COP18/CMP8: Conservation Agriculture Could Help Women Farmers with HIV/Aids to Improve Food Security

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Emmanuel Okella
Doha, Dec, 2012

Women activists at the ongoing United Nations Climate Change conference in Doha, are asking for global attention towards the negative impact of HIV/AIDS on food production in Africa.

“There are millions of women widowed by AIDS in Africa, their health conditions can’t support the heavy farm labor, yet farming is the only way they can provide food and income to their families” says Mary Andiobe, the executive director for Women Coalition against HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Her remarks come just days after the world marked Aids day.

She says negotiators at the climate summit should not ignore the struggles of African women in ensuring household food security. “A link has to be drawn between climate change, HIV/AIDS and food production. Mitigation measures such as promotion of conservation agriculture have to be on the African agenda” she said at the sidelines of the conference.

A Youth holds a placard at the COP18 in Doha. By Fredrick Mugira
A Youth holds a placard at the COP18 in Doha. By Fredrick Mugira

According to Dr. LindiweSibanda, the Chief Executive Officer of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), women farmers are the pillars of African agriculture because over half of all women in Africa are employed in the Agriculture sector producing nearly 90% of food on the continent.

“Yet even as the guardians of food security they are still marginalized in business relations and have minimal control over access to resources such as land, inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizer, credit and technology” she notes in the organization’s African women magazine.

Now HIV/AIDS has further worsened the precarious situation for Africa’s women. Apart from losing family support from husbands, they are themselves advised to cut back on farm labor after testing positive for HIV. While taking care of their health, crop yields continue to decline.

Andiobe says stuck in an impossible situation like this, the women farmers need to be supported to learn and implement conservation agriculture – a method of farming that calls for less tillage.

Intensive farm labor remains a challenge especially when the body’s immunity starts to dwindle. “At this point they begin to feel desperate. Life starts becoming unbearable because one becomes food insecure year after year” she remarks.

With no capital to start alternative income generating activity some feel that they have no option and contemplate defying hospital advice and spend more hours in their fields.

Conservation agriculture involves less tillage – a physically demanding and time-consuming activity. Two alternatives to tillage could be promoted. One is called basin tillage. Farmers dig small basins or pits that capture water and soil nutrients. The other is called “ripping.” Farmers use a device that breaks up compacted soil, allowing water and roots to penetrate deeply.

These alternatives to tillage reduce soil loss and erosion. They complement the other principles of conservation agriculture: leaving crop residues on the field as mulch, and rotating crops.

Conservation agriculture practices have brought hope and joy to many HIV positive farmers in Africa and it’s this kind of initiatives that African women activists in Doha are calling for to help the African woman not only ensure food security for her household but also contribute to sustainable development.

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