24 October 2007, COTONOU, Benin — Agro-based micro-enterprises, such as food processing and small livestock production, can offer economic security and a life of dignity to HIV/AIDS-affected farming communities in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
This was emphasized by the multi-sectoral group of experts attending the international conference “From research to action: mitigating HIV/AIDS impacts on agriculture and food security in West Africa”, which was recently held in Cotonou, Benin.
The conference was hosted by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) with strong support from the Centre Technique de Coopération Agricole et Rurale (CTA), Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), PSI-Benin/KfW, and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
A key component of the conference was a visit to the non-governmental organization (NGO) Songhai Center, where the participants were able to have a first-hand view of agro-based micro-enterprises that hold promise for HIV/AIDS-affected farming communities.
“To run these enterprises, we don’t need much land or labor,” asserted Mr Comlan Houessou, President of the Benin Association of Persons Living with HIV, who was one of the participants.
Highlighting the role of the agricultural sector in mitigating the consequences of HIV, Ms Diana Tempelman from FAO stated in her keynote address, “In Africa up to 80% of the people depend on agricultural production for their survival and this sector can reduce much of their vulnerability to the effects of the pandemic.”
She stressed the urgent need to stop perpetuating the negative cycle in SSA, whereby poverty results in greater food insecurity, forcing people into risky behavior and making them more vulnerable to HIV infection which in turn contributes to poverty.
The conference was organized as part of the Systemwide Initiative on HIV/AIDS and Agriculture (SWIHA) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) which supports 15 international research Centers.
According to Dr Rita Agboh-Noameshie, SWIHA Coordinator based at the Africa Rice Center, the conference offered valuable opportunities to stakeholders to:
- Share experiences, particularly those pertaining to trans-African perspectives;
- Gain knowledge in effective programming strategies to mitigate the effects of HIV/AIDS on agriculture, food security and nutrition; and
- Scale up best practices and policies
The most common element that emerged from the conference is that decentralized rural development projects focusing on HIV/AIDS in Africa have proven to be more successful than top-down approaches.
Confirming this, Dr Hans Binswanger, Tshwane University, South Africa underlined that all HIV/AIDS interventions, in order to work effectively, must be multi-sectoral and decentralized, use participatory approaches and must involve target communities in planning and implementation.
Other recommendations include the need to:
- Put in place a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system with uniform indicators for providing feedback on HIV/AIDS projects and programs in agriculture at various levels within and across countries
- Collect gender-disaggregated baseline data across West and Central Africa and use them to develop strategic interventions
- Document information and practices relating to indigenous seed, livestock, medicinal/nutritious plants, cropping systems, grain storage methods, and coping strategies
- Integrate HIV/AIDS issues into agricultural planning
- Support and train community groups in group organization and joint decision-making
- Encourage and train target communities to become less dependent on external aid
- Work with and through existing structures at all levels
“HIV/AIDS poses one of the gravest threats to agricultural and rural development in the region and it is our hope that the exchange of information and experiences during the conference will contribute to the alleviation of the impact of this dreadful epidemic,” said Dr J Woodend from CTA at the end of the meeting.
The conference brought together about 120 participants from 20 African countries as well as from other parts of the world, representing policy-makers and front-line practitioners in HIV/AIDS and food security programs from research, development, donor community, NGOs and media.
Participants included representatives from AED/FANTA, ACF, CABI, CARE International, CORAF/WECARD, CTA, Concern Worlwide, FAO, German Development Service, GTZ, Heifer International, IFDC, IRD-AFRISAT, IRIN-OCHA, Red Cross, UNAIDS and WFP.
Representatives from the national systems of 12 African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda) and seven CGIAR Centers (Africa Rice Center, Bioversity International, CIAT, ICRISAT, IFPRI, IITA, and WorldFish Center) also attended.