AIDS takes toll on agriculture

hiv_aidsAlthough Kabande is lucky to be alive, he is already counting his days on mother earth, having tested HIV positive in 2002. The HIV and AIDS scourge has left rural and farming communities entrapped in both income and asset poverty, amid rising livelihood insecurity. A recent survey found that agricu

ltural output declined by 50 percent among households affected by AIDS illness and deaths. Frequent funeral attendance also affects land use and diminishes agricultural productivity. Women-headed households are particularly vulnerable. When a family member becomes ill with AIDS-related infections, it is usually the woman who cares for the sick person. Zimbabwes National AIDS Councils Manicaland programme officer, Evos Makoni, said the current rates of HIV and AIDS infections, illness and deaths had a negative implication on sustainable agricultural output and food security. It is a well-known fact that HIV and AIDS pandemic is affecting the most active and productive segment of society, both urban and rural. In the rural and farming set-ups, this effectively means agriculture is under threat because when people are HIV-positive, they are not able to go to the fields, he said. A study of AIDS affected households in Makoni District in Manicaland this year had shown that family members were spending time, which could otherwise be invested in agriculture, caring for the sick and attending funerals and mourning the dead. Besides a reduction in crop reduction, adult deaths from AIDS often lead to a loss of traditional knowledge of agricultural practices. Skills may not be transferred to either children or relatives, which has negative implications for food production. When mothers die, children are usually forced to take their place in the subsistence economy, thus increasing child labour and lowering productivity. Over time, HIV and AIDS can contribute to declines in land use, crop yields and crop variety, said Makoni. Another group in the fight against AIDS, Futures Group International, has held workshops across the country highlighting the plight of farm labourers and villagers in communal lands. The manageress, Sarah Musungwa, said because of this fast spreading of the disease, villagers in Gokwe had already resorted to attending funerals a few minutes before the deceased was buried rather than spending the whole week mourning and not tilling the land. Some countries like Lesotho have also adopted such practices because funerals are taking much of the farmers time. In many cases, young girls of school-going age were being withdrawn from school to help lighten the family load. -CAJ News

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