Agriculture and HIV/AIDS
The importance of agriculture in the global fight against HIV/AIDS is seldom reported. Yet good agricultural practice can lead to better soils, higher quality food and better nutrition, which in turn can contribute to a healthier immune system.
With 40 million people in the world living with HIV/AIDS, many of whom are in developing countries, there is a pressing need to take action at all levels. As part of a holistic system, improved agricultural methods are vital for ensuring food security and promoting a healthy diet.
In advance of World AIDS Day in December, New Agriculturist asked experts to give their views on the relationship between agriculture and HIV/AIDS, how the virus impacts on the sector as a whole and how improved techniques and technologies can make all the difference.
People living with HIV have a much greater need for higher calorific intake but also for good quality food.
Kate Harrison, Senior Technical Advisor, International HIV/AIDS Alliance,
If you are HIV positive you really need to have a good diet. And to what extent are you going to depend on food handouts? At times they will not come. So it is better people actually cultivate their own food so that at least they are assured of fresh vegetables and meat or milk. People should engage in building nutrition gardens, in small livestock production, and in crop production, depending on the climatic conditions of the area.
Dorcas Mgugu, Family AIDS Caring Trust (FACT), Zimbabwe
Agricultural programmes help people to grow basic food which is fresh and which they have immediate access to, all of the time. Nutrition can play a major role in preserving the life of people taking anti-retrovirals, for example. So I think that agriculture and nutrition are the basic points that all of us in the HIV area should try to reinforce.
Anne Owiti, Director, Kibera Community Self Help Programme, Kenya
There is quite a big relationship between HIV/AIDS and agriculture. In our programmes we have a food and nutrition component because in my country, where women are the force behind food production, when the mother is sick then there is a lack of food in the family. Especially when on anti-retrovirals, access to a balanced diet is essential.
Topher Wenyea, National Community of Women Living With HIV/AIDS (NACWOLA), Uganda
We have the World Food Programme, but this is not sustainable and it cannot reach all of our community members. We get children from peer support groups in the community to help each other supply manpower to cultivate crops that can sustain their families. A community-based approach to supplying food can be managed by members themselves and it is sustainable.
Anett Biryetega, NACWOLA, Uganda
Sharing knowledge is important. One of the things that children who lose their parents miss is the learning alongside their parents in the fields; they lose advice about how to farm. We want to see much better sharing of knowledge and ideas from people in the community who can reach out to children, so that children do not lose the knowledge that their parents have.
We especially help grandparents and infants, because when the breadwinners - the father and mother - die, it is the grandparents that are left with orphans to support. We normally try to establish some kitchen gardens with groups we work with, so that they can grow a range of crops. So we have to involve them in income-generating activities - and one of them is agriculture.
Otuuon Obien, Kibera Community Self-Help Programme, Kenya
People need all kinds of support - whether it is social, agricultural, nutritional, or for school fees - people need all-round support. Of course there is a need to supply ARVs but there is a high shortage of them.
We focus on engaging people in education about nutrition so that they are able to use various foodstuffs. One of the challenges is that people think of food as only the staple food that they know. But they should be able to use alternative foods like cassava or beans. So we get families involved in agro-based activities so they can generate more nutritious food and also be able to sell it.
Mac Bain Mkandawire, Regional Coordinator, Eastern Southern Africa Network on Youth, Children and HIV/AIDS (ESANYA), Malawi
People living with HIV may not be able to do the kind of hard work that is needed of them in the fields. We need to look at crops which require less labour, less digging or weeding, or without as much irrigation as might be needed with traditional crops. If irrigation is required we need to look at technology like pumps, so that water can be accessed easily. Diversifying crops can also supply foods with more vitamins and minerals in them.
In our income-generating activities, we endeavour to give communities new and improved seeds so that their production is quite high. Although the labour is the same, at least the seeds are improved, so the harvest is more plentiful.
AIDS is to be innovative in the way that we are communicating. We know that the virus is an issue which people do not want to discuss at community level. But if you can broaden the issues, when you introduce the concept of general nutrition and agricultural issues for example, and then link them to HIV/AIDS, then you can reach more people.
Mac Bain Mkandawire
The people really want to be engaged in the production of their own food. The major challenge is that they don't have the inputs. They don't have the seeds, the water, the fertilisers. Farmers should be given access to loans. You cannot start farming without capital. If these are provided, then people are happy to engage in agricultural activities to augment their nutritional requirements.
Deliberate policies should be put in place that look at issues of food security and HIV/ AIDS. The level of agricultural production for infected people is lower. We need policies which ensure that sick people can ensure adequate food for the family. In other words, we have to implement policies that will promote scientific research that can generate more food within a short space of time. I don't think there is enough being done at this point in the developing world.
Mac Bain Mkandawire
Date published: November 2007
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