The HIV and AIDS pandemic is eroding the socio-economic wellbeing of already struggling households, communities and nations. Those infected are mostly at the peak of their productive and income-earning years, impacting on productivity, and eroding social and economic coping mechanisms. Equally Government support capacity is reduced by staff sickness and death, with knowledge lost and budgets eroded by associated costs.
Around 80% of the Malawian population depends on smallholder farming for their livelihoods. The agriculture sector produces around one third of GDP and 80% of domestic food supplies, but with national HIV infection rates at 12%, the food and economic security of the country is under serious threat. The pandemic impacts on agriculture in terms of reduced social and economic productivity in terms of;
- Loss of productive labour and knowledge due to illness or death, reducing yields and income
- Reduced income and thus ability to invest inputs into following seasons
- Reduction in the range of crops produced and the land area farmed
- Reduced attendance at school, particularly for girls, who are needed to help at home, and often school fees cannot be paid with reduced income
- Reduction in assets, particularly livestock and land sold to generate cash
The impact of these challenges is greatest for women farmers, female and child headed households, who are have a higher work load and even more limited access to farming inputs such as land, labour, and technology. Faced with the challenge to feed themselves or dependants, they are often forced to turn to income generating activities that expose them to the risk of infection and spreading HIV further. In this context, the NASFAM HIV and AIDS programme interlinks with the Gender Programme, as it is hard to separate the issues. While women are the backbone of Malawian communities, homes and families, they are party to deep-rooted gender bias which makes them more vulnerable to most situations including their ability to protect themselves from the impact of HIV/AIDS. Therefore NASFAM tends to talk about “Gender, HIV and AIDS”.
The Solution – NASFAM’s Interventions
The NASFAM HIV/AIDS Programme enables the Community Development team and its field-based team of 14 HIV and AIDS coordinators to work as facilitators, providing information, knowledge, training and capacity building for member farmers. The programme empowers NASFAM farmers to understand the full implications of HIV/AIDS for their lives and livelihoods and enables them to protect themselves from the pandemic, mitigate its impact and seek support from relevant institutions. There are three aims to the NASFAM programme;
- Prevention: Reduced socio-economic behaviour that increases HIV transmission risks through increasing community awareness and knowledge of HIV and AIDS, to reduce stigma and prevent infection.
- Care: Increased productivity of those infected and affected, through improved food and nutrition security, as access to a varied diet and good nutrition is proven to strengthen immune responses. The programme also works to increase access to care and support from health service providers for those infected and affected.
- Mitigation: Improved household and community resilience to the social and economic impacts of illness and death through a series of capacity building interventions to reduce the multiple impacts of HIV and AIDS on peoples lives.
NASFAM implements a series of interconnected activities that support the programme and address the challenges faced by farmer members from HIV and AIDS.
- Farming as a Business Concept: The “Farming as a Business” concept underpins all NASFAM programmes, by increasing knowledge of the principles of business, and awareness of cross-cutting issues that impact on business potential, such as gender inequality, HIV and AIDS. Field Officers are trained and provided with a manual to guide support to members.
- NASFAM Radio Programmes: NASFAM produces a 30 minute radio programme twice a week, which is aired nationwide on MBC1 and ZBS. This provides a channel for reaching members and the broader community with up to date information and advice on how to increase their social and economic productivity from smallholder farming. Programmes include features on how individuals and communities can and should develop strategies for prevention and mitigation against the impact of HIV and AIDS.
- Monitoring and Evaluation: To ensure accountability and efficiency of programme management, NASFAM invests in a robust monitoring and evaluation package which is designed to report outputs and results from activities and projects, as well as evaluating the ultimate impact of these interventions on members lives and livelihoods. The M&E strategy is therefore able to inform future programme development based, on lessons learned.
- Development of Mitigation and Coping Strategies: Members are provided with training to raise awareness and ability to develop coping strategies to mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS at household and community level. All NASFAM farmer Committees have Gender, HIV and AIDS sub-Committees with a remit to mainstream activities and disseminate information. Information is provided through meetings, printed materials and radio on prevention, care, mitigation, low-input farming practices, and access to local services for testing, treatment, orphan care, home-based care.
- Food Utilisation, Nutrition and Permaculture: Members are trained on how accessing more nutritious foods boosts health, promoting production of indigenous plants and food crops, their nutritional value and how to utilise them. Permaculture farming practices are promoted for low-input production methods and locations, such as use of nutritional home gardens, use of more efficient crop management and high yielding varieties, husbandry of small livestock for consumption, sale and manure and use of labour-saving technologies including fuel efficient stoves and lighter weight tools.
- Food Storage and Village Grain Banks: Up to 30% of crops is lost to poor storage. NASFAM Associations work with their communities to improve household and community storage processes and facilities, through training on storage, moisture and pest management processes. Some Associations are also supported to set up and manage village-based grain banks for local storage of surplus maize and legumes for the next hungry season.