Agriculture to take lead in the fight against HIV and AIDS

By Henry Neondo

A multisectoral network, where agriculture will play a leadership role to mitigate the effects of HIV and AIDS on farming communities across sub-Saharan Africa, has been launched under the aegis of the CGIAR’s Systemwide Initiative on HIV/AIDS and Agriculture (SWIHA).
“The network, which has been named the African Network on HIV and AIDS and Agriculture (ANEHA), will serve as an interface not only between HIV and AIDS and agriculture, but will also include inter-related food security, nutrition, health and policy aspects,” announced Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze, Director General of Africa Rice Centre.

He said that ANEHA will focus on all the regions of sub-Saharan Africa, including West Africa, which has been neglected by most of the existing HIV and AIDS-related initiatives that have concentrated mostly on Eastern and Southern Africa.
“ANEHA will be an effective collaborative mechanism to implement the activities within the three priority themes identified by the workshop participants as part of an integrated strategy developed to respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the agricultural sector,” stated Mrs Annmarie Kormawa, Acting ANEHA Coordinator at a workshop of experts on on HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa: agricultural R&D, health, nutrition, extension, sociology, gender and policy.

The workshop highlighted that as the largest employer in sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture is particularly affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. About 70 per cent of Africans—and nearly 90 per cent of the poor—work primarily in agriculture.
HIV/AIDS is depleting the region of its food producers, hitting those who are least equipped to deal with its consequences.
The pandemic has become a determining factor of food insecurity as well as a consequence of food and nutrition insecurity in the region.

Dr Mamadou Diallo from the United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS)-Côte d’Ivoire, who delivered the keynote address at the workshop, said that agriculture is predominantly non-mechanized in sub-Saharan Africa.
With the reduction in agricultural labor force in HIV and AIDS-affected communities, only the elderly and children are often left to carry on farming. As a consequence, less land is cropped, farmers switch to crops easiest to grow, traditional farming knowledge and skills are lost, seasonal crop deadlines are missed, overall production is reduced and farmers’ incomes fall.

“The agricultural sector has a great potential to help mitigate the consequences of HIV/AIDS on farmers. For example, breakthroughs such as the New Rice for Africa (NERICA) varieties give improved yield and are less susceptible to local stresses, so that the labor burden is lessened,” said Dr Nwanze.

The workshop was organized with support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)’s Canada Fund for Africa.

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