Cotonou, Benin — A multisectoral network, where agriculture will play a leadership role to mitigate the effects of HIV/AIDS on farming communities across sub-Saharan Africa, has been launched under the aegis of the CGIAR Systemwide Initiative on HIV/AIDS and Agriculture (SWIHA), which is convened by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA).
“The network, which has been named the African Network on HIV/AIDS and Agriculture(ANEHA), will serve as an interface not only between HIV/AIDS and agriculture, but will also include inter-related food security, nutrition, health and policy aspects,” announced Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze, WARDA Director General.
“It will focus on all the regions of sub-Saharan Africa, including West Africa, which has been neglected by most of the existing HIV/AIDS-related initiatives that have concentrated on Eastern and Southern Africa,” he added.
ANEHA was formed in response to the unanimous demand made by the participants of the recent SWIHA Regional Workshop on HIV/AIDS and Agriculture: Implications for Food Security in West and Central Africa organized by WARDA. The participants urged WARDA to host a sub-Saharan Africa-wide network to carry forward the momentum of the workshop.
“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.
The three priority themes are: 1. Diversification of livelihood systems in farming communities; 2. Nutrition and dietary diversification; and 3. HIV/AIDS policy advocacy and awareness. Activities under these themes were planned to be implemented within a specific time-frame, with expected intermediate results and indicators.
Forging strategic multi-level partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders, including those involved in existing HIV/AIDS-related initiatives, was highlighted as one of the major thrusts to successfully carry out the activities under the three themes.
The first of its kind in the sub-region, the workshop brought together more than 75 experts representing national, regional, international, non-governmental and donor organizations involved in various disciplines with a focus 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% of Africans—and nearly 90% 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/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/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. The participants included representatives from UNAIDS, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (WECARD/CORAF), United States Agency for International Development (USAID-WARP), CAB International (CABI), CARE International and CGIAR Gender and Diversity Program.
Participants from several CGIAR Centers also attended: International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), International Water Management Institute (IWMI), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) and WARDA.
Wishing success to the network, Dr Nwanze said, “We are confident that ANEHA, which has emerged from a shared vision and commitment of a wide cross-section of stakeholders, will be on the frontline in the fight against HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, where farming is the most important source of livelihood for the majority of the population.”