduct their agricultural activity can be a problem, so we can look and see if there is a way of mitigating this and reduce the vector."
Omer Mensah, Health Economist, Regional Health Research Centre, Benin

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"For instance, irrigation can increase breeding sites for malaria mosquitoes, but different ways of irrigation can reduce malaria mosquito breeding. Or it can increase the livelihoods, the socio-economic situation of people, and thereby increase their general health, so they suffer less from malaria."
Dr Eline Boelee, IWMI, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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"Alternating wet and dry conditions in rice fields is one such example. There are other more indirect approaches, like if you are to minimise the usage of agricultural pesticides, by introducing what we refer to as Integrated Pest Management. Tthen you avoid a situation whereby mosquitoes are becoming resistant because of these agricultural pesticides; it becomes easier then to control mosquitoes directly with any chemicals that may have been identified for more domestic use."
Dr Clifford Mutero, IWMI, Nairobi, Kenya.

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Livestock and malaria

"Livestock can have a very important role; it can attract mosquitoes, but it can also distract mosquitoes from people. They have an official name for that; it's called 'zooprophylaxis' as opposed to the prophylaxis you do when you take medication."
Dr Eline Boelee, IWMI, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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"There is evidence that in the irrigated Sahel there is higher mosquito density but less malaria than in non-irrigated areas. It may be that with irrigation people are more prosperous and can afford to take protective measures. Also, they are more likely to own cattle and donkeys, which act as alternate hosts to mosquitoes."
Dr Frank Abamu, WARDA, Bouake, Cote d'Ivoire

Biological control options

"In Africa we have plants that are repellent to mosquitoes and we have plants that are treating malaria. But we need laboratories to test the efficacy of these plants."
Dr Marie-Agnes Zoumenou., National Malaria Management Programme, Cotonou, Benin.

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"I am a forester and am interested to examine insecticidal and repellent plants. Most of our people rely on traditional plants as medicines so it is very important to evaluate the potentialities of those plants and to identify the active principle in those plants. Also to domesticate those plants; this is a very big issue."
Sidibe Daouda, Institute of Rural Economy, Mali

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"The most interesting thing that I heard about was some work that the Beninois are doing, looking at some biological control of mosquito larvae. There is apparently a parasitic mite that can be bred and introduced into ponds, where mosquito larvae are breeding, and will attack the larvae. This is a very interesting approach, using an existing predator for controlling mosquito larvae, and it will be very interesting to see how they proceed with that. Larval control works best where breeding sites are few in number and easy to find: peri-urban areas may be one potential application, possibly areas on the northern and southern fringe of the main malaria zones of Africa, where the breeding is highly seasonal and restricted to small ponds along river beds and places like that."
Matthew Lynch, Malaria Advisor, USAID, Washington DC, USA.

Nutrition and malaria

"The opportunities for improving nutrition within the households are very obvious in this environment, and better fed people can resist malaria better. And so therefore anything we can do to improve either productivity or profitability within their farming enterprises, in fact helps them stave off the effects of any type of endemic disease, this one in particular."
Dr Dyno Keatinge, IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria.

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Interdisciplinary synergies

"One of the most interesting synergies that we found was having nutritionists, medical doctors, health personnel and agronomists in the same room and discussing together. I feel that nutrition can have a high impact on improving health and improving agricultural productivity."
Kirstin Hell, IITA, Cotonou, Benin

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"The health personnel are always at the forefront of managing malaria. But malaria is a fundamental issue, knowing that the farmers cannot produce because they are not well. So, for me it is important to have the opportunity to talk to people from all sectors with one aim."
Dr Agatha Boney, District Director Health Services, Kumasi, Ghana

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Having this workshop with agriculture and health together is a real driving force. It's a real driving force in the sense that, I am now very comfortable. I know I can go and turn to people, agriculturists, and can talk to people in the water sector. So I now know that if I take malaria and I'm fighting, I'm not fighting alone. I'm fighting with a whole lot of people. And that itself is a very big jump for us, especially in the health sector."
Dr Agatha Boney, District Director Health Services, Kumasi, Ghana

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