HIV/AIDS changing the face of agriculture

SOUTHERN AFRICA: HIV/AIDS changing the face of agriculture

©  HelpAge International

The number of AIDS orphans in rural Southern Africa is growing at a rapid rate

JOHANNESBURG, 26 Aug 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - HIV/AIDS has not only forced farming communities to opt for less labour-intensive cropping patterns, it has also led to the loss of local knowledge of agro-ecology and farming practices in Southern Africa, a senior Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) official told PlusNeWs on Thursday.

"With the death of parents, the transfer of knowledge about seeds and cropping patterns is lost. We realise that HIV/AIDS, along with natural disasters, is not only one of the major factors causing food insecurity, it is also a consequence of food and nutrition insecurity," said Gabriel Rugalema of FAO's HIV/AIDS and Food Security Population and Development Service.

According to UNAIDS estimates, Mozambique had 420,000 AIDS orphans in 2001, but the number was expected to exceed a million by 2010. At the end of 2003, Zimbabwe had 761,000 AIDS orphans and the country is estimated to be losing 2,500 people a week to the disease.

As a result, there was an increasing burden on the rural youth to provide for their families.

In response the FAO has developed several initiatives not only to remedy the loss of inter-generational knowledge of seeds and cropping patterns but also to provide nutritional support to rural families.

The agriculture agency, in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP), is developing Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools (JFFLS) in some African countries, including Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Orphans and vulnerable children in the age group 12 to 17 years receive about a year's training in the JFFLS in modern and traditional agricultural techniques. An equal number of boys and girls are taught about field preparation, sowing, transplanting, weeding, irrigation, pest-control, harvesting, storage and entrepreneurship skills. The children are also provided with meals.

"The children attend these schools three times a week. The junior farmer schools are not meant to replace formal schooling, but to complement it. The schools help to develop communication skills, solve problems - they bring a sense of democracy to the rural areas," said Rugalema.

There are currently three JFFLS running in Mozambique and another is located in Zvishavane district in the Matabeleland South province of Zimbabwe. "We hope to establish 1,000 to 2,000 schools across the continent in the next 10 to 15 years," Rugalema said.

With the loss of manpower and rising health expenditure as a result of HIV/AIDS, farming communities in Southern Africa, as in Malawi, have begun adopting less labour-intensive cropping patterns, and planting improved seed varieties that require less labour for weeding, pointed out Graham Farmer, FAO's regional emergency coordinator for Southern Africa.

"Women, because of the increased burden on their role as care providers, cannot opt for labour-intensive crops like maize and, as in Malawi, have begun growing cassava," Farmer said.

According to FAO, approximately two person-years of labour have been lost by the time an individual dies of AIDS, due to his or her weakening and the time others spend giving care.

In certain areas the youth and women have opted for vegetable farming, which not only provides a source of income but also adds nutritional value to their meals, Rugalema commented.

The FAO also has a family greenhouse initiative in Lesotho, alleviating household food insecurity in the impoverished country. Nutrition rehabilitation units set up in Malawi in public health centres teach mothers basic agricultural skills, while their children receive treatment. "When the children are discharged, the mothers receive seeds to take back home with them," Farmer noted.

By 2020, FAO estimates, Namibia would have lost 26 percent of its agricultural labour force to HIV/AIDS, Zimbabwe 23 percent, Mozambique and South Africa 20 percent, and Malawi 14 percent.


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