Growing a Future in Africa: Livelihoods of Small Holder Farmers with HIV in Uganda
What is the relationship between agriculture and the livelihood of HIV positive, small holder farmers in Uganda? Throughout May and June 2009, a case study was executed with the Tulina Essuubi group in Kyamuyimbwa, Uganda, a group of 15 HIV positive small holder farmers. The group is comprised of clients from The AIDS Support Organization (TASO), the largest HIV/AIDS non-governmental organization (NGO) in Africa. The group came into existence through TASO‟s Sustainable Livelihoods Program in 2007.
The study revealed that agriculture is their primary source of income and self-reliance. The project commenced with face to face meetings with the group to gather information via informal conversation and observation to determine need. Following the information gathering, a project design was formally written and an implementation plan was drafted. At this stage, working closely with Vi Agroforestry, a Swedish NGO focused on community empowerment through agricultural means, it was determined that fruit tree grafting and vegetable gardening were the preferable methods for success. The project was launched and named Seeds for Change.
Two days of intensive training were facilitated during which the group was trained in methods of fruit tree grafting and vegetable gardening as a means of increasing access to nutritious fruits and vegetables; eventually resulting in improved health through a balanced diet and increased self-reliance through improved income generation. Data collection surveys were administered prior to training on the first day and at the conclusion of training on the second day. Following training, the group was provided with the necessary tools, trained in the use of the tools, provided with enough seeds to start abundant vegetable gardens, and provided five fruit trees for grafting.
Planting and farming normally takes place during the two rainy seasons, occurring in most parts of Uganda from March through June and from the middle of August through December. During the follow-up visit which occurred two weeks after training and distribution of tools and seeds, five out of eight members had grafted their trees but no members had planted the vegetable seeds, delaying planting until the next rainy season in the middle of August.
Though each member of the study was provided with a watering can, follow-up visitation at the household level revealed two of the 15 participants had water retention systems. The remaining 14 participants must travel for water, some down steep hills and over lengthy distances, and carry back enough water to sustain their livestock and provide for cooking, drinking and other personal needs. Due to this situation, although an increase in fruits and vegetables is highly desired by participants, the constrains of the participants‟ poor health and other time consuming chores, little priority is given to retrieving extra jugs of water to irrigate their plantings.
Research has indicated that agriculture is imperative to income generation and a balanced diet for rural farmers. Within the Tulina Essuubi group, a balanced diet is critical to mitigating the negative effects of HIV and the powerful antiretroviral medicines. Research, including both formal and informal discussions in the field, has indicated that the impacts of global warming, changing rain patters, soil infertility, and other environmental shifts, are all causing detrimental impacts on agriculture in both this localized region and in Africa in general. HIV positive farmers face decreasing energy levels, physical conditioning, and overall health, which have forced some of these farmers to transition from growing cash crops which are more intensive and require more physical labor to grow, such as coffee, to growing crops which are less tedious to grow, such as bananas and maize. These replacement crops are far less lucrative than the cash crops. As the farmers experience dwindling earnings, their fervent pursuit of income results in overuse of land, depleting vital nutrients in the soil, and inevitably producing smaller, less abundant crops.
Poverty driven farmers, under pressure to produce crops as a source of income generation and food production, seldom practice what many argue are sound farming practices. In order for the land to produce at its highest potential, there must be a proper balance of nutrients and a period of rest and rejuvenation from time to time. Informal conversations with the farmers revealed that with a small land area for farming and a crop that sustains your livelihood, allowing the land to fallow is not an option, even if the practice would produce a more plentiful harvest the following season.
Other basic agricultural techniques, such as planting nitrogen rich trees intermixed with crops, would help sustain more plentiful agricultural production by balancing the nutrients in the soil. However, the land area that the trees require would call for eliminating up to six corn stocks, and the loss of those stocks for the benefit of increased soil fertility may not be incentive enough for the farmer.
Limitations of this study include implementing the project prior to formalizing a research question to drive the study, constraints on data collection, language barriers and weather. An interpreter was needed to explain the goals, objectives and timeline of the project to the group, facilitate the training, and administer surveys. Due to the language barrier, the study‟s objectives were at the mercy of the interpreter and how accurately the translator chose to relay the information. Additionally, data collection, via formal surveys based on observation and analysis of the data after collection, indicates a strong probability that the translator read the questions in a leading manner or offered explanation and examples that coached the respondents in their answers. Based on observation, group members do not appear to recognize cause and effect rational. The fruits and vegetables are absolutely imperative to improving their health and increasing their income generation potential; however, the group did not understand that some additional hard work now, such as watering the seeds manually, will result in access to fruits and vegetables sooner. While the group members reported that they generally have enough energy to complete daily tasks, the extra two or three jugs of water may be far too taxing in their daily routine.
Illness and death resulting from HIV has an immediate impact on food security by limiting household income and food production. At the same time, dwindling agriculture yields, food insecurity, and poverty, further fuels the spread of HIV by driving people to adopt immediate survival strategies, participating in risky behavior, such as sex in exchange for food or money, making them more vulnerable to HIV infection. Access to adequate nutrition is critical to the health of infected individuals, including those receiving antiretroviral therapy. The combined impact of agriculture production, food insecurity, and HIV, place further strain on already limited household resources as affected family members struggle to meet household food needs while paying for care, treatment, and support, of infected members.
At present, there is no scheduled follow-up with the group to measure the success of the Seeds for Change project. The project was implemented by an intern who was in Masaka for three months. The intern made contact with TASO to facilitate a market for study participants to sell their produce at TASO when they go for bi-weekly or monthly appointments.
While the study requires further investigation, based on the completed project implementation, data collection, and literature review, a well defined correlation between agriculture and the livelihood of HIV positive small holder farmers is evident. Not only do manyfarmers in Africa depend on agriculture as their sole source for income and food, in many cases the waste of the agriculture serves as feed for their livestock and leaves from banana trees as material for roofing and floors. The farmers in the study are entirely dependent on their agriculture, with no income generation outside of their farm, if their crops fail, their livelihood is at stake.
Cook, J.N. (2009). Growing a Future in Africa: Livelihoods of Small Holder Farmers with HIV in Uganda. Master’s Thesis. Northeastern University. Boston. Massachusetts.